The Sunday Leader

The Original Shape Of The Constitution Has Got Distorted – Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe

  • People in need of a new Constitution that recognizes democratic values and norms

By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema

UNP Parliamentarian and President’s Counsel Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, who is also Chairman of the Research and Policy Unit of UNP, says in reference to the presentation of draft Constitution by the UNP that it is the first time a political party has submitted to the people the substance of the proposed constitution giving an opportunity to the people of every level to have dialogue before finalising the Constitutional Bill. “People of this country strongly believe that the prevailing constitution must be replaced with a new, which would give recognition to democratic values and norms with proper checks and balances. It should guarantee that constitution should not be misused to create a despotic government,” he said.

Following is the interview:

Q: Why did the UNP feel the necessity to prepare and release a draft Constitution for the country?
A: Number 1. The concentration of power in one person has already created authoritarianism in the country with high levels of corruption and nepotism destroying all democratic values and principles.

2. The powers of the executive presidency has been abused to an unprecedented levels creating a despotism and now there is no regards in the country to Rule of Law, human rights and principles of good governance and so on.

3. The dignity and the honour of the office of the President as the Head of State has been completely desecrated and has become despicable due to abuse of power, interference into the other organs of the State, blatant violation of the laws including the Constitution, extending protection to criminals and plunderers of State funds and public resources, inefficiency in the administration and wastage and vandalism of public fund and properties.

4. The original shape of the Constitution has got distorted and deformed due to ad hoc amendments made to it. Some of them are contradictory to one another. Therefore it has become impossible to reform it by amendments and it needs to be replaced by a properly drafted constitution.

5. People of this country strongly believe that the prevailing constitution must be replaced with a new which would give recognition to democratic values and norms with proper checks and balances and it should guarantee that constitution should not be misused to create a despotic government.

Q: The current 1978 Constitution was also prepared by the UNP. What are the drawbacks you see in the Constitution?
A: Firstly, too much of power concentration in one man namely the President has led the country to a severe debilitation in every sphere of the country. There is a popular saying that “Power tends to corrupt, absolute power corrupts absolutely”. The present situation in the country demonstrates that it is absolutely true.
Secondly, although the framers of the Constitution under UNP regime in 1978 expected that every President elected by people under this Constitution would honour and adhere to the time honoured and tested democratic principles and conventions, during recent past it has been demonstrated that the office of presidency is mostly used for personal gains and political expediency throwing the priorities of the people wayside.
Thirdly, what is prevailing at present is not the 1978 Constitution as it has got distorted and mutilated by the 18th Amendment which was adopted as an Urgent Bill by steamrolling the opposition. As a result checks and balances built into the Constitution are completely destroyed making the Parliament a dysfunctional entity and other governmental institutions as subservient bodies to the President.

Q: How effective do you think the proposed draft Constitution would be in addressing issues faced by the country and people?
A: This has addressed the following issues;
Abolition of Executive President and the preferential vote system.
Restoration of the sovereignty of the people taken away by the present regime.
Restoration of law and order in the country providing a mechanism to ensure that the Rule of Law is upheld within a framework of a democratic Constitution.
Strengthening parliamentary democracy by creating an executive responsible to parliament and people.
Restoration of the judiciary independence.
Guaranteeing the right of expression including the right to information.
Establishment of independent commissions and strengthening of Parliamentary Oversight Committees (COPE and PAC) to ensure good governance.
Introduce new anti-corruption law with retrospective effect     and also to cover private sector corruption.
With the aforementioned reforms it is crystal clear that we can bring the State administrative mechanism to a benevolent one.

Q: It is said that the proposed draft Constitution would be submitted for a referendum six months after the UNP establishes a government. Why should the people have faith in such statements given the many promises made by political parties in the past?
A: Not really after six months, but before six months. People must have faith in it as all these efforts are made to ensure the rights of the people and not for our benefits. In the 1970 election Mrs. Bandaranaike in her election manifesto promised to adopt an autonomous constitution and she did comply with that promise in 1972. Accordingly Colvin drafted 1st Republican Constitution. In 1977, J. R. Jayewardene also made a similar promise in his     election manifesto and in fact he adopted the 2nd Republican Constitution in 1978.

