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Trump White House declares war on immigrants

Patrick Martin

THE Trump White House sent a document to Congress on 10 October 2017 outlining its demands on immigration policy, calling for a further build-up of the federal police agencies that target undocumented immigrants, a legal witch-hunt against cities and states that are reluctant to cooperate in mass arrests and detentions, and a sharp reduction in legal immigration as well.
The document was reportedly compiled by Trump’s fascistic policy adviser Stephen Miller and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, based on input from federal agencies like the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Border Patrol, as well as ultra-right anti-immigrant lobbies in Washington.
It follows by two days the issuance of a letter by Tom Homan, acting director of ICE, threatening mass anti-immigrant raids in California neighborhoods and workplaces, in response to the enactment of a state law, signed by the governor Thursday, which makes California a “sanctuary state,” limiting cooperation by state and local police with ICE and other federal agencies.
Under the title “Immigration Principles & Policies,” the White House document spells out the framework for an American police state, directed initially against immigrants, but with the potential for targeting far broader layers of the working class. It effectively demands the overturning of such longstanding democratic principles as the presumption of innocence, due process, reasonable bail, and the right to an attorney.

Three major areas
The Trump administration calls for attacks on democratic rights in three major areas:
? A crackdown along the US-Mexico border: this involves not only “completing construction of a wall along the southern border of the United States,” but changes in processing of undocumented immigrants and refugees to ensure that most refugee claims are denied and most claimants removed from the country quickly. This includes hiring thousands more immigration judges and prosecutors, shifting the burden of proof onto refugees claiming they are fleeing persecution, and expanding the categories of immigrants who will be considered criminals, by including offenses like using a false Social Security number, which would apply to millions of undocumented workers.
?Stepped-up anti-immigrant activity throughout the interior of the United States, partly by greatly expanding ICE through the hiring of an additional 10,000 agents, and partly by mobilizing state and local police to act as the instruments of federal immigration enforcement. This would increase the size of the force devoted to persecuting immigrants into the millions. Local governments that resist such an effort would be targeted for cutoff of federal aid and threatened with legal action to compel them to provide information and manpower.
? A sharp reduction in legal immigration, by revoking the present system which promotes family reunification, allowing US citizens and legal residents to sponsor parents, children, spouses and other close relatives, in favor of an employment-based system that would cater primarily to the needs of high-tech companies seeking skilled workers and agribusiness interests seeking seasonal labor in the fields. The number of refugees permitted to enter the US would also be sharply reduced.
The Trump immigration document is written in the language of right-wing populism, identified with Miller and with departed White House counselor Stephen Bannon. It demonizes immigrants as threats to US national security (i.e., potential terrorists) and as threats to the jobs and living standards of American workers (the document claims that legal immigration “has suppressed wages, fueled unemployment and strained federal resources”).
This declaration of war against a substantial section of the working class—an estimated 12 million undocumented workers and an even larger number of legal immigrants, green card holders, refugees and naturalized citizens—is the real face of the Trump administration, the most right-wing and anti-democratic in American history.
The Trump immigration document exposes the role of the Democratic Party in providing political cover for the White House, most notably in the gushing response of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi after a meeting with Trump last month to discuss the status of the 800,000 young undocumented immigrants covered by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
Schumer and Pelosi emerged from a White House dinner with Trump declaring that the president was genuinely sympathetic to the plight of these young people, who have grown up in the United States after being brought here by their parents when they were children. They claimed to have at least the broad outlines of a deal that would prevent deportation of “Dreamers,” in return for some strengthening of border security, but not including Trump’s wall.
Since Trump took office—and even before—the Democratic Party has focused its opposition to the new administration on Trump’s alleged collusion with Russia during the 2016 election campaign, not on the monstrous and anti-democratic attacks on immigrants, or the entire range of ultra-right social policies and militarism to which Trump is committed. The main purpose of this campaign has been to pressure Trump to adopt a more hardline policy towards Moscow, both in the Syrian war and more broadly, across eastern Europe and the Baltic.
Since Schumer and Pelosi’s deal with Trump last month to extend the federal budget authorization and the debt ceiling until mid-December, the Democrats have speculated endlessly on a possible move by Trump “to the center,” i.e., to cutting deals with the Democratic minority in Congress on a range of issues, including immigration, trade, corporate tax cuts and infrastructure, where both capitalist parties share a common right-wing agenda.

