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Who is going to decide the contents of the new Constitution?

18 September 2020 12:08 am - 1     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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  •  The government is going to bring in a totally new Constitution after adopting the  20th Amendment
  • Some oppose the decision by the drafters of the amendment to allow duel citizens to contest elections
  • If the government is really going to enact a new Constitution, what is the need of the 20th Amendment before it
  • interestingly, the committees that prepared and reviewed 20A comprised ruling party politicians whereas the one drafting new Constitution includes legal experts

Leaders of the Opposition parties, especially those of the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) and the United National Party (UNP) are making an unnecessary big fuss over the architect of the draft 20th Amendment to the Constitution that has already been gazetted. On the other hand the leaders of the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) and its allies also seem to believe that they should not reveal the person or persons who drafted that amendment, for some unknown reasons.  
Responding to the journalists, Industries Minister Wimal Weerawansa said last Saturday that he was unaware as to who drafted the 20th Amendment while Education Minister Professor G.L. Peiris dodged the question by claiming that it was not drafted by one person but a group of ministers decided the contents of it.   


True, the government had appointed a ministerial subcommittee comprising ministers G.L.Peiris, Dinesh Gunawardena, Nimal Siripala de Silva, Udaya Gammanpila and Mohamed Ali Sabri to draft this Constitutional amendment on August 20. However, it does not mean that all five persons have drafted it; one or two have to put it on paper. It was obviously a group work which has ultimately been given the legal shape by one or two individuals.  
Justice Minister Ali Sabri who might know the ins and outs of the whole process also gave an answer that was close to the truth when journalists who have been pointlessly clinging on to this question put it to him. He said there was nothing to draft afresh as the 20th Amendment was nothing but the 18th Amendment itself. However, despite the 20th Amendment bringing back the situation that had been created by the 18th Amendment of 2010, he knew that 18th and 20th Amendments are slightly different and one has to make those adjustments. It wouldn’t be a crime to reveal who did it.  


Yet, what is the significance of the draftsman or draftsmen of the new piece of legislation, when there is an owner of it? The SLPP government stands for the contents of it and is going to adopt it in Parliament which might most probably materialise, in spite of there being doubts over the necessary numbers in the House. Hence, the debate over the architect of the amendment is an utter waste of time.   
A more important matter is that the government is going to bring in a totally new Constitution in place of the current 2nd Republican Constitution of 1978 after adopting the 20th Amendment. A nine member experts committee headed by Romesh de Silva PC has been appointed by the Cabinet, on September 3 for the purpose, on the recommendation of Justice Minister Ali Sabri who had been tasked with the job by the Cabinet on August 20. Manohara de Silva PC, Gamini Marapana PC, Sanjeewa Jayawardana PC, Samantha Ratwatte PC, Professor Nadeema Kamurdeen, Professor G.H.Peiris, Professor Wasantha Seneviratne, and Dr. A. Sarveswaran are the other members of 
the committee.   


Meanwhile, some elements of the 20th Amendment have drawn criticism from within the SLPP, specifically from the most nationalist group. They oppose the decision by the drafters of the amendment to remove the ban on duel citizens contesting elections in Sri Lanka. Ven. Professor Medagoda Abhayatissa Thera on Wednesday said that the ban should be extended to those who are holding high posts as well, without removing it, citing the Arjuna Mahendran saga.   
Their opposition goes along with their ideology, the Sinhalese nationalism, but contradicts with their stance in respect of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa whose Presidential candidature was welcomed by them last year, despite them not being aware if he in fact had rescinded his US citizenship. Some of them reportedly oppose the increase of the number of ministers as well.  


The SLPP leadership seems to be in a dilemma over the dual citizenship issue as the architect and the National Organiser of their party, former minister Basil Rajapaksa has been barred from entering Parliament due to his US citizenship while a key faction of the party is up in arms over dual citizens contesting elections. There may be personal issues as well involved in this debate, as there seem to be more than one future Presidential contender within the Rajapaksa family.  
Due to this opposition within the government, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa has on September 13 appointed a 9 member committee headed by Education Minister Professor G.L.Peiris to accommodate the views of the critics within the government. The committee included Ministers Udaya Gammanpila, Ali Sabri, Nimal Siripala de Silva, Wimal Weerawansa, Susil Premajayantha, S.Viyalenthiran and Parliamentarians Dilan Perera and Premnath C. Dolawatta. The committee was to hand over its report to the Premier on Wednesday, but later postponed it.  


If the government is really going to enact a new Constitution, the third Republican Constitution, what is the need of the enactment of the 20th Amendment before it? Leaders of the government contend that the President must be empowered to carry out his duties until the new Constitution is adopted, which seems to be a weak argument. It must be recalled that the SLPP opposed a suggestion by the then Opposition before the Parliamentary election, to reconvene the old Parliament to pass laws and regulations necessary to combat COVID-19, claiming that the President has the power to handle the situation and was handling it effectively.   
There is no friction between the President and the Parliament or specifically between the President and the Prime Minister now as the case had been during the previous government. Besides, the President and the Prime Minister are two brothers of a closely knit family. Furthermore, the government is now armed with almost two-thirds majority in Parliament and it can pass any Bill or regulation easily. Therefore, the government can go straight away for a new Constitution, without wasting time and resources on the 20th Amendment.   
Interestingly, the committees that prepared and reviewed the 20th Amendment comprised ruling party politicians whereas the one that is tasked with the drafting of the new Constitution includes legal experts. Despite the experts committee being supposed to compile the proposed new Constitution independently, one cannot rule out the possibility of it being influenced by the 20th Amendment which indicates the government’s or the Rajapaksa brothers’ thinking.   


This is being vindicated by a statement made by a member of the Committee, Dr. A Sarveswaran to the Tamil daily, Thinakkural of September 8. The report quoted him as saying that the committee should have included representatives of the people and political parties, if it is to decide the contents of the proposed new Constitution. The committee would only give the legal form to the contents of the new Constitution that would be decided by people’s representatives and political parties, he had explained.   
Then, there should be another mechanism comprising politicians which should decide the contents of the new Constitution. The previous government which also started a process in 2016 to draft a new constitution by converting the Parliament into a Constitutional Assembly had such a mechanism with a committee to seek the public opinion, six Parliamentary sub committees and a steering committee consisting parliament members of all parties.   
It is not clear whether the SLPP government and the experts committee have an understanding on the constitution making process, or whether the government would appoint a group of politicians to decide the contents of it, as Dr. Sarveswaran seems to expect. It is also not clear if such a group would include representatives of various political streams and ethnic groups or the people only from the SLPP and its allies.   

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  • J.N. Friday, 18 September 2020 04:36 PM

    Drafting of a new constitution should not be regarded as a conspiracy. Every single citizen has a right to know it. It should be transparent and be a honest piece of work for the entire nation and not to a selected group.


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