A new constitution will be enacted in 2017 when Sri Lanka completes 70 years since the setting up of the legislature, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said today.
“Parliament will celebrate its 70th anniversary in 2017. We will discuss with the Speaker and the party leaders as to how we should mark this event. By that time the present Parliament will enact a new constitution,” he said at a seminar jointly organized by the Sri Lankan Parliament and the USAID-funded programme for Parliament.
The Prime Minister said various constitutions would be studied and assistance of several countries would be obtained in drafting a new constitution.
“We must get to know the US Constitution as it is the first written constitution and see how powers are expanded. Speaker has also taken the initiative to talk to Germany. We have to to talk to the EU about obtaining its assistance for this programme and we will confer with the West Minister Foundation. Britain is engaged in democratic initiatives to decide whether to stay with the EU. We can learn about it as well. I have asked the help of Austria, we can study the systems in Japan and India. I hope to meet the National Peoples Congress Chairman in China,” he said.
The Prime Minister said the Constitution should be drafted and approved with knowledge of the system. “There is no point in an MP lifting the hand for a proposal about which he is unaware as it happened in the past,” he said and stressed the need for MPs to understand the true meaning of democracy. “Democracy means benefits. One must understand what a constituion is about,” he said.
Talking about the shortcomings when enacting a constitution he said a cabinet system was introduced in 1943 during the war time but Sri Lanka did not have any experience on implementing such a system.
He said the governments which enacted the first and second republican constitutions had a two-thirds majority. “I was in Parliament when the second republication constitution was enacted. These were enacted according to the needs of the ruling parties at the time,” the Prime Minister said pointing out that there were shortcomings in it.
He recalled that it was the 13th Amendment which was enacted with the active participation of several parties. “SLFP did not participate in this exercise. Had the SLFP participated in it they would have won several provincial councils in 1988,” he said.
The Prime Minister said a national government is being formed under President Maithripala Sirisena and the two main parties got a mandate to enact a new constitution at the general election. “This won't be a government or party-drafted constitution,” he said.
The Prime Minister said the foremost factor when drafting a constitution is people’s sovereignty. “This is Sri Lankan identity. We are all same and are children of one mother. We have the right to safeguard our own religion and the freedom to follow it,” he said.
He also spoke of universal franchise. The PM said party leaders are discussing a new electoral system at the moment. “We are discussing a mixed member proportionate system. Agreement is being reached on the fundamentals. We have to decide whether we are going to have 60 per cent or 50 per cent proportional representation or whether we need a national list,” he said.
With regard to the rule of law and constitutionalism, the PM said it was important as it has to be decided how the executive and the legislature would work, “We have to decide whether we need a second chamber, some want it others don’t,” he said.
The PM elaborated on power devolution. He said there was no issue with the present system, but one should think of how it is going to be strengthened without affecting the unitary status and the sovereignty of the country.
“Many countries have devolved power in various ways, the US in one way, India in a different way and Britain in another way. We can do our own thing. We have to think of whether we are going to centre power in ministries; We will have to think about de-centralizing power as well and include this in the constitution,” the PM said
He said the constitutional assembly would have to go forward on the recommendations of the public relations committee. “We have to decide whether were are proposing sub committees right away or are we going to wait till we get the report of the public relations committee and form them in May,” he said. “We will have a parliamentary form of governance with standing committees. We have to think of what Buddha preached when establishing our Parliamentary system."
The PM said it was necessary to meet in peace, confer in peace and conclude in peace. This tradition he said can’t be broken. “If this tradition is broken by some one, he is neither a Buddhist, Christian, Muslim nor Hindu. (Yohan Perera)