Draconian immigration policies
Now Schumer and Pelosi profess to be “shocked” that the White House has issued a list of draconian immigration policies with no mention of legalization or even leniency toward those covered by DACA—let alone lifting the fear of detention and deportation from the other 11 million undocumented. “We told the President at our meeting that we were open to reasonable border security measures,” they said in a joint statement, “but this list goes so far beyond what is reasonable. This proposal fails to represent any attempt at compromise.”
A cynical fraud! In fact, any agreement between the Democrats and the Trump administration would involve a further assault on immigrant workers, going beyond the measures enacted by the Obama administration, which included mass deportations and the militarization of the US-Mexico border. Moreover, the purpose of the Democrats’ maneuvers with Trump over DACA was not to protect immigrant workers, but to prop-up a crisis-ridden government and prevent what the Democrats above all fear: the independent intervention of the working class.
While the immediate targets of the White House proposal are immigrant workers, the entire working class is in the crosshairs. The Trump administration is seeking to massively escalate the bipartisan assault on health care, public education, and other social services, while overseeing another historic transfer of wealth from the working class to the rich. The scapegoating of immigrant workers is aimed at dividing the working class, while the police-state mechanisms will be used to suppress all domestic opposition.
Whatever their internal differences, including over immigration policy, the Democrats and Republicans are united on this basic class strategy.
The working class must reject the entire reactionary framework. The defense of immigrant workers and fight for the right of everyone to live and work where they choose—a socialist policy of open borders—must be connected to a program that defends the interests of the entire working class. The resources exist to ensure that all workers have the right to a decent job, health care, public education, and a quality retirement, but these rights are not compatible with the capitalist profit system.
— WSWS

Comment

Patrick Martin

THE Trump White House sent a document to Congress on 10 October 2017 outlining its demands on immigration policy, calling for a further build-up of the federal police agencies that target undocumented immigrants, a legal witch-hunt against cities and states that are reluctant to cooperate in mass arrests and detentions, and a sharp reduction in legal immigration as well.
The document was reportedly compiled by Trump’s fascistic policy adviser Stephen Miller and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, based on input from federal agencies like the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Border Patrol, as well as ultra-right anti-immigrant lobbies in Washington.
It follows by two days the issuance of a letter by Tom Homan, acting director of ICE, threatening mass anti-immigrant raids in California neighborhoods and workplaces, in response to the enactment of a state law, signed by the governor Thursday, which makes California a “sanctuary state,” limiting cooperation by state and local police with ICE and other federal agencies.
Under the title “Immigration Principles & Policies,” the White House document spells out the framework for an American police state, directed initially against immigrants, but with the potential for targeting far broader layers of the working class. It effectively demands the overturning of such longstanding democratic principles as the presumption of innocence, due process, reasonable bail, and the right to an attorney.

