by Ashanthi Warunasuriya
- While many opinions have been expressed regarding the new Constitution, the President had instructed the relevant committees to expedite the reports pertaining to the formulation of the new Constitutional process
- Another significant issue is that the President had asked his legal advisors to prepare the draft for proposed Constitution that can be passed with a 2/3rd majority without a referendum
Lakshman Kiriella, Susil Premajayantha, Ranjith Madduma Bandara
President Maithripala Sirisena has instructed several senior ministers to expedite the Constitution drafting process. Although the topic of formulating a new Constitution has been discussed, there is a concern among many over the delay in the process.
Formulating a new Constitution was one of the main election promises of the good governance regime. While many opinions have been expressed regarding the new Constitution, the President had instructed the relevant committees to expedite the reports pertaining to the formulation of the new Constitutional process.
The President had wanted the public kept informed of the progress. The reduction of executive presidential powers and revising of the electoral system are important features of the new constitution.
Another significant issue is that the President had asked his legal advisors to prepare the draft for proposed Constitution that can be passed with a 2/3rd majority without a referendum. The President had said this during a discussion he had with Chief Ministers recently.
Although there is speculation that the government is preparing to divide the country according to a federal system, the President reiterated that be it federal or otherwise, he will not allow the country to be divided.
Social Welfare and Empowerment Minister S.B. Dissanayake said the possibility of having the Constitutional amendments passed with a 2/3rd majority without a referendum was stated in the good governance election manifesto and that is the President’s stand. Minister of Labour and Trade Unions Relations W. D.J. Seneviratna said that from the beginning the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) was of the view had that Constitutional amendment were required.
Minister Susil Premajayantha said if the government opts for a Constitutional amendment, it can be done without calling for a referendum.
However the SLFP is of the view that if the Executive Presidency is abolished, it would have a negative effect on the sovereignty of this country.
Meanwhile factions in the SLFP and the United National Party (UNP) claimed that differences of opinion in the new Constitution are the main reason for the delay in drafting a new Constitution. Senior UNP member Ranjith Madduma Bandara said the process of formulating a new Constitution is dragging on because of the SLFP. He said the current government was formed by the President and the UNP and the SLFP should understand that position. He indicated that the UNP is working to bring a new Constitution.
In response to Madduma Bandara’s comment, Minister John Amaratunga said it is true that there are issues between the SLFP and UNP factions within the government and added that in order to overcome these obstacles and work together amicably, representatives of both parties should sit together and discuss issues in a cordial manner.
Meanwhile, Higher Education Minister Lakshman Kiriella said the UNP received the mandate of the people at the last election based on the promise of formulating a new Constitution.
Kiriella pointed out that during the election campaign, President Sirisena had promised to bring in a new Constitution and get it approved at a referendum. “What is the harm in getting the approval of the people after formulating a new Constitution?” he asked. Joint opposition member Prasanna Ranatunge said whether it is formulating a new Constitution or amending the existing one, the public need to be focused and on alert to see if it is harmful or useful to the country.
He said if a Constitutional amendment will be detrimental to the country, under no circumstance will the joint opposition give its backing. He also accused the government of acting according to the whims and fancies of the Diaspora and it is fair to have suspicions about the government’s intentions, considering the slow pace and deliberate delay in taking a decision regarding the constitution. H says the public must be alert regarding the situation in the country and if there is even the slightest indication that the government is planning on taking any decision that is unfavorable to the country, the joint opposition is prepared to gather all forces against the government and take to the streets in protest.
UNP, MP Mujibur Rahuman said the Constitutional amendment is something that the government promised the people and it should be done without delay. He said just as the government made a commitment to foster reconciliation among the Tamils in the North and Sinhalese in the South, the constitution issue should also be resolved without delay. He pointed out that devolution of power was nothing new to this country and said that even in the 1987 Indo-Sri Lanka peace accord, devolution of power was among the issues discussed. Similarly, he said no matter what issue arises regarding a referendum, if the government wants to amend the Constitution, seeking public views through a referendum is a vital factor.
Expressing his views on the new Constitution, Chairman of the Sri Lanka Podu Jana Peramuna G.L. Peiris said the government has no desire or mechanism with regard to formulating a new Constitution. He pointed out that despite speculations, there are around ten clauses in the Constitution that cannot be amended without a referendum and the Executive Presidency cannot be abolished without that. “Just like the Diaspora, there is huge pressure being excerpted on the government of Sri Lanka. As the government is indebted to the Diaspora they will say whatever it takes to please them, but the government has no proper plan to address any of these concerns.” The JVP who constantly harped on the Constitution as well as the devolution of power, is of the view that as the SLFP claims, if the UNP agrees to it, they would be defying the mandate they received.
“The President did not receive the people’s mandate as the Chairman of the SLFP. Hence he has no right to stand up for those representing the SLFP Interim Committee. This is hoodwinking the people who voted for him.
What we want is for the Executive Presidency to be abolished and a new Constitution brought in through a referendum. If the Northern people’s grievances have not been resolved so far with the current devolution of power, then the government will need to look at an alternative power devolution package in order to address the issued faced by the Northern people,” said JVP MP Dr. Nalinda Jayatissa.
Left Front leader Vasudeva Nanayakkara said, “Even we are unaware if the government is planning on amending the existing Constitution or bringing in a new Constitution. A Constitutional amendment cannot be done without a referendum. However, despite all these issues, our future goal is to defeat this government,” he added.