Do we need a new constitution?
Posted on July 24th, 2017

BY Sugeeswara Senadhira Courtesy Ceylon Today

This week marks the 34th anniversary of Black July 1983, one of the darkest days post independence in Sri Lanka. The killings, arson, and looting sent shockwaves around the world and soon the ruthless killings by the Tamil terrorists were forgotten by the international community and the blame shifted to the Sinhalese community. The government was unable to protect the minorities (including the Tamil inmates at Welikada Prison) and this only made matters worse. After the violence was curtailed and some normalcy was restored, the intellectual community probed into the reasons for such senseless violence and the opinion of the majority was that early steps should be taken to devolve powers to ensure ethnic harmony. Due to this reason, the need for Constitutional amendments was discussed at length. However, at the end of the day, nobody was able to come up with a proper solution. Today, almost every political party is of the view that the Executive Presidency needs to be abolished.

After the 1983 riots, the Tamil parliamentarians in the Opposition decided to vacate their seats because of the introduction of the 6th Amendment to the Constitution on oath of allegiance. When the Opposition Leader, Appapillai Amirthalingam and other Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) members walked out of the Parliament, the dialogue with the moderate ended and the Tamil militants forcefully took over the Tamil political arena.

There were many rounds of unproductive dialogues like the All Party Conferences, G. Parthasarathy Talks, S. Chidambaram Proposals of 19 December, and Bangalore Talks. Finally, the Provincial Councils were established after the signing of the Indo-Lanka Agreement on 29 July 1987, which came about without an elaborate and lengthy national dialogue.

The 13th Amendment

The 13th Amendment stated that “Subject to the provisions of the Constitution, a Provincial Council shall be established for every province specified in the Eighth Schedule with effect from such date or dates as the President may appoint by Order published in the Gazette.” However, the Provincial Council system could not bring about a lasting solution. Although there were 5 more amendments thereafter, including the controversial 18th Amendment, the most democratic constitutional exercise to strengthen democratic norms in the Constitution was the 19th Amendment which was enacted after the Presidential Election of 2015. Marking the beginning of a new chapter in the contemporary political history of Sri Lanka, the Parliament adapted the 19th Constitutional Amendment with an overwhelming majority. The legislation envisaged the dilution of many powers of the Executive Presidency, which had been in force since 1978.

Some of the important features of the 19th Amendment are: the reduction in the terms of President and Parliament from six years to five years; re-introduction of a two-term limit for the President; the President was only able to dissolve Parliament after four and a half years; the revival of the Constitutional Council and the establishment of independent commissions.

The 19th Amendment

By introducing the 19th Amendment, President Maithripala Sirisena transferred some of the powers of his Executive Presidency to the Parliament, thus ensuring that no person would have too much power. At the same time, those powers were divested with the elected legislative body, thus strengthening the democratic principle of “a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” While the 19th Amendment fulfilled some of the demands of the people, all the promises given in the election manifestoes of the Common Candidate for the January 2015 Presidential Election and UNP and the SLFP-led UPFA manifestoes for August 2015 Parliamentary Elections could not be fulfilled. The abolishing of the Executive Presidency was the main promise.

Speaking at the State funeral for Venerable Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera, President Maithripala Sirisena pledged that he would take all possible measures to abolish the Executive Presidency as desired by Venerable Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera.

“The Thera also voiced the need for a new electoral system and I pledged that I would do my best to make that wish a reality,” he said. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe also expressed similar sentiments. “The greatest tribute that could be paid to Venerable Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera is to commit to bring about good governance and build a just society where democracy is upheld vibrantly,” he said. Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe further stated “Even when I visited the Venerable Thera in hospital, he spoke to me for around 1 hour about the future plans to bring about good governance and build a just society. It is sad that the Venerable Thera passed away before they were implemented.”

Election Pledge

Although abolition of the Executive Presidency was the main promise of President Maithripala Sirisena throughout his campaign, the Supreme Court ruled that such a significant amendment to the Constitution could not be made without a national referendum and a two third majority in Parliament. The drafting of a new Constitution and getting it passed at a Parliament sitting is the main task now and this process could benefit from the experience gained during the drafting of the 19th Amendment. There are, however, a few hurdles.

The National Freedom Front (NFF) led by Wimal Weerawansa decided to withdraw from the Constitutional Council. Although it is a small party, it has five members in Parliament. Another Parliamentarian, Venerable Athuraliye Rathana Thera although elected to the House on a UNP ticket says there is no need for a new Constitution.

The UNP manifesto stated that the party would cooperate with other parties in the Parliament to adopt a new Constitution. Apart from these few opposing voices, President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe are in a strong position to speed up the constitutional process and obtain the approval of the Parliament.

If the two parties together with their leaders come to a consensus, it will not be difficult to get the approval at a national referendum.

3 Responses to “Do we need a new constitution?”

  1. Dilrook Says:

    This makes little sense. If TULF MPs were unable to abide by territorial integrity of Sri Lanka (6A), what is the point in negotiating with them? They were hardly moderates. They were as extremist as LTTE.

    There is a wrong view peddled by certain elements (including the LTTE) that the war started with the 1983 riot. The contrary is true. The riot was a (wrong) response to war started by Tamils in killing 13 army soldiers while on duty in Jaffna. Had that not happened, the riot would not have happened. Did so called moderate Tamil leaders castigate the LTTE for the aghast killing? No. It further proves they were hardly moderate.

    Eventually Sri Lanka won the war unconditionally. It could not have had a peaceful solution. In the long run, it is very good that the matter was sorted out by military means than political means.

    There is no need for a new constitution.

  2. Fran Diaz Says:

    Agree with Dilrook that there is no need for a new Constitution.

    ——

    Things to Do :

    * Remove the ILLEGAL 13-A imposed on the JRJ govt in 1987.

    * Activate the 6-A.

  3. SA Kumar Says:

    *Remove the 6-A
    * Activate the 13-A.
    Our 2,000 years old day dream TE become Real !!!

    * Remove the ILLEGAL 13-A
    * Activate the 6-A.
    We will start our Eelam war V soon than that will end in Nanthi Kadal with in another 33 years time( lost of 500,000 live).

    * Activate the 13-A.
    * Activate the 6-A.
    We All will live together in Our United Mother Lanka forever. We may get Bhuddist Sinhela CM in NEP & First Saiva/Muslim Tamil Prime minister in our live time .

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