Three major areas
The Trump administration calls for attacks on democratic rights in three major areas:
? A crackdown along the US-Mexico border: this involves not only “completing construction of a wall along the southern border of the United States,” but changes in processing of undocumented immigrants and refugees to ensure that most refugee claims are denied and most claimants removed from the country quickly. This includes hiring thousands more immigration judges and prosecutors, shifting the burden of proof onto refugees claiming they are fleeing persecution, and expanding the categories of immigrants who will be considered criminals, by including offenses like using a false Social Security number, which would apply to millions of undocumented workers.
?Stepped-up anti-immigrant activity throughout the interior of the United States, partly by greatly expanding ICE through the hiring of an additional 10,000 agents, and partly by mobilizing state and local police to act as the instruments of federal immigration enforcement. This would increase the size of the force devoted to persecuting immigrants into the millions. Local governments that resist such an effort would be targeted for cutoff of federal aid and threatened with legal action to compel them to provide information and manpower.
? A sharp reduction in legal immigration, by revoking the present system which promotes family reunification, allowing US citizens and legal residents to sponsor parents, children, spouses and other close relatives, in favor of an employment-based system that would cater primarily to the needs of high-tech companies seeking skilled workers and agribusiness interests seeking seasonal labor in the fields. The number of refugees permitted to enter the US would also be sharply reduced.
The Trump immigration document is written in the language of right-wing populism, identified with Miller and with departed White House counselor Stephen Bannon. It demonizes immigrants as threats to US national security (i.e., potential terrorists) and as threats to the jobs and living standards of American workers (the document claims that legal immigration “has suppressed wages, fueled unemployment and strained federal resources”).
This declaration of war against a substantial section of the working class—an estimated 12 million undocumented workers and an even larger number of legal immigrants, green card holders, refugees and naturalized citizens—is the real face of the Trump administration, the most right-wing and anti-democratic in American history.
The Trump immigration document exposes the role of the Democratic Party in providing political cover for the White House, most notably in the gushing response of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi after a meeting with Trump last month to discuss the status of the 800,000 young undocumented immigrants covered by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
Schumer and Pelosi emerged from a White House dinner with Trump declaring that the president was genuinely sympathetic to the plight of these young people, who have grown up in the United States after being brought here by their parents when they were children. They claimed to have at least the broad outlines of a deal that would prevent deportation of “Dreamers,” in return for some strengthening of border security, but not including Trump’s wall.
Since Trump took office—and even before—the Democratic Party has focused its opposition to the new administration on Trump’s alleged collusion with Russia during the 2016 election campaign, not on the monstrous and anti-democratic attacks on immigrants, or the entire range of ultra-right social policies and militarism to which Trump is committed. The main purpose of this campaign has been to pressure Trump to adopt a more hardline policy towards Moscow, both in the Syrian war and more broadly, across eastern Europe and the Baltic.
Since Schumer and Pelosi’s deal with Trump last month to extend the federal budget authorization and the debt ceiling until mid-December, the Democrats have speculated endlessly on a possible move by Trump “to the center,” i.e., to cutting deals with the Democratic minority in Congress on a range of issues, including immigration, trade, corporate tax cuts and infrastructure, where both capitalist parties share a common right-wing agenda.

Draconian immigration policies
Now Schumer and Pelosi profess to be “shocked” that the White House has issued a list of draconian immigration policies with no mention of legalization or even leniency toward those covered by DACA—let alone lifting the fear of detention and deportation from the other 11 million undocumented. “We told the President at our meeting that we were open to reasonable border security measures,” they said in a joint statement, “but this list goes so far beyond what is reasonable. This proposal fails to represent any attempt at compromise.”
A cynical fraud! In fact, any agreement between the Democrats and the Trump administration would involve a further assault on immigrant workers, going beyond the measures enacted by the Obama administration, which included mass deportations and the militarization of the US-Mexico border. Moreover, the purpose of the Democrats’ maneuvers with Trump over DACA was not to protect immigrant workers, but to prop-up a crisis-ridden government and prevent what the Democrats above all fear: the independent intervention of the working class.
While the immediate targets of the White House proposal are immigrant workers, the entire working class is in the crosshairs. The Trump administration is seeking to massively escalate the bipartisan assault on health care, public education, and other social services, while overseeing another historic transfer of wealth from the working class to the rich. The scapegoating of immigrant workers is aimed at dividing the working class, while the police-state mechanisms will be used to suppress all domestic opposition.
Whatever their internal differences, including over immigration policy, the Democrats and Republicans are united on this basic class strategy.
The working class must reject the entire reactionary framework. The defense of immigrant workers and fight for the right of everyone to live and work where they choose—a socialist policy of open borders—must be connected to a program that defends the interests of the entire working class. The resources exist to ensure that all workers have the right to a decent job, health care, public education, and a quality retirement, but these rights are not compatible with the capitalist profit system.
— WSWS


