Looking to Sri Lanka's Next Constitution

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The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA), a Colombo-based think tank, has recently released a new report that examines peoples' opinions vis-à-vis constitutional reform. (The Sri Lankan government has already initiated a consultative process for constitutional reform.) CPA used semi-structured questionnaires to conduct interviews across the country; the fieldwork was conducted in January 2016.

This is a brief report that provides interesting insights into what Sri Lankans think about a range of salient issues including devolution of power and the place of Buddhism in the constitution.

Let's turn to a few of the survey questions. In response to the question, "How important is to establish devolved institutions?", 57.2 percent of Tamils said it was very important. On the other hand, only 25.2 percent of Sinhalese people believe that establishing devolved institutions is very important.

Questions about police powers were also split along ethnic lines. According to the survey, 47.8 percent of Sinhalese believe that police powers should be exercised exclusively by the central government. Only 14.3 percent of Tamils agreed. 24.3 percent of Muslims believe that the central government should control all police powers.

When asked about a merger of the historically Tamil Northern and Eastern Provinces, just 14.5 percent of Sinhalese said they were extremely agreeable to such an idea. Yet 73.2 percent of Tamils are extremely agreeable to such a merger.

In the months ahead, awareness-raising will be vital. According to the survey results, nearly 80 percent of respondents did not know what the word 'federalism' means. Over 50 percent of respondents did not know what the word 'devolution' means.

For now, it appears that the that Sri Lanka's constitution-building project will remain at the forefront of the coalition government's reform agenda. Nevertheless, drafting a new, more inclusive constitution that fully recognizes the island nation's considerable diversity will not be easy. As this timely survey shows, there are some prominent (and unsurprising) differences of opinion which fall largely along ethnic lines.

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