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The Coming Constitution of the Civilization-State

Photo courtesy of www.channel4.com

The governing party’s general election campaign is centred on obtaining a two-thirds majority in the next Parliament. It is expected that the governing party will fulfil its wish – if not directly, then by the inevitable crossovers that will take place on the back of a strong electoral performance. The government needs a two-thirds majority because it intends to change the constitution. While it has not itself published any formal proposals for constitutional change, reliable indications of the shape and flavour of the intended changes are in the public domain. Aside from various pronouncements by the President and the Prime Minister, one of the clearest indications is the set of proposals submitted to the President in February 2020 by Mr Gevindu Kumaratunga, the head of the Yuthukama Discussion Circle. This may not ultimately be the sole basis of the changes coming after the general election, but it can reliably be regarded as a major source of ideas.

The Yuthukama proposal outlines the principles, the main institutional changes, and the underlying philosophy of the political and constitutional worldview of the governing party, and the broader social and cultural movement that supports it. The actual changes to the text of the 1978 Constitution proposed in it are fairly minimal, but the proposal is not a mere tinkering with the constitution. What is proposed is a root and branch overhaul of Sri Lankan constitutionalism as we have known it since independence. We are familiar with Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism as the dominant force in Sri Lankan politics since 1956. We are also familiar with the way in which Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism’s political principles have shaped the text of formal constitutions (e.g., the unitary state, the Buddhism clause, and language provisions), or have served to constrain the scope of constitutional reform (e.g., federalisation and abolition of presidentialism). This proposal shows consistency and continuity with those familiar constitutional nostrums of Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism.

But three crucial factors are different in the coming phase of constitutional reform, which could make both the process and the substance of reform nothing like anything we have seen before. The first difference is the nature of the regime that will drive constitutional change. The political, religious, military, business, professional, and intellectual elite that runs and influences this regime is the first that is authentically, comprehensively, and unconditionally Sinhala-Buddhist nationalist. The thick consistency of the ideological, cultural, and other social bonds that gels this elite together represents a qualitative uptick in the coherence of Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism as a constitutional reordering force, even in the context of its long historical dominance of constitutional politics. Compared to this, even Mahinda Rajapaksa’s previous administrations seem deviant and mixt. The theorists of Jaathika Chinthanaya, for all the intellectual prestige they have enjoyed among Sinhala-Buddhist nationalists, were never so ensconced in the corridors of state power as they are now. Those erstwhile prophets of doom and decay of the Sinhala-Buddhist national culture are now the intellectual force behind the throne, and finally in a position to deliver the renaissance of the Sinhala-Buddhist state.

We can illustrate this point by comparing the social and cultural backgrounds of the present elite with that of previous leaders who have sought to provide agency to Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism such as S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike or J.R. Jayewardene (and even more so the notionally anti-imperialist Old Left). Those leaders were not real representatives of the class and culture that they tried to give leadership to. On grounds mainly of electoral politics, they tried to accommodate the claims of Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism within a framework of constitutional democracy. That is now seen by the new elite as hopelessly infected by a fatal error: the equation of Western modernity with our own modernity and the resulting debasement of our own culture.

While like Bandaranaike and Jayewardene, the new elite’s purpose is also the fusion of an ancient civilizational culture with the concepts and practices of modern statehood, the difference is that modernity is now to be bent to the reality of civilisation, and not the other way around. This subordination of (constitutional) form to (cultural) function is not merely a reversal of the post-colonial nation-building model that, however imperfectly, has so far underpinned constitutional development in Sri Lanka. It is based on a much more radical assertion of a civilizational superiority of Sinhala-Buddhist culture over constitutional forms derived from the Western experience. The present elite, by contrast to previous generations, is genuinely the historical fruition of the cultural, socioeconomic, and political watershed of 1956. It is an elite in charge of a culture that has been in the making since the anti-colonial Sinhala-Buddhist revival of the late nineteenth century, through such institutions of cultural reproduction as Ananda College, the Gajaba Regiment, the temples, universities, and increasingly also, the professions and business.

Secondly, there is an internal coherence to this constitutional reform project that is matched only by the three successful previous occasions when the state was fundamentally reordered in 1943-48, 1970-72, and 1977-78. That the reformers hold both a clear vision and an unassailable grip on power are only the most visible aspects of their political dominance on the cusp of undertaking reform. Their dominance is perhaps equally, if not more importantly, based on the general characteristics of successful reforming regimes of any ideological persuasion. The coherence of its programme is derived from a solid bedrock of philosophical ideas. Strong leadership is buttressed by a mastery of communication and the ability to dominate the information environment. And like the three previous occasions, the regime is not hampered to any meaningful extent by political or ideational opposition.