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UK plans to back US military attack on North Korea

Robert Stevens

THE British government is in discussions with the Trump administration on its role in a military confrontation with North Korea. On 9 October 2017, the Daily Mail published an article that included detailed information on the British military’s plans to back the US military. The article cited Royal Navy, government and civil service sources.
The Mail said a war against Korea would involve Britain sending a fleet to the Korean peninsula, along similar lines as what Britain did in its war against Argentina in 1982. The Mail stated, “One option involves deploying Britain’s new aircraft carrier—due to be handed over to the Navy later this year—to the region before she has undergone flight trials.”
Under this scenario, the £3 billion HMS Queen Elizabeth, carrying 12 F-35B fighter jets, would join US warships off the Korean peninsula. The Queen Elizabeth carrier is currently involved in a sea trial around its Portsmouth base and not due to enter full service until 2020. However, the article noted that the ship “will be commissioned at the end of this year.” It continued, “Navy sources said she could technically then be sent to war.”
The article stated, “In 1982, aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious was rushed into service early for the war with Argentina.” The report cited a “Navy source” saying, “In the Falklands we had to react to an event and HMS Illustrious was accelerated to respond. This was a reaction to protect British territory, however. In this case [North Korea], the UK would be part of a united global coalition. We would see what support we could give.”
The newspaper also cited a “senior Whitehall source, who said, ‘We have plenty of ships to send… the Type-45 destroyers, the Type-23 frigates. Britain’s new aircraft carrier could be pressed into service early if things turn south.”
The information cited by the Mail was also reported in the Telegraph, the Daily Express, the Sun and the Metro.

Belligerent speech
The Mail article follows the belligerent speech made last week by UK Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon at the Conservative Party’s annual conference. A substantial part of his speech dealt with the necessity to prepare for future armed conflict.
Fallon warned of an increased threat of “Russian aggression,” saying Moscow was engaged in the “the highest level of submarine activity since the Cold War,” with “thousands of troops exercising on NATO’s borders.” He omitted to mention the now permanent stationing of troops on Russia’s western border by NATO, with the UK playing a central role.
He told the conference that Britain already had an armed forces presence in 25 countries, but what was immediately required was “stepping up our response.”
“North Korea firing ballistic missiles over Japan” was a “threat to our security.” On this basis, he said, “From Asia Pacific, to the Middle East, to Europe we are deepening our defence ties with allies and partners. And we have no greater ally, Conference, than the United States.”
He added, “In [US] Defence Secretary Jim Mattis we have a true friend of our nation with whom I work closely on Russia, on North Korea, and on the campaign against Daesh [Islamic State].”
Fallon declared that his government was “renewing our nuclear deterrent,” including “building four Dreadnought class submarines.” Britain already meets the NATO target—insisted on  by the US—that member states spend 2 percent of GDP on defence, he said, adding that Britain has the fifth biggest defence budget in the world. But “we should aim to do better still.”
In a further pointed reference to North Korea, Fallon said that the UK would deploy “our ships, our planes, and, yes, our troops on the ground where we and our allies are asked to help.”

