The United National Party (UNP) has come up with an all new Constitution claiming that the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime had desecrated all the checks and balances ensured in the second Republican
Constitution adopted in 1978 under the J.R. Jayewardene regime.
According to the UNP the present Constitution has been amended so many times the way the rulers wanted and does not reflect or ensure the aspirations of the average Sri Lankans.
The key features of the draft Constitution proposed by the UNP consist of a number of progressive features including the abolition of the Executive Presidency, appointment of independent commissions to ensure good governance and rule of law, religious freedom etc. But then again, the 1978 Constitution by J.R. Jayewardene wasn’t too bad for the time. It also consisted of a host of progressive features such as an entire chapter for Fundamental Rights, the emphasis on the inalienable sovereignty of the people etc.
So what really has gone wrong? Regardless of how good and progressive a Constitution is, the wholesomeness of such a Constitution would depend on the people who interpret and act upon it. Some countries in the world such as the United Kingdom, Israel, New Zealand and Saudi Arabia have un-codified or unwritten Constitutions. The governments in these countries take into account, customs, usage and precedent as key sources of law to govern their countries. But the large majority of the countries in the world has written or codified Constitutions.
Sri Lanka has a written Constitution and the present one has been amended 18 times. A shiver runs down our spine even to imagine how it would have been if we had an unwritten Constitution.
The interpretations of the present Constitution have allowed legislators to cross over without losing their seat in the Parliament, the impeachment of a Chief Justice, creative math on Presidential terms etc. Thus, it’s clear that it is not the Constitution that really matters but the people who implement it. Nevertheless the attempt made by the UNP should be commended, which in fact contains several salient points that would definitely contribute towards enhancing the good governance and the rule of law of the country.
But it would be more important to strive for a better political culture than a better Constitution since it would be of no use if the better Constitution is interpreted and implemented by the same old people.
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