It is important to stress that the measurement of coherence and solidity of the current reform project is subjective and not objective. That is, its only criterion of success is to make sense – on whatever grounds, or, more likely, no grounds at all – to the audience to which they are pitched: the SLPP voters. It may seem to others that some of the Yuthukama proposals are incredibly naïve, sinister in intent, and amateurish in conception, or a mixture of all three. Some parts of the discussion in the document could even look like disjointed ramblings high on nationalist fervour and very low on constitutional literacy. But for reasons discussed below, opposing these reforms is not a valid option, because such criticisms are made from philosophical or comparative standpoints which it is the very purpose of the forthcoming constitutional reform exercise to eliminate from the arena of Sri Lankan politics.

Even if there was not this effective combination of ideas, programme, leadership, strategy, and communications, a Sinhala-Buddhist nationalist policy of constitutional change has the inbuilt structural advantage of a receptive majority in the electorate for whom the proposals for change are deeply and intuitively culturally resonant. Having such a direct line to the hearts of a demographic majority means there is very little left to do in appealing to their heads. As for the rest of the polity that does not sign up to this vision of Sinhala-Buddhist utopia, or have reservations about the necessity, desirability, or workability of at least some of the proposed reforms, the regime is helped by two factors. It can isolate the minorities (through fair means and foul), and count on a high degree of disillusionment and disengagement among centrist voters after the catastrophic failure of the yahapalanaya experiment in 2015-19.

The third factor is the most significant in marking a generational departure from the various constitutional reform attempts since the 1990s. The proposed constitutional change will be undertaken in a geopolitical environment that has been changing for a while, but has now changed sufficiently to be regarded as a new paradigm. Historically, the geopolitical context and implications of constitutional change in Sri Lanka have been determined by India and the West. Now the most important external factor has become China. The Cold War was about competing interpretations of the European Enlightenment. The decline of Western influence and the rise of Chinese power in Asia marks the onset of a global divide that is much more culturally fundamental. China’s increasing role in Sri Lanka is highly visible in the economic and development spheres, but the fact that it also has critical constitutional implications is something that has not yet been adequately understood. As a post-colonial developing democracy, Sri Lanka’s constitutional reform debates since independence have been conceptually framed by both the post-World War II international legal system and the dominant paradigm of democratic nation-state building. The rise of China destabilises those conceptual categories, not only because its economic power now enables it to assert its own models of political organisation as an alternative to those of the West, but also because its conceptions of law, politics, and culture are embraced by Sinhala-Buddhist nationalists as akin to their own.

The current regime is pro-China for various policy reasons and economic necessities. But the commitment to China on the part of its ideologues goes much beyond foreign policy considerations. It tends towards an ideological alignment based specifically on affinities of constitutional thought, and a cultural association based on historic Asian commonalities, stemming from a critique and rejection of the modern international order of nation-states as a Eurocentric and therefore illegitimate system. The Yuthukama proposal is explicitly grounded in this ideological approach, and specifically Dr Gunadasa Amarasekara’s 2016 book, Sabhyathva Raajya Karaa. This book adapts and aligns established Sinhala-Buddhist nationalist Jaathika Chinthanaya thought to the Chinese ‘civilisation-state’ as the paradigmatic alternative to the Western nation-state. The implications for Sri Lankan constitutionalism of this ideological realignment could be very substantial indeed. In the emerging new Pax Sinica in Asia, the compradors of the new elite seek an imperium in imperio in the form of the Sabhyathva Raajya.

The Philosophy of the Civilisation-State

Amarasekara’s ‘Sabhyathva Raajya’ is the Sinhala rendition of ‘Civilisation State’. The civilisation-state in turn is how Martin Jacques has theorised the Chinese constitutional paradigm. Jacques argues that in order to understand China in its own terms, the first step is to avoid the mistake that its constitutional identity can be understood according to the nation-state paradigm. For reasons of the vast historical longevity and territorial extent of the Chinese state, the Chinese sense of identity is defined by an idea of a civilisation than of a nation. The highly distinctive culture that defines this civilisation has evolved not only through the continuities of a long period of time but also the diversity of a large territory. It is the scale of the time and space involved that makes Chinese selfhood more a notion of civilisation than nationhood. As its economic power comes to the forefront, the dissonance between this sense of civilisation-statehood and being just another if powerful nation-state in a culturally alien international system is becoming accentuated.

