COLOMBO (Reuters) - Sri Lanka’s new government on Saturday presented its plan for a new constitution aimed at devolving power and preventing the sort of ethnic tensions that led to a long and bitter civil war that ended in 2009.
The move comes as reformist President Maithripala Sirisena’s administration takes some steps to promote post-conflict reconciliation and address alleged war crimes committed during the 26-year conflict between government troops and Tamil Tiger rebels.
Sirisena, who unseated former leader Mahinda Rajapaksa in a bitterly contested poll last year, promised a new constitution to strengthen democracy and fundamental rights.
According to the document presented to parliament on Saturday, the government intends to strengthen democratic rights, promote national reconciliation and establish a political culture that respects the rule of law.
The new constitution will also guarantee fundamental rights and freedoms that assure human dignity and promote responsible and accountable government, it said.
“The main idea is to devolve power to the grassroot level and strengthen democracy in order to prevent another war,” a ruling party legislator who is close to the president told Reuters, asking not to be named.
Some opposition members, however, have alleged that the new constitution has been drafted to please some Western nations and to dilute the main religion, Buddhism, in Sri Lanka. The government has rejected such accusations.
Ethnic minority Tamils were often favoured for higher government positions under British colonial rule. After independence in 1948, many lost their positions as successive governments pursued language and other policies favouring the majority Sinhalese population.
Tensions erupted into a fully fledged armed conflict in 1983 that only ended when government forces seized the last areas controlled by the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
“The extremists in the south and the north have caused the loss of thousands of young lives ... We must ensure reconciliation and harmony so that we will never go back to war. I believe now, through our past bitter experiences, we must prepare ourselves for future challenges,” President Sirisena told the parliament.
Reporting by Shihar Aneez and Ranga Sirilal; editing by Digby Lidstone