Con­sti­tu­tion mak­ing: The hard road ahead

Sunday Times (Sri Lanka) - - PARLIAMENT/NEWS - By Chan­dani Kirinde, Our Lobby Correspondent

The mak­ing of a new Con­sti­tu­tion for the coun­try was never go­ing to be easy, but views ex­pressed this week by lead­ing po­lit­i­cal play­ers in the coun­try showed that, how­ever no­ble the ideals of those who have set the process in mo­tion are, it’s go­ing to be a highly di­vi­sive process.

Leader of the Op­po­si­tion Mahinda Ra­japaksa made it clear on Fri­day when Par­lia­ment met as the Con­sti­tu­tional Assem­bly (CA) that such a process can- not be taken for­ward by the Gov­ern­ment of Prime Min­is­ter Ranil Wick­remesinghe as they had no ‘moral right' to en­gage in en­act­ing a new Con­sti­tu­tion given their dis­mal per­for­mance at the last elec­toral test they faced by way of the Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment elec­tion in Fe­bru­ary last year.

Ra­japaksa was keen that an elec­tion be held first be­fore the Gov­ern­ment dab­bles in the con­sti­tu­tional mak­ing process. “We can­not do this within Par­lia­ment. This should be ap­proved by the peo­ple. You should hold an elec­tion. We will bring our pro­pos­als for a new con­sti­tu­tion and let the peo­ple de­cide,” he said.

Prime Min­is­ter Wick­remesinghe tabled sev­eral doc­u­ments when the CA met which in­cluded a re­port pre­pared by the Panel of Ex­perts for the Steer­ing Com­mit­tee which is based on the In­terim Re­port, six Sub Com­mit­tee Re­ports, the Re­port of the ad hoc Sub Com­mit­tee set up by the Steer­ing Com­mit­tee to look into the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the Par­lia­ment and the Provin­cial Coun­cils. These in­cluded a draft of what would be the salient fea­tures of t he pro­posed new Con­sti­tu­tion.

The Prime Min­is­ter sought to put to rest the two most con­tentious is­sues that the Mahinda Ra­japaksa camp has been us­ing as the bo­gey­men to de­rail the con­sti­tu­tional mak­ing process, re­as­sur­ing that the uni­tary sta­tus of the ex­ist­ing Con­sti­tu­tion as well as the fore­most place guar­an­teed to Bud­dhism will re­main un­changed.

The draft Con­sti­tu­tion tabled on Fri­day states, “Sri Lanka ( Cey­lon) is a free, sov­er­eign and in­de­pen­dent Repub­lic which is an aekiya ra­jyaya / orumiththa nadu with the words “aekiya ra­jyaya / orumiththa” mean­ing a State which is un­di­vided and in­di­vis­i­ble while the Chap­ter on Religion guar­an­tees “Bud­dhism the fore­most place with the State be­ing duty bound to “pro­tect and fos­ter the Bud­dha Sasana.”

“None of the pro­pos­als in the draft al­lows for a di­vi­sion of the coun­try. There are some who re­peat that the coun­try is be­ing di­vided. We have been given a man­date to for­mu­late a new con­sti­tu­tion. There are var­i­ous pro­pos­als as to how power could be de­volved within a uni­tary state. We could se­lect the most suit­able pro­pos­als and de­vel- op them in for­mu­lat­ing the new con­sti­tu­tion,” the Prime Min­is­ter said.

How­ever such guar­an­tees were a hard sell where the Leader of the Op­po­si­tion and his g roup in Par­lia­ment were con­cerned, with Mr. Ra­japaksa keener on elec­tions than get­ting dragged into a con­sti­tu­tion mak­ing process. “There is se­ri­ous doubt if the peo­ple will ac­cept this. You have al­ready de­layed elec­tions. You have pre­vented the peo­ple from ex­press­ing their ver­dict. Do not try to fool the peo­ple and Par­lia­ment,” he said.

The JVP too noted that the Con­sti­tu­tion- mak­ing process ini­ti­ated by the gov­ern­ment is mov­ing too slowly and has failed to bring about a con­sen­sus among var­i­ous po­lit­i­cal par­ties and groups.

“It's three years since the process started but the process is mov­ing very slowly. The Steer­ing Com­mit­tee it­self is di­vided into sev­eral fac­tions. It has met 83 times in the past three years but there is no agree­ment on many im­por­tant is­sues. If the Steer­ing Com­mit­tee can­not come to a unan­i­mous de­ci­sion, how can we ag ree on a new Con­sti­tu­tion?” JVP leader MP Anura Ku­mara Dis­sanayake queried.

There was a call from TNA Leader R. Sam­pan­than for the en­act­ment of a Con­sti­tu­tion that would unite all the peo­ple of this coun­try. “All Sri Lankans have the right to their moth­er­land. All are equal cit­i­zens of this coun­try. We should be united in our ap­proach. We have failed to pro­tect unity in di­ver­sity and cre­ate a com­mon Sri Lankan iden­tity. It is our in­ten­tion to unite peo­ple through this con­sti­tu­tion,” he said.

Only 56 of the 225 MPs in Par­lia­ment were present when the CA met on Fri­day. This is a re­flec­tion that the Con­sti­tu­tion mak­ing process is be­ing viewed with scant re­gard by a ma­jor­ity of law­mak­ers. Given the in­flam­ma­tory na­ture of the views ex­pressed by those op­posed to the pro­pos­als on the ta­ble, tak­ing it for­ward from here will be a mas­sive chal­lenge for this gov­ern­ment which is also grap­pling with many other is­sues that are more the pri­or­ity for the pub­lic at large, than the en­act­ment of a new Con­sti­tu­tion.

The Prime Min­is­ter sought to put to rest the two most con­tentious is­sues that the Mahinda Ra­japaksa camp has been us­ing as the bo­gey­men to de­rail the con­sti­tu­tional mak­ing process, re­as­sur­ing that the uni­tary sta­tus of the ex­ist­ing Con­sti­tu­tion as well as the fore­most place guar­an­teed to Bud­dhism will re­main un­changed.

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