The Chinese civilisation-state is a very different creature from the nation-state in terms of its constitutional practices. The nation-state and the doctrines associated with it, including popular sovereignty, democracy, limited government, individual rights, the rule of law, the separation of state and religion, the public/private divide, and depersonalised office, are all creatures of the European Enlightenment. The dominance of Western power in the last 500 years made this the basis of international order as well, and while China has in the last century participated in this order, none of these doctrines have had much impact on the Chinese sense of identity in terms of history, culture, and ways of thinking and being. The organising principles of the Chinese civilisation-state are not merely different but inconsistent with those of the Western nation-state. The social legitimacy of the civilisation-state derives not from the trappings of democracy but the close relationship between the state and the civilisation. The culture of the civilisation is defined by Confucian values as well as other elements like food, language, and distinctive practices around the family and extended social networks. As Jacques observes, “The state is seen as the embodiment, guardian, and defender of Chinese civilisation. Maintaining the unity, cohesion, and integrity of Chinese civilisation – of the civilisation-state – is perceived as the highest political priority and is seen as the sacrosanct task of the Chinese state.” Over its long history, the Han race moreover has assimilated others and it is around the Han identity that the Chinese civilisation-state is built.

The main purpose of Amarasekara’s 2016 book is to shoehorn Sri Lanka understood in terms of Jathika Chinthanaya ideology into Jacques’ theorisation of the Chinese civilisation-state and prognosis of the coming realignment of the world order. Typically, perhaps, Amarasekara implies that the Sinhala-Buddhist civilisation-state is superior to the Chinese version. Not only is it older than that of China, but the ancient Sinhala-Buddhist polity was more democratic than either the Chinese model or the Sri Lanka in the present. This was because the powers of the king were spatially limited by the graama raajya, and normatively by the Dasa Raaja Dhamma.

It is easy to see the attractions of Jacques’ theory of the Chinese model to someone like Amarasekara. The romantic-reactionary constitutional worldview of Jathika Chinthanaya has obvious parallels with the Chinese civilisation-state. Both models of statehood are mono-cultural and hierarchical. They purport to balance the sovereignty of the centre with a tributary model of limited localism. They are ordered by duties rather than rights, and privilege harmonious coexistence over democratic pluralism. And both see the relationship between state and society as one of complementarity than of separation. Neither has anything much to do with constitutional democracy qualitatively. But while China has never been a democracy, Sri Lanka is Asia’s oldest procedural democracy, and this forces the Jathika Chinthanaya literature and the rhetoric of Sinhala-Buddhist nationalists to use terms like democracy, equality, and popular sovereignty, and rely on modern – that is to say, Western – institutional forms like the republic, the unitary state, semi-presidentialism, and even human rights. That aside, in both the Chinese and Sinhala-Buddhist nationalist iterations of the civilisation-state, legitimacy and coherence are primarily achieved by the dictates of the historically prevalent culture and the efficacy of the state, not by democratic self-determination or consent. There is no necessary commitment to assimilation and to this extent distinctive minority cultures may be tolerated within the hierarchy. But the claims of minorities and individuals who resist integration according to the established hierarchy are neither legitimate nor tolerated.

Any critique of this scheme based on liberal democratic arguments is by definition invalid, because such arguments are based on an incommensurable cultural worldview. The Chinese and Sinhala-Buddhist civilisation-states are validated by the values of their own cultures and histories, not the norms of the West. In any case, there would be little point in attempting dissent to this model of state organisation, because there would simply be no space to articulate that dissent. The success of the entire constitutional enterprise of the civilisation-state depends on everyone’s subordination to the community of civilizational culture, which moreover, it is the primary duty of the state, holding the monopoly of force, to uphold.

The Constitution of the Civilisation-State

Kumaratunga’s Yuthukama proposal is grounded in the philosophical model of constitutionalism outlined above. Its concrete proposals for constitutional change are grouped under five headings: (a) taking steps towards the civilisation-state of our heritage; (b) true people’s representation and people’s sovereignty; (c) consolidating a unitary Sri Lanka; (d) the balance of power between the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary; (e) a society based on duty. The text under these headings contain discussion as much as specific reforms, or endorsements of present arrangements. Some of the polemical claims in the discussion are highly tendentious on both factual and analytical grounds, but for reasons of space, I will not attempt to take issue with those here.