Similarly this is the foremost objective of a future UNP government. Difference in adaptation of constitutions in the past and this one will be that in the past political parties never submitted what their constitution would be if they are elected, but this is the first time a political party has submitted to the people the substance of the proposed constitution and give an opportunity to the people of every level to have dialogue before finalising the Constitutional Bill. Earlier situation was like people giving a blank cheque to a party to fill it in a way that after the party was elected created chaos in the country.

People have no reason to disbelieve our promise, as the UNP is the only party, which has formed governments and ruled this country as a single political party after the independence 1948.

Q: The abolition of the executive presidency is a common political slogan in the country. The UNP has also said that it would abolish the executive presidency. How different would the UNP’s approach be?
A: The only occasion where UNP promised to abolish the Executive Presidency was in the 2010 presidential election in which we fielded a common candidate, but we lost in that election. The 1994 election manifesto of Mrs. Kumaranatunge says that the executive presidency is a bane for this country and it would be abolished on a priority basis. Mahinda Chintanaya is a continuation of the same coalition government. This is the first time that UNP as a single party makes a promise to abolish it, but of course we seek the support of everyone who wish to establish a dignified political culture and a prosperous economy in this country.

Q: How will the powers vested with the executive presidency be divided between the Head of State, Prime Minister and the Speaker?
A: Not finalised and are awaiting public opinion. There are a few options. Executive powers could be divided between the head of State who is responsible to Parliament and the people. Cabinet of Ministers headed by the Prime Minister would exercise executive powers with safeguards provided for a proper checks and balances through the Speaker’s Council which will consists of Speaker, Prime Minister, Leader of Opposition and representatives of the other political parties in the Parliament.

Q: How confident are you that the Cabinet could be limited to 25 ministers including the Prime Minster?
A: If necessary we can include that into the Constitution.

Q: What does it mean when you say genuinely devolve power to the provincial units?
A: We have explained the basis of power devolution to provincial units. That will be done duly considering the following materials;
a)     Official communiqués between Government of Sri Lanka and Secretary General of United Nation,
b)     Resolutions passed by UN Human Rights Committee
c)     Tissa Vitharana Recommendations (All Party Conference)
d)     LLRC Recommendations
e)     Speech made by Mahinda Rajapaksa in Parliament in May 2009

Q: How will a UNP government set up the proposed Constitutional Court to interpret the Constitution and examine constitutionality of bills?
A: It is a system that prevails in most of the modern democratic constitutions and found a successful one, for example South African Constitution.

Q: How confident are you of successful implementation of the draft Constitution?
A: If people give us the mandate, it is certain that this will be implemented with utmost priority.

3 Comments for “The Original Shape Of The Constitution Has Got Distorted – Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe”

  1. Sudath

    A common slogan once again surfaced. instead of “president” “head of state”.when UNP can not find a marketable candidate at the next presidential election, this is another fulatile attempt to put forward a marketable concept or a slogan at the next election. new constitution….no longer been marketable to Sri Lankan voters.

  2. sarath

    it is not clear whether UNP is going to adopt a constitution without passing it unless by ways prescribed in the 1978 constitution with 2/3 majority and the referendum. there is no way of passing with a mandate of the people and a referendum as mentioned above.
    UNP made a big mistake by bringing 1978 constitution. all these defects and possibilities of so-called misuse of power and so on are being well described in DR N M Perera’ s “Analysis of the Constitution” written in 1978. Wijedasa Rajapaskse understood only after fall of Mrs Kumaranatunge. I want to remind him what he submitted to SC in 2002 when Ranil tried to curtail the power of the President.

  3. gamarala

    Abolition of the Executive Presidency and repeal of the 18th amendment will correct most if not all ills of governance.
    The UNP Cross Overs must return to the UNP if they have the welfare of the nation as priority.
    If they do, this will be possible and they will be hailed as saviours by the nation.

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