Squandering billions
The squandering of additional billions on military spending was also demanded by Sir Gerald Howarth, a defence minister in the previous government of David Cameron. At a fringe meeting on defence policy, which he chaired, Howarth said, “I’m alongside those who have left the Armed Forces who believe that the budget is inadequate … We need more ships, more men and we do need adequate supply. I think the budget has got to be increased.”
Fallon told the same fringe meeting that after the disastrous military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, “I don’t think it follows from that we should say to ourselves we are never going to deploy combat troops ever again. I think that is far too sweeping and I think we need to be ready to prepare our public.”
He continued, “If you have this and you are asked to help in a specific situation where there aren’t those local forces, then there may be circumstances in which we should be ready to do so again. I do not think we should be squeamish about that.”
On taking over as prime minister following the resignation of Cameron after last year’s Brexit referendum, Theresa May stated that she would be prepared to push the button on a nuclear strike that would kill 100,000 men, women and children. Fallon repeated the threat that his government was prepared to use nuclear weapons against North Korea or another adversary.
Attacking statements made by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn that he would not a launch a “first strike” nuclear attack, Fallon said to applause, “It is all very well Jeremy Corbyn saying he would never use nuclear weapons, but Manchester and London are closer to Pyongyang than Los Angeles. Being prepared, in the most extreme circumstances, to use nuclear weapons is what separates a prime minister from a pacifist.”
Last month, the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies published a paper, “Preparing for War in Korea.” Authored by Malcolm Chalmers, it stated apocalyptically, “During this first phase of the war, heavy casualties—both military and civilian—would be expected on both sides. Tens—and perhaps hundreds—of thousands would be killed by the end of the week, and many more wounded and traumatised. Large parts of both North Korea and South Korea would become scenes of carnage, with millions of refugees seeking shelter in areas spared from the initial destruction, and many of these attempting to flee to neighbouring countries.”
The paper warns, “If nuclear weapons were used, the damage could be much greater. A single nuclear weapon used on Seoul could lead to hundreds of thousands of additional fatalities within a week, and many more injured and sick.”
— WSWS

Comment

Robert Stevens

THE British government is in discussions with the Trump administration on its role in a military confrontation with North Korea. On 9 October 2017, the Daily Mail published an article that included detailed information on the British military’s plans to back the US military. The article cited Royal Navy, government and civil service sources.
The Mail said a war against Korea would involve Britain sending a fleet to the Korean peninsula, along similar lines as what Britain did in its war against Argentina in 1982. The Mail stated, “One option involves deploying Britain’s new aircraft carrier—due to be handed over to the Navy later this year—to the region before she has undergone flight trials.”
Under this scenario, the £3 billion HMS Queen Elizabeth, carrying 12 F-35B fighter jets, would join US warships off the Korean peninsula. The Queen Elizabeth carrier is currently involved in a sea trial around its Portsmouth base and not due to enter full service until 2020. However, the article noted that the ship “will be commissioned at the end of this year.” It continued, “Navy sources said she could technically then be sent to war.”
The article stated, “In 1982, aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious was rushed into service early for the war with Argentina.” The report cited a “Navy source” saying, “In the Falklands we had to react to an event and HMS Illustrious was accelerated to respond. This was a reaction to protect British territory, however. In this case [North Korea], the UK would be part of a united global coalition. We would see what support we could give.”
The newspaper also cited a “senior Whitehall source, who said, ‘We have plenty of ships to send… the Type-45 destroyers, the Type-23 frigates. Britain’s new aircraft carrier could be pressed into service early if things turn south.”
The information cited by the Mail was also reported in the Telegraph, the Daily Express, the Sun and the Metro.

Belligerent speech
The Mail article follows the belligerent speech made last week by UK Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon at the Conservative Party’s annual conference. A substantial part of his speech dealt with the necessity to prepare for future armed conflict.
Fallon warned of an increased threat of “Russian aggression,” saying Moscow was engaged in the “the highest level of submarine activity since the Cold War,” with “thousands of troops exercising on NATO’s borders.” He omitted to mention the now permanent stationing of troops on Russia’s western border by NATO, with the UK playing a central role.
He told the conference that Britain already had an armed forces presence in 25 countries, but what was immediately required was “stepping up our response.”
“North Korea firing ballistic missiles over Japan” was a “threat to our security.” On this basis, he said, “From Asia Pacific, to the Middle East, to Europe we are deepening our defence ties with allies and partners. And we have no greater ally, Conference, than the United States.”
He added, “In [US] Defence Secretary Jim Mattis we have a true friend of our nation with whom I work closely on Russia, on North Korea, and on the campaign against Daesh [Islamic State].”
Fallon declared that his government was “renewing our nuclear deterrent,” including “building four Dreadnought class submarines.” Britain already meets the NATO target—insisted on  by the US—that member states spend 2 percent of GDP on defence, he said, adding that Britain has the fifth biggest defence budget in the world. But “we should aim to do better still.”
In a further pointed reference to North Korea, Fallon said that the UK would deploy “our ships, our planes, and, yes, our troops on the ground where we and our allies are asked to help.”