(a) Taking Steps Towards the Civilisation-State of Our Heritage

Executive presidentialism will continue and the directly elected President shall be the Head of State and Head of Government, as well as the Minister of Defence. The Head of State shall govern according to the Dasa Raaja Dhamma and this shall be incorporated in the presidential oath of office. The President must function above party politics, and to ensure this, executive power will be granted to the Prime Minister and the Cabinet, the Constitutional Council, and the independent commissions.

A people-based council (janamoola sabha) will be established at the level of every division (village) comprising every resident of the division. The underlying rationale is to empower the village which is the foundation of our civilisation and to eliminate party political polarisation. These councils will take decisions on all matters concerning the wellbeing and development of the division. The candidate winning the division in local government elections will be the chairman of the janamoola sabha. This will ensure coordination between the janamoola sabha and local government authorities. The graama niladhari, agriculture officer, samurdhi officer, technical advisor, justice of the peace, police officer, health officer, and other such public officers within the division will become members of the janamoola sabha. The legal basis for implementing the decisions of the janamoola sabha is provided by the ex officio membership of these officers.

(b) True People’s Representation and People’s Sovereignty

Proportional representation is to be replaced by a new electoral system. The proposal in this regard is lacking in clarity and detail but it seems the proposed system will elect 75% of MPs from electoral divisions through a simple plurality vote, 20% of ‘best losers’ on proportional representation, and 5% of national list MPs allocated proportionally to the state-wide share of parties.

If a directly elected MP is expelled from or leaves the party from which they have been elected, they lose their seat and a by-election must take place in the division. If an appointed MP is expelled from or leaves their party, they lose their seat, unless they can show before a court of law that they have acted consistently with their party manifesto. This is an unusual extension of judicial review over political matters which it will be very difficult to work in practice without also politicising the judiciary.

If a group of more than 25% of MPs of any party make a request to function independently of the party, they must be permitted to do so. It is not clear from whom this permission is sought and granted.

Only MPs who have served at least two terms are entitled to a pension.

The winning candidate at a presidential election must win not only a plurality of votes but also a plurality of (territorial) divisions. This is to ensure the person elected President represents a majority proportion of the country’s territory.

The principle of overhang seats in local elections will be abolished. The cut off point for all elections held by proportional representation will be 5%.

Provincial Councils will be reconstituted by abolishing direct elections. Instead, the chairmen of local government authorities within the Province will comprise 75% of the Provincial Council, local authority opposition leaders 20%, and 5% by a provincial list chosen proportionally according to local authority election vote shares. The Provincial Councils will become development coordination bodies of the Provinces.

To strengthen the people’s sovereignty, a fundamental right is to be included for any citizen to challenge in the Supreme Court the constitutionality of any constitutional amendment passed without a referendum within two weeks of the date of enactment.

(c) Consolidating a Unitary Sri Lanka

The legislative supremacy of Parliament must be established. Acts of Parliament will prevail over any provincial statute. Law and order must be a subject of the central government in order to prevent disparities. It should be a duty placed on the republic to intervene at any time to alleviate the quality of life of the poorest 10% of the population. Land, poverty alleviation, education, and health must be central government subjects. Sinhala is to be made the state language as the only indigenous language of the island. While the right of citizens whose mother tongue is Tamil to be educated and to transact business with the state in Tamil is protected, the similar rights for the Sinhalese must also be protected. It is the inalienable responsibility of the state to ensure that Sinhalese must be the language of official records. To this end, the Sixteenth Amendment which imposes limitations on the use of Sinhala for official records in the Northern and Eastern Provinces must be corrected.

(d) The Balance of Power between the Executive, the Legislature, and the Judiciary

The Cabinet should be limited to 30 Ministers including the Prime Minister. The President should appoint as Prime Minister the MP who has the confidence of the majority. Other Ministers are to be appointed with the consent (or on the recommendation) of the Prime Minister. Deputy Ministers to be capped at 50, and they too will be appointed with the consent (or on the recommendation) of the Prime Minister. There seems to be some irresolution about whether ministerial appointments should be with the consent of, or on the recommendation of, the Prime Minister, but presumably both are meant as a replacement of the ‘on the advice of’ requirement introduced by the Nineteenth Amendment.

The caps the number of ministries and deputy ministries must be made absolute, and there should be no provision either to increase them or appoint other types of ministers such as State Ministers to bypass the cap. The President must have the power to dismiss any Minister or Deputy Minister. The President must have the power to dissolve Parliament at any time after one year of the commencement of its term.

