By C. V. Vivekananthan
At the General Elections of 1977, the UNP headed by J.R. Jayawardene, presented its manifesto to the people. By its manifesto, the UNP sought a mandate from the people inter-alia “to draft, adopt and operate a new Republican Constitution in order to achieve the goals of a democratic social society”.
The UNP Manifesto declared that “We shall include in the Constitution the Basic Principles accepted by the 1975 Party Sessions with reference to religion and language and among them being the guaranteeing to the people their Fundamental Rights, Privileges and Freedoms, re-establishing the independence of the Press and the Judiciary and freeing it from political control and interference”.
"Though JR wanted UNP in power for decades he was made to witness all his political manipulations and manoeuvres failing and Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga entering the presidential race and receiving more than 64 per cent of the votes polled at the Presidential Election"
The manifesto further declared to ensure in the Constitution that “every citizen, whether he belongs to a majority or minority, racial, religious or caste group enjoys equal and basic human rights and opportunities..”.
However, the UNP did not take steps to enact a New Constitution in terms of its manifesto. The UNP had on September 22, 1977, long before the commencement of the Second Republican Constitution, presented to the National State Assembly the Second Amendment to the First Republican Constitution.
By that amendment, JR became the first Executive President and styled himself as the President ‘elected by the People of Sri Lanka’. Thus, the Second Amendment had entirely changed the constitutional character of the First Republican Constitution.
Thereafter, a Resolution was moved in the National State Assembly on October 20, 1977 to set up a Select Committee “to consider the revision of the Constitution of the Republic of Sri Lanka and other written laws as the Committee may consider necessary”.
Thus, the Speaker with the Prime Minister as the Chairman, constituted a Select Committee on the Revision of the Constitution. The Select Committee formulated a questionnaire and was published in the newspapers. Evidence was also heard by the Select Committee. When the deliberations were reaching the final stage by the Select Committee, it was announced that a new Constitution would be replaced, repealing the First Republican Constitution. Accordingly, the Second Republican Constitution was adopted and enacted.
Any amendment of the Constitution, an offence:
JR desired the Second Republican Constitution to be in force for many decades and the UNP to govern the country for many years without interruption. To achieve this end, he brought a ‘Clause’ in the draft Constitution.
The special Clause that JR inserted clearly stated as follows: “Any person who advocates, attempts, abets, instigates, participates or engages in any conspiracy for the amendment, whether by way of alteration or addition or replacement of the Constitution or any provision thereof otherwise than in accordance with the provision of Chapter XII, shall be guilty of an offence and shall on conviction by a High Court after trial without a jury be liable to imprisonment for a period not exceeding ten years or a fine or both and shall forfeit all his property”.
There was strong opposition to the inclusion of this clause in the Constitution. Even the UNPers made hue and cry. JR abandoned the aforesaid Clause and introduced another Clause in the Constitution and made it difficult for any amendment of the Constitution or replacement by another new Constitution without following the procedure prescribed of Articles 82 (5) and (6) of the Constitution.
Article 82 (5) reads thus:
“A Bill for the amendment of any provision of the Constitution or for the repeal and replacement of the Constitution, shall become law if the number of votes cast in favour thereof amounts to not less than two-thirds of the whole number of Members (including those not present) and upon a certificate by the President or the Speaker, as the case may, being endorsed thereon in accordance the provisions of Article 80 or 79”. In addition to the approval of Parliament by two-thirds majority, it requires approval from the People at a Referendum.
Article 82 (6) reads thus:
“No provision in any law shall, or shall be deemed to, amend, repeal or replace the Constitution or any provision thereof, or be so interpreted or construed, unless enacted in accordance with the requirements of the preceding provisions this Article”.
After the second year of Presidency, JR desired to have another term but he did not have shrewd advisors to seek judicial interpretations and to amend the Constitution as the able President Rajapaksa has been counselled, enabling him to seek office as President many times over.
Though JR wanted UNP in power for decades he was made to witness all his political manipulations and manoeuvres failing and Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga entering the presidential race and receiving more than 64 per cent of the votes polled at the Presidential Election. JR had to silently witness Chandrika Bandaranike Kumaratunga becoming the President and her mother, Mrs. Bandaranaike becoming Prime Minister
From time to time public pronouncements were made to abolish the Executive Presidency but so far no one translated the noble cause into action.
"After the second year of Presidency, JR desired to have another term but he did not have shrewd advisors to seek judicial interpretations and to amend the Constitution as the able President Rajapaksa has been counselled, enabling him to seek office as President many times over"
The President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga presented a draft Constitution in 2000. There were agitations and protests by the political parties against her new draft Constitution. The Maha Sangha strongly opposed the draft Constitution stating that it was compromising the unitary character of the State of Sri Lanka and she was forced to drop down the draft Constitution.
However, JR has achieved his ambition to have his Executive Presidency for more than three decades. His ambition may continue for several more decades.