Squandering billions
The squandering of additional billions on military spending was also demanded by Sir Gerald Howarth, a defence minister in the previous government of David Cameron. At a fringe meeting on defence policy, which he chaired, Howarth said, “I’m alongside those who have left the Armed Forces who believe that the budget is inadequate … We need more ships, more men and we do need adequate supply. I think the budget has got to be increased.”
Fallon told the same fringe meeting that after the disastrous military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, “I don’t think it follows from that we should say to ourselves we are never going to deploy combat troops ever again. I think that is far too sweeping and I think we need to be ready to prepare our public.”
He continued, “If you have this and you are asked to help in a specific situation where there aren’t those local forces, then there may be circumstances in which we should be ready to do so again. I do not think we should be squeamish about that.”
On taking over as prime minister following the resignation of Cameron after last year’s Brexit referendum, Theresa May stated that she would be prepared to push the button on a nuclear strike that would kill 100,000 men, women and children. Fallon repeated the threat that his government was prepared to use nuclear weapons against North Korea or another adversary.
Attacking statements made by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn that he would not a launch a “first strike” nuclear attack, Fallon said to applause, “It is all very well Jeremy Corbyn saying he would never use nuclear weapons, but Manchester and London are closer to Pyongyang than Los Angeles. Being prepared, in the most extreme circumstances, to use nuclear weapons is what separates a prime minister from a pacifist.”
Last month, the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies published a paper, “Preparing for War in Korea.” Authored by Malcolm Chalmers, it stated apocalyptically, “During this first phase of the war, heavy casualties—both military and civilian—would be expected on both sides. Tens—and perhaps hundreds—of thousands would be killed by the end of the week, and many more wounded and traumatised. Large parts of both North Korea and South Korea would become scenes of carnage, with millions of refugees seeking shelter in areas spared from the initial destruction, and many of these attempting to flee to neighbouring countries.”
The paper warns, “If nuclear weapons were used, the damage could be much greater. A single nuclear weapon used on Seoul could lead to hundreds of thousands of additional fatalities within a week, and many more injured and sick.”
— WSWS


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(0)



Controversy over constitutional reforms in Sri Lanka

Jehan Perera in Colombo

THE government has proposed that the report of the steering committee on constitutional reform will be debated in parliament at the end of the month. A member of the Steering Committee spearheading the constitutional reform project, Dr Jayampathy Wickramaratne said that the Constitutional assembly would take up proposals over a three-day period beginning October 30. Finalisation of the process would depend on the outcome of three day talks, Dr. Wickramaratne said, explaining measures proposed to further strengthen the unitary character of the country. He added that the proposals were also meant to ensure maximum possible devolution without undermining the unitary status of the constitution. Since its appointment by the constitutional assembly in April 2016 the steering committee has met on 73 occasions.
The large number of meetings that have taken place is a positive expression of the commitment of the political parties to the constitutional reform process. All parties in parliament with the exception of the ultra Sinhala nationalist National Freedom Front have chosen to remain within the process. The participants have included members of the Joint Opposition who have been implacably opposed to the government but continue to attend the steering committee meetings. As TNA and opposition leader R Sampanthan has said, “No Constitution has thus far been framed for Sri Lanka on the basis of a substantial bipartisan consensus amongst its different people in particular the Tamil people , or on the basis of such bi-partisan consensus between the two main parties and other political parties. The present exercise in Constitution making presents the first such opportunity."
However, the constitutional reform process continues to remain on slippery soil and is not grounded in the consciousness of the people as necessary for the country. There is also a lack of awareness about some of the key and emotive issues in the constitutional reform process. These include uncertainty about the meaning of the unitary state and the foremost place given to Buddhism under the present constitution. The steering committee has explained that “The classical definition of the English term “unitary state” has undergone change. In the United Kingdom it is now possible for Northern Ireland and Scotland to move away from the union. Therefore, the English term “Unitary State” will not be appropriate for Sri Lanka. The Sinhala term “aekiya raajyaya” best describes an undivided and indivisible country. The Tamil language equivalent of this is “orumiththa nadu”.