There should be no change to the appointment of five members of the ten-member Constitutional Council on the recommendation of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, however, this should be subject to parliamentary approval. Of these, instead of three members to represent civil society, one should be nominated by leaders of national religions, one by professional associations, and one by the chambers of commerce. Similarly, the ex officio membership of the Speaker, Prime Minister, and the Leader of the Opposition should remain, as should the nominee of the President and the nominee of other Opposition parties. The Leader of the Opposition should be elected by the majority of MPs, although presumably what is meant here is the majority of Opposition MPs.

Superior court judges, the Attorney General, the IGP, and members of the independent commissions should be appointed by the President subject to the approval of the Constitutional Council. Seniority should be the main criterion for appointments with cause shown for any departures from that principle. The terms of office of these officials should be five or six years, corresponding to the term of the President and Parliament. The lack of resolution on the duration of the term suggests that perhaps restoring six year terms (reduced to five years by the Nineteenth Amendment) might be in contemplation.

Secretaries to Ministries should be appointed by the President on the basis of a circular by the Public Service Commission. Any deviation should be approved by the PSC. The term of office Ministry Secretaries should correspond to the term of office of the President and Parliament.

(e) A Society based on Duty

A statement of duties to be added to the chapter on fundamental rights.

This summary of the Yuthukama proposals gives a fairly specific indication of the thinking of the new elite, and quite possibly the content of a constitutional amendment bill to come after the general election. Executive presidentialism is re-strengthened by undoing some aspects of the Nineteenth Amendment, including the dilution of the requirement of the Prime Minister’s advice for ministerial appointments, restoring the presidential power of ministerial dismissal, and restoring the power of dissolution of Parliament after one year. On the other hand, a key presidential discretion is limited by requiring the Prime Minister enjoy a majority, rather than merely the confidence, of Parliament. This removes the possibility of minority governments, and potentially creates serious scope for constitutional breakdown in the periods between presidential and parliamentary elections when the President’s party may not enjoy a majority in Parliament.

The proposals concerning janamoola  sabhas are at best idealistic. They are more likely to worsen the problems they are intended to solve, by creating another layer of government, waste and corruption, and an extension of politicisation. They are an invitation to a massive invasion of private life by busybodies in the community including priests and local politicians, and in some areas could even endanger the life and property of dispersed ethnic and religious minorities.

The proposals with regard to the Provincial Councils would have been better had they, consistently with the underlying convictions of the Yuthukama group, simply recommended abolition. Other changes to the devolution framework will simply worsen the problems with the Thirteenth Amendment by continuing with a set of resource-wasting institutions without any clear purpose, and removing the limited devolution and language policy rationales.

Overall, a constitution designed along these principles will be very difficult to operate consistently with the rules of law it will itself establish, because there is a ‘neither-fish-nor-foul’ character to the design, and there is no understanding of knock on effects and the coherence of the whole. Aside from Jathika Chinthanaya, the only other underlying consistency is a desire to undo everything that yahapalanaya did. While the proposals are concerned to reduce corrupt practices, this is unlikely to happen, because any change intended to address a source of corruption is more than outweighed by the potential for presidential authoritarianism of the scheme, and the rejection of the values and mechanisms of horizontal and vertical accountability on the grounds that they are culturally alien. Those who think the janamoola sabhas and the Dasa Raaja Dhamma are going to perform a more culturally authentic and therefore more effective function of constraining power where human rights and the rule of law have failed in the past are likely to be severely disappointed. The ethnicisation of governance through the civilisation-state will only increase corruption, arbitrariness, discrimination, and authoritarianism.

In short, this is an example of a constitutional scheme proposed by people who do not know very much about constitutional design, and who are prevented from learning from any constitutional democracy elsewhere because of the self-imposed insularity of their nativist political ideology. But the efficacy of design perhaps does not matter very much, because the statecraft of the civilisation-state is based not on rules of law but on political powers mandated by cultural tenets. The ramshackle remnants of accountability that remain in Sri Lankan governance will be swept away by an institutionally galvanised majority nationalism. It is in this sense that a constitution based on the Yuthukama proposals will qualitatively change Sri Lankan constitutionalism.

