Respect for pluralism crucial for genuine democracy, says Sri Lankan leader Sampanthan

We need to forge a Sri Lankan identity, says TNA leader

As Sri Lanka embarks upon new processes to create a future devoid of conflict, respect for pluralism is fundamental to achieving genuine democracy, Sri Lanka’s Leader of Opposition and Tamil National Alliance leader R. Sampanthan said on Tuesday. He was addressing a special sitting of Parliament to mark the 70th anniversary of parliamentary democracy in Sri Lanka.


Speaking about the first meeting of Sri Lanka’s independent Parliament on the October 14, 1947 at Colombo’s Independence Square, he said: “We were then a united people. All the people of Sri Lanka irrespective of ethnic or religious differences wanted independence from foreign rule. In fact, the Jaffna Youth League voicing the sentiments of the Tamil people were not happy with Dominion status (and) they wanted Poorana Swaraj, absolute Independence.”

While the country preserved democratic governance through electoral processes, that alone could not ensure democratic governance, he said.

Electoral processes

“Electoral processes by themselves quite often serve to retain majoritarianism,” the veteran Tamil leader emphasised, appealing to all Sri Lankans to forge a Sri Lankan identity irrespective of ethnic or religious differences.

Sri Lanka is currently drafting a new Constitution, which, after a parliamentary debate and if it is passed by a two-thirds majority, will be put to an island-wide referendum. In September, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe tabled an interim report on the drafting of the Constitution.

President Maithripala Sirisena on Tuesday said the government aims to strengthen Parliament through the Constitution, “which strengthens the rights of all the citizens in an undivided unitary state”. Lawmakers drafting the new document have proposed the use of terms Ekeeya in Sinhalese and Orumitha Nadu in Tamil — underscoring the indivisible nature of the State —instead of “unitary state”, which is highly contentious in the country.

Mr. Wickremesinghe appealed to all the political parties in Parliament to work together for a political solution.

Speakers and Deputy Speakers of Parliaments of SAARC countries, including Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan, participated in the special sitting.

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