Dividing line
The issue of whether Sri Lanka should remain unitary in its constitutional structure has traditionally been the line of division between the Sinhala and Tamil polities. The question has been whether Sri Lanka should be a country where a single government dominates, or move towards a federal system in which central and devolved governments can coexist at different levels. Several political parties that have been participating in the steering committee have presented their own alternative formulations as separate attachments to the main report. The SLFP as one of the two main political parties that are in coalition has its own alternative formulations, but in perusing them the seriousness of the challenge awaiting consensual constitutional reform can be seen.
The SLFP position on the unitary state is to stay with the present formulation. It says “The Republic of Sri Lanka is a Unitary State– in the Tamil Language and the English language the word ‘unitary’ shall be used and shall carry the interpretation of the word of the Sinhala Language.” This means that this basic issue of the nature of the state and the method of power sharing still remains to be addressed. It may be in recognition of this problem that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has said that minority parties are ready to consider retention of the unitary status of the country in the proposed new constitution and foremost place to Buddhism in case the two major political parties, the UNP and the SLFP agree to grant maximum possible devolution, create a Senate, protect human rights protection of all communities, ensure judicial independence and resettle of those displaced due to the conflict as mentioned in the first chapter of the interim report on the new constitution.

Obtaining consensus
The Buddhist monks have also objected to the addition of the provision that the State will not “discriminate” between religions. “It is impossible to give Buddhism the foremost place without treating other religions differently. It is obvious that this is an attempt to alter the meaning of Article 9 which gives Buddhism the foremost place”. In addition they have argued that the Interim Report of the Steering Committee drafting a new constitution for Sri Lanka has, within it, the seeds of separatism. They expressed their “deepest disappointment” that the 13th Amendment to the constitution enacted in 1987 as a follow up of the India-Sri Lanka Accord, has been retained. The leading Buddhist monks fear that devolution of power over land and police permitted by the 13th Amendment will led to secession of the Tamil-speaking North and East.
Obtaining bipartisan political consensus on the nature of the state and foremost place for Buddhism is important as both of these are entrenched clauses in the constitution which will require approval by the people at a referendum if they are to be changed. If there is no UNP-SLFP consensus on these two issues victory at a referendum will be next to impossible. The Joint Opposition has proven skills in mobilizing Sinhala nationalism. Even if the UNP-SLFP consensus is obtained, victory at a referendum will be difficult unless the Joint Opposition is also brought on board. This too will be next to impossible unless the prevailing clauses pertaining to the unitary state and foremost place to Buddhism are maintained.
What matters now, and will always matter, are actual practices and deeds on the ground that ensure that all communities feel that they belong to the country and all individuals have confidence they will be treated equally and fairly regardless of their religion or ethnicity. The past two years of the UNP-SLFP government have been better in this respect than the years that came before. This is the gain that needs to be protected first and foremost.