After the Civilisation-State: Problems and Prospects

The Yuthukama proposal can be described as a mixture of radicalism and conservatism. It is radical in the way it seeks to reformulate the constitutional philosophy of the state from the nation-state to the civilisation-state paradigm. But it is conservative in the way it seeks to change the text and institutions of the 1978 Constitution. This is an entirely rational strategy for those seeking to instantiate a Jathika Chinthanaya constitution in Sri Lanka. All they have to do is merge the legal and the political dimensions of Sri Lankan constitutionalism, so that the legal constitution derived from the West better serves the aims of the political constitution derived from the Jathika Chinthanaya of the Sinhala-Buddhist civilisation-state.

Sri Lankan constitutionalism is a post-colonial constitutionalism of a new democracy. This means that its practice pivots on a tension between modernity and tradition, or the interplay between the colonial legal inheritance and pre-colonial political practices. Across the post-colonial world, different countries have struck different equilibriums between the competing claims of tradition and modernity, depending on their own circumstances. The spectrum of models ranges from Nehru, Mandela, Nyerere, and Lee at one end, to Pol Pot, Adi Amin, Bokassa, and Mugabe at the other. Sri Lanka’s post-independence constitutionalism has been practiced through two constitutions: the legal and the political. The legal constitution is the one found in the statute book, representing the modern dimension of Sri Lankan constitutional identity. The political constitution is derived from the culturally coherent and politically potent set of ideas around collective identity, sovereignty, territory, and culture derived from the nationalist historiography of the Sinhala-Buddhists. The defining characteristic of Jathika Chinthanaya is that it does not seek a balance between tradition and modernity, but a subordination of modernity to tradition, based on the assertion of the authenticity and superiority of tradition and the rejection of modernity as simply code for Westernisation.

Sri Lankan constitutionalism so far has been an account of how its legal and political constitutions operate in tandem, mapping on to how the two broad halves of its electorate share power by exchanging power through periodic elections. Even against the chronic underperformance of its constitutional institutions, or its inability to satisfactorily deal with the question of communal pluralism, this is the key to understanding how Sri Lanka has never been anything other than a democracy since 1931. If the Yuthukama proposal, or something like it, forms the basis of the expected constitutional reform after the next election, then the objective of that reform is the root and branch replacement of this highly imperfect, but fundamentally democratic, politico-legal settlement. The consequences of this can be far-reaching. For the new elite, the victors of the war, the constitutional establishment of the Sinhala-Buddhist civilisation-state is both the logical next step and an historic course correction. While their intention, understood in the best possible light, might be to replace a corrupt democratic system with a moral civilizational culture, the effect of their constitutional scheme would be to destroy the core polyarchic foundation on which Sri Lanka has avoided state failure in spite of persistent economic underdevelopment, insurrection, and civil war.

And they would be naïve to think that the new settlement will find universal and permanent acceptance. Even if it is assumed that the civilisation-state does enjoy intuitive majoritarian support, and is in any case equipped to use coercion including violence to bed it in, the tradition of electoral democracy is deeply rooted in Sri Lanka unlike in China. This is why the new elite’s ideologues have needed to temper their philosophical romanticism with practical realism in institutional reform. In other words, the trade-off for recreating the ideological substance of the state according to Jathika Chinthanaya is an accommodation with electoral democracy in the Sri Lankan context. By contrast, the Chinese civilisation-state needs no such accommodation with constitutional democracy, as most recently the developments in Hong Kong show. In exchange for a constitution that will enshrine the supremacy of Sinhala-Buddhist culture, enmesh state and society more tightly, and regulate the exercise of power through the Dasa Raaja Dhamma rather than liberal democratic values, they need to leave the regime-changing mechanism of (more-or-less) democratic elections intact. Some among them will see no problem with that, for elections could be an entirely beneficial institution to keep on renewing the legitimacy of the civilisation-state in perpetuity.

But the inconvenient thing about a deeply rooted tradition of electoral democracy in a plural polity, including an ingrained and well-practiced habit of using it to change governments, is that nothing can compete with it for legitimacy. When people become bored, tired, and impatient, even – or especially – with the glories of a 2500 year old culture that is shoved in their face every day by unaccountable monks, overweening politicians, and other arbiters of civilisation, they have ready recourse to a well-established instrument of choice and change to register that displeasure. Thus the brave new world of the Jathika Chinthanaya constitution is inherently something that could be as ephemeral as the Mahinda Chinthanaya constitution under the Eighteenth Amendment. As the Buddha taught, being is always becoming.

Or we could simply refuse to give the government a two-thirds parliamentary majority on 5 August 2020, and pre-empt this epic ideological misadventure from ever happening.

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