The Sunday Leader

Don’t Rush Constitutional Amendments

The main issue at the last presidential election was to do away with the pernicious powers vested in the executive presidency and to make amendments to the Constitution to restore much of the executive powers vested in the presidency back to parliament.

President Maithripala Sirisena, who campaigned strongly against the powers of the executive presidency and was elected, has set a timetable for changing the executive powers among keeping several pledges given to the people within 100 days of his election as the president.

While keeping to some pledges given such as salary hikes could have been brought about by administrative decisions, constitutional changes require deeper studies in constitutional law and for the far reaching impacts they would have on the political firmament as well as on society.

Sri Lanka has bitter experience in making constitutional changes. The 1972 Constitution, which took two years to make by an elected parliament sitting as a constituent assembly, resulted in severe damage to the state of racial relations – between Sinhalese and Tamils – which were not on shaky grounds even then.

The first Constitution, the Soulbury Constitution had specific provisions to protect the rights of minorities. It was specifically stated that no religion or community shall be granted rights and privileges not granted to other communities. But this constitutional protection was done away with under the slogan of ‘power to the people’.

Tamil members protested vehemently and they boycotted participating in the formation of the Constitution. The main minority community keeping away from drafting of the Constitution should have been considered with utmost seriousness but the constitutional pundits of the day, carried away by the sweeping election victory of 1970 that gave  them a 2/3rd majority, apparently did not think it important. This brought about a steady drift away of Sinhalese and Tamils. The 1978 Constitution, enacted by a government which had a 5/6th majority, made matters worse and finally led to a terrorist conflict that went on for decades bringing misery to all Sri Lankans.

The architects of these two constitutions had quite some time to ponder on the constitutional implications and their effects on society but were moved by ludicrous desires such as a lust for eternal power and even petty political gain.

Whatever the motivations of the present architects of the constitution may be, a constraining factor would be the extremely short period which they have to amend the Constitution before going for a parliamentary election.

President Sirisena, true to his word, has consented to drastically reduce the executive powers of the presidency and hand it over to parliament headed by a prime minister presumably on the lines of a Westminster form of government. But a shift over to this form of government would also require a change in the proportional system of voting about which much dissatisfaction has been expressed.

There appears to be a consensus about a new system of voting such as one similar to the German system which is a mixed system of election of candidates per electorate as well on a proportional system based on parties.

This could indeed be a very tricky business for delimitation of electorates would be called for. We wonder whether a change in the system of voting is envisaged under the new setup.

If a new system of voting is introduced hurriedly within a short time various allegations of ‘dirty tricks’ could be made that could lead to very serious consequences.

We are not familiar with the proposed changes in the voting system that is too made soon after the expiry of the 100-Day period or later on.

Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha Thero, who made the first move in calling for drastic changes in the Executive Presidential System, last week in a TV interview said that postponement of parliamentary elections even by two years was possible and such postponement, if needed for improvement of the constitutional changes, should not be objected to.

This country has gone from crisis to crisis because of short sighted political decisions made for petty political advantages.

There are many other constitutional changes to be considered such as on the 13th Amendment.

The people are in a mighty hurry for immediate changes and speedy justice delivered to criminals. Procrastination has led to people losing their faith in the parliamentary and judicial systems. But committing mistakes for expediting processes could lead to equally deleterious effects.

3 Comments for “Don’t Rush Constitutional Amendments”

  1. T Wickramaratna

    Very appropriate article.. We have suffered enough under the prevailing constitution. My3 has agreed on an amendment. At least now, we hope the politicians we get together to draft a reasonable constitution for this country

  2. Dr M.L.Najimudeen

    100 days are not enough to make the required changes in the constitution.
    No one wants an election in few months time
    The present government can function for one year, do the necessary amendments systematically and go for an election after one year.

  3. anpu

    Excellent commentary and Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha Thero is absolutely correct.

    “The 1978 Constitution, enacted by a government which had a 5/6th majority, made matters worse and finally led to a terrorist conflict that went on for decades bringing misery to all Sri Lankans.” Indeed.

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