CONFUSION RE: CONSITUTIONAL ASSEMBLY AND DRAFT CONSTITUTION
Posted on February 2nd, 2019

JANAKI CHANDRARATNA

Constitutionality of the Constitutional Assembly is a topic much debated in recent times. It is an understatement to say that Sri Lankans are in a state of exhaustion with interpretations of the current constitution, since the dissolution of Parliament on 9 November 2018. An introduction of a new constitution without identifying the discrepancies of the existing one would no doubt be a disaster at this stage.

The ill-timed tabling of the proposed constitutional changes, which political analysts claim to have the potential to dismember the sovereign state of Sri Lanka, to nine independent states has not done the govt. any favors in recent times. People are concerned about the purpose of the Constitutional Assembly, when the Parliament could have appointed a Committee of recognized experts to draft the constitution. The Terms of Reference of the Constitutional Assembly or its powers are not discussed or informed to the electorate in any forum. There is a suspicion that a 2/3 majority in the Constitutional Assembly could bypass the referendum process required for a new constitution. The PM however is keen to go through to a vote in parliament on the controversial proposed changes despite the disapproval of some of its own party members. This can be due to his confidence to win over the dissenting MPS for monetary considerations, which was said to have taken place for the proof of majority in parliament in the aftermath of the dissolution. Needless to say that no democracy can be saved, if MPS can shift their election party policies for considerations other than those approved by the people.

The latest strategy of the Govt. is to form another ‘National Govt.’ to attract MPS for increased ministerial positions, purportedly to get a 2/3 vote for the draft constitution changes. The Leader of the House has extended an invitation to all parties to join the national govt. if they are keen to protect democracy while providing relief to people and paying off the loans obtained by Mahinda Rajapaksa government”, (Island Newspaper, 1 Feb. 2019).

It is clear that the govt. has not learnt from the last 3-year yahapalana experience or from the humiliating defeat at the last local govt. elections. Instead of changing course of direction they continue to treat the masses as asses. Sri Lankans with an exposure to 60 years of independence are aware of the fact that there cannot be any democracy when their right to elections is denied over a prolonged period of time. The talk of bringing relief to the people in the final year and a half of governance with the current govt.’s failed economic strategies is nothing but a pie in the sky. The average citizen is also aware that increased loan payments are because of excessive govt. borrowings in the last 3 years and not solely due to Rajapaksa loans.

If the Govt. is keen to bring in a new constitution to protect democracy and its people, it needs to explain to the constituents the Constitutional Assembly processes that would be adopted after the parliamentary debate. This is important to alleviate the fears of bypassing the referendum requirements in case of a 2/3 vote.  After all the 19th amendment, which curtailed significant presidential powers was passed without a referendum!

It appears the new constitution is to appease the minorities for their support at the next election. The majority however, awaits in earnest for an explanation as to why sections 2 and 9 that deal with the unitary status of the state and the place given to Buddhism respectively were amended, if there is no intention to change the current status. Further, if the tabled document is not a draft constitution, why was a 2017 report of the steering committee of the Constitutional Assembly, which has had comments from all participating political parties, presented as a new expert panel report in 2019?

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