Former Sri Lankan president Rajapaksa criticises country’s new Constitution process

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Former Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa on Thursday criticised the move to introduce a new Constitution, saying this is the government’s “gift” to the local and international forces which brought them to power. Addressing Parliament on the interim report of the steering committee of all the political parties, the former strongman said that the northern Tamils do not need a new Constitution but jobs and food for economic development.

“This is their (the government’s) gift to the local and international forces who brought them to power,” Rajapaksa said, referring to the minority Tamils and the international community.

He has in the past blamed India and international forces for his defeat to President Maithripala Sirisena who ended his nearly a decade-long rule in January 2015.

A debate in Parliament on the steering committee’s recommendations would lead to the formulation of the draft constitution which would replace the existing 1978 Constitution.

Rajapaksa’s joint opposition group has dubbed the current constitutional process as a sellout package to Tamils, saying it would destroy the unitary state and pave the way for a federal state.

The Sirisena-led government said Rajapaksa himself had pledged a new Constitution and promised India to devolve power beyond the India-brokered provincial councils arrangement in 1987.

Meanwhile, the main Tamil party Tamil National Alliance (TNA) said that for the first time in the country’s history, Tamils have contributed to the constitution making process.

In the previous attempts in 1972 and 1978, the Tamils were not consulted and their concerns had been ignored, it said. The TNA speakers urged the majority Sinhala politicians to make use of the opportunity to work towards ending the ethnic conflict for good by sharing power with the Tamil minority. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said the draft Constitution would not harm Sri Lanka’s unitary nature as the new Constitution would guarantee an indivisible nation.

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