Comment

Jehan Perera in Colombo

THE government has proposed that the report of the steering committee on constitutional reform will be debated in parliament at the end of the month. A member of the Steering Committee spearheading the constitutional reform project, Dr Jayampathy Wickramaratne said that the Constitutional assembly would take up proposals over a three-day period beginning October 30. Finalisation of the process would depend on the outcome of three day talks, Dr. Wickramaratne said, explaining measures proposed to further strengthen the unitary character of the country. He added that the proposals were also meant to ensure maximum possible devolution without undermining the unitary status of the constitution. Since its appointment by the constitutional assembly in April 2016 the steering committee has met on 73 occasions.
The large number of meetings that have taken place is a positive expression of the commitment of the political parties to the constitutional reform process. All parties in parliament with the exception of the ultra Sinhala nationalist National Freedom Front have chosen to remain within the process. The participants have included members of the Joint Opposition who have been implacably opposed to the government but continue to attend the steering committee meetings. As TNA and opposition leader R Sampanthan has said, “No Constitution has thus far been framed for Sri Lanka on the basis of a substantial bipartisan consensus amongst its different people in particular the Tamil people , or on the basis of such bi-partisan consensus between the two main parties and other political parties. The present exercise in Constitution making presents the first such opportunity."
However, the constitutional reform process continues to remain on slippery soil and is not grounded in the consciousness of the people as necessary for the country. There is also a lack of awareness about some of the key and emotive issues in the constitutional reform process. These include uncertainty about the meaning of the unitary state and the foremost place given to Buddhism under the present constitution. The steering committee has explained that “The classical definition of the English term “unitary state” has undergone change. In the United Kingdom it is now possible for Northern Ireland and Scotland to move away from the union. Therefore, the English term “Unitary State” will not be appropriate for Sri Lanka. The Sinhala term “aekiya raajyaya” best describes an undivided and indivisible country. The Tamil language equivalent of this is “orumiththa nadu”.

Dividing line
The issue of whether Sri Lanka should remain unitary in its constitutional structure has traditionally been the line of division between the Sinhala and Tamil polities. The question has been whether Sri Lanka should be a country where a single government dominates, or move towards a federal system in which central and devolved governments can coexist at different levels. Several political parties that have been participating in the steering committee have presented their own alternative formulations as separate attachments to the main report. The SLFP as one of the two main political parties that are in coalition has its own alternative formulations, but in perusing them the seriousness of the challenge awaiting consensual constitutional reform can be seen.
The SLFP position on the unitary state is to stay with the present formulation. It says “The Republic of Sri Lanka is a Unitary State– in the Tamil Language and the English language the word ‘unitary’ shall be used and shall carry the interpretation of the word of the Sinhala Language.” This means that this basic issue of the nature of the state and the method of power sharing still remains to be addressed. It may be in recognition of this problem that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has said that minority parties are ready to consider retention of the unitary status of the country in the proposed new constitution and foremost place to Buddhism in case the two major political parties, the UNP and the SLFP agree to grant maximum possible devolution, create a Senate, protect human rights protection of all communities, ensure judicial independence and resettle of those displaced due to the conflict as mentioned in the first chapter of the interim report on the new constitution.

Obtaining consensus
The Buddhist monks have also objected to the addition of the provision that the State will not “discriminate” between religions. “It is impossible to give Buddhism the foremost place without treating other religions differently. It is obvious that this is an attempt to alter the meaning of Article 9 which gives Buddhism the foremost place”. In addition they have argued that the Interim Report of the Steering Committee drafting a new constitution for Sri Lanka has, within it, the seeds of separatism. They expressed their “deepest disappointment” that the 13th Amendment to the constitution enacted in 1987 as a follow up of the India-Sri Lanka Accord, has been retained. The leading Buddhist monks fear that devolution of power over land and police permitted by the 13th Amendment will led to secession of the Tamil-speaking North and East.
Obtaining bipartisan political consensus on the nature of the state and foremost place for Buddhism is important as both of these are entrenched clauses in the constitution which will require approval by the people at a referendum if they are to be changed. If there is no UNP-SLFP consensus on these two issues victory at a referendum will be next to impossible. The Joint Opposition has proven skills in mobilizing Sinhala nationalism. Even if the UNP-SLFP consensus is obtained, victory at a referendum will be difficult unless the Joint Opposition is also brought on board. This too will be next to impossible unless the prevailing clauses pertaining to the unitary state and foremost place to Buddhism are maintained.
What matters now, and will always matter, are actual practices and deeds on the ground that ensure that all communities feel that they belong to the country and all individuals have confidence they will be treated equally and fairly regardless of their religion or ethnicity. The past two years of the UNP-SLFP government have been better in this respect than the years that came before. This is the gain that needs to be protected first and foremost.


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