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New light in new draft constitution - Editorial

5 June 2013 06:30 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


The history of Sri Lanka since independence in 1948 has a multitude of missed opportunities, some of which had drastic consequences. One of them was the 2000 draft constitution presented in Parliament by the then President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. It was drafted mainly by the then widely-respected Constitutional Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris and the Tamil intellectual Neelan Tiruchelvam who started the International Centre for Ethnic Studies.

The main opposition United National Party and other parties had also agreed to 95 per cent of the provisions of this draft constitution when it was taken up at the Parliamentary Select Committee sittings. The draft had a fair and just solution to the ethnic conflict, mainly through a devolution package. It also had important provisions to strengthen democracy through checks and balances, good governance, accountability and transparency, while providing a human face to the market economy so that there would be a more equitable distribution of wealth and resources.

The one area where there was serious disagreement was the provision for President Kumaratunga to seek a third term in office as the Executive. The UNP strongly opposed this while the internationally-acclaimed Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar pleaded that all the enlightened problem-solving solutions of this constitution be not sacrificed because of a dispute over one less important provision. But misguided sections of the UNP created a major row, burnt copies of the draft constitution in Parliament and brought the country to the brink of another riot. President Kumaratunga was forced to abandon this proposed constitution, dissolve parliament and call a fresh general election. What happened after that is one of the bloodiest chapters in our history. Hundreds of thousands of people, both civilians and security forces personnel, were killed or seriously injured while economic and financial damage ran into billions of dollars with Sri Lanka still facing international pressure and possible sanctions over what allegedly happened in the last months of the war which ended in May 2009.

Now 13 years later the UNP last week publicly presented a public document which it proposed as a draft for a new constitution where the much-abused Executive Presidential system and the preferential voting system will be abolished. It is better late than never and most independent political analysts see this draft as an enlightened document that could go a long way towards solving most of Sri Lanka’s political ethnic and socio-economic crises.

In terms of this draft document or constitution, one of the other significant provisions is that new anti-corruption laws will be applied to the private sector also and not only to the public sector  as done now. Having reached its highest and most disastrous proportions this provision is vital  so that the people of Sri Lanka could save billions of dollars that are being plundered by political leaders, their officials and henchmen and stooge businessmen.

The draft also has provisions for a code of ethics for parliamentarians, members of the mouncil of State, Justices of proposed Constitutional Courts, Superior Courts, other members of the judiciary and all members of Provincial Councils and all other local bodies. This code will be in accordance with the highest international standards.

The draft says Parliament shall consist of 225 members elected on a mixed system where each constituency will elect its representative and the final result or seats in parliament will reflect the Party’s true strength or the total votes polled at elections.  The system will give value for every vote cast. The system of preferential vote will be abolished, the tenure of Parliament and Provincial Councils will fixed at five years.

Elections for Parliament and all Provincial Councils shall be conducted on the same day and in the event the Head of State is also to be elected, that election will also be held on the same day.

Political affiliations apart, we urge the Rajapaksa regime, all political parties and social action groups to have a dialogue based on the proposed provisions so that Sri Lanka can move from dictatorship to democracy.

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