Sri Lanka needs a new constitution - Editorial

26 October 2012 06:30 pm - 2     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Though the October 19 rally organised by the National Bhikkhu Front was not as effective as expected, the National Movement for Social Justice is intensifying its campaign for the abolition of the executive presidential system on the basis that the system is dragging Sri Lanka into a dictatorship.
The movement headed by the Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha Nayaka Thera, held another meeting in Kandy on Wednesday, with former army commander Sarath Fonseka and former High Court Judge W.T.M.P.B. Warawewa also present. It was judge Warawewa who had given a dissenting judgment in a case against a Military Court verdict on the former army chief and war hero. They strongly reiterated the view that the 1978 constitution for the executive presidential system was breaking down independent democratic institutions, especially after the abrogation of the 17th Amendment and the enactment of the 18th Amendment which gave virtually absolute powers to an already-powerful executive presidency.

Until 1970 Sri Lanka was regarded as one of Asia’s model democracies with checks and balances and a separation of powers among the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. Though there was no executive presidency during the Sirimavo Bandaranaike administration from 1970 to 1977, we had emergency regulations for at least six of those seven years.

UNP leader J.R. Jayewardene who swept to office in 1977 with an unprecedented 5/6 majority in parliament introduced the executive presidency. He apparently hoped that through the PR system, the UNP could remain in power but events worked out otherwise and  the SLFP came back to office in 1994. President Chandrika Kumaratunga who was elected in November 1994 with a huge majority of more than 60%, had described the executive presidential system as a curse and vowed she would abolish it within 24 hours. But power is tasty and corrupts the mind, so she went on till 2005, till she was forced to quit.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa who took over in 2005, and consolidated his position through the 18th Amendment and his administration appears to be continuing the attack on the judiciary which is the last bastion of democracy. In recent weeks various efforts were made to undermine the judiciary which is asserting its independence and has given strong judgments in various cases. The latest moves appear to be aimed directly at the Chief Justice, amid speculation the regime wants to put one of its yes-men in that position. If that happens, most Sri Lankans and even the international community will lose respect for the judiciary and Sri Lanka’s image will be further damaged. That is why Ven. Sobitha Nayaka Thera’s movement, other parties and independent groups believe a coordinated campaign should be launched for the abolition of the executive presidency and for the restoration of parliamentary government under a new constitution. Such a constitution, most observers believe, must also have provisions for an extensive devolution of power for reconciliation among the ethnic groups and for lasting peace with justice.
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  Comments - 2

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  • Hussain Sunday, 28 October 2012 02:43 AM

    We do not need a new constitution, we need to go back to what we had at independence in 1947. If that system has worked well in countries such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand etc. why should that not work in Sri Lanka? Our guys are always good at putting the horse before the cart. [in our case the buffalo]

    Muthu Saturday, 27 October 2012 10:06 AM

    The biggest mistake was by JRJ who wanted to keep UNP in power forever. What has has happened to the UNP and the country now. Same thing might happen to the SLFP and the country. Whichever way country is gong to lose. That means we will remain a third world developing country forever at the mercy of super powers. Change of constitution and executive presidency is very much needed.


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