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Pros and cons of repealing 19A

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25 August 2020 12:11 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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It is a well-known fact that the government is going to amend the Constitution since the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) had requested the people to grant them a two-thirds majority power in order to do away with the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. However, leaders of the party did not tell the country, before the Presidential election or the Parliamentary election as to what would replace that amendment.   


Therefore, fear is expressed from some quarters of the society that the Constitution could be amended in a manner that would be detrimental to the country and the government might argue that it has a mandate to do anything. Besides, it was the same leaders who brought in the 18th Amendment to the Constitution. Hence, some groups speculate that the independent commissions could be abolished as happened in 2010. Also speculations are rife that the five-year term and the number of tenures of the President might also be changed.   


Needless to say that the 19th Amendment while having progressive elements in it had created two almost equal power centres in the form of President and Prime Minister and thereby had created a chaotic situation during the last regime. Hence, it is obvious that the situation demands changes.   


In fact there is nothing in operation separately that could be called the 19th Amendment, as it has now been absorbed into the 2nd Republican Constitution in the form of changes in various places in the latter. It has repealed or replaced (with some others) some Articles or wordings of Articles in the Constitution. It has also added some Articles and wordings to the Constitution. Therefore, it is correct only to say that government is going to do away with or change some or all elements introduced to the Constitution by the 19th Amendment.   


Meanwhile, the hard-line nationalistic elements in the SLPP are demanding the abolition of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution as well, in order to scrap the provincial councils. Also there are fears among the minorities; especially the Muslims that the government was determined to get rid of their Personal Laws, such as the Muslim Personal Law and the Thesavalamai Law of the Tamils of Jaffna Peninsula, as the “One country- one law” slogan seems to be gaining ground. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa too emphasised it in his policy statement at the inauguration of the new Parliament on August 20.   


These are definitely serious and sensitive issues. One can argue that the provincial councils are no longer useful as even the people of the Northern and Eastern Provinces are not complaining about the absence of the elected members of those councils, for the past two years, despite those councils mainly meant for those provinces. However, if those councils are scrapped, as Justice Minister Ali Sabry told at a recent televised interview that Tamil people might take it as an act of provocation. Besides, it involves international obligations as well. There would be a time in future to do away with those councils, if the government succeeded in its effort to implement the President’s theory “reconciliation through development” rather than reconciliation through devolution of power.   
With the notion “one country- one law” most people seem to target the Muslim Personal Law which they incorrectly call Sharia Law. Muslim Personal Law in Sri Lanka contains some Sharia elements pertaining to matrimonial and testamentary issues along with some un-Islamic elements such as dowry. It goes without saying that the law has to be reformed to suit the present-day context, but the abolition of it would demand the same in respect of the Kandyan Law and the Thesavalamai Law, without which it would be construed as discrimination against or mistreatment of a community.   


All these personal laws involve only personal issues. However, if we are really interested in enforcing the “One country- one law” policy, we must also be able to see the discriminatory implementation of law against the poor. For instance, one suspect is thrown or kicked into the police jeep while another is invited to give a statement which he obliges to, according to his convenience.   


Constitutions in Sri Lanka have mostly been amended or replaced with another in the past not in the interest of the country or the people of it, rather they had been done to suit the interests of the ruling parties and the whims and fancies of the rulers. Since 1947 we have had three totally new Constitutions and 19 amendments to the last Constitution. The United States Constitution stands firm for over 200 years without changing the basic structure of the federal government of the United States. The SLPP must use its two-thirds majority power to present a Constitution that would stand by the generations to come.     


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