Referendum To Determine New Constitution

by Easwaran Rutnam

A referendum will be held to decide on the final proposals to the new Constitution, Minister for National Dialogue Mano Ganesan said.

The Minister, who is part of a steering committee tasked with drafting a new constitution, told The Sunday Leader that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had proposed that the public be allowed to decide on the way forward.

A Cabinet sub-committee headed by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was recently formed to draft the new Constitution.

The committee comprises Ministers Nimal Siripala de Silva, Lakshman Kiriella, Rauff Hakeem, Susil Premajayantha, Rishad Bathiyutheen, Patali Champika Ranawaka, Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, D.M. Swaminathan, Mano Ganesan, and Malik Samarawickrama.

Ganesan said that the Cabinet sub-committee, or steering committee, had decided to form three technical committees to make proposals on constitutional amendments.

One technical committee will draft electoral reforms proposals, the other amendments to the Presidential system and one on the national issue.

The technical committee on electoral reforms has already been formed and is being headed by Parliamentarian and constitutional expert Jayampathy Wickremeratne.

Ganesan said the committee includes one of his nominees P. Muttulingham to represent the Tamil community in the North and East Provinces.

He said the committees on the presidential system and on the national issue have yet to be formed as it was felt that priority should first be given to electoral reforms.

The Minister said the government hopes that the committees on the presidential system and the national issue will also be formed soon and that their proposals will be submitted to Parliament for approval.

“We will also formulate a public representative committee (PRC) which will receive proposals on all three issues. That committee will have at least 15 members. It will have representatives of the government and opposition. The earlier plan was to have 9 members but Dinesh Gunawardena wanted 15 members. The PRC representing the government and opposition will include members from the TNA, JVP, SLFP and UPFA opposition group and others. This committee will go around the country and obtain ideas from the public and submit it to the steering committee,” he said.

The Minister said the final set of proposals will be presented in Parliament and then a referendum will be sought from the public in order to ensure that the entire process is conducted in a democratic manner.

Meanwhile, a separate cabinet is also formulating proposals on delimitation ahead of the next Local Government Elections.

Minister Ganesan said the committee under the chairmanship of Asoka Peiris was to meet on Friday to discuss proposals on delimitation.

Last week, State Minister of Finance Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena was accused of attempting to mislead the public by claiming that the Local Government Elections will be postponed.

The Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CaFFE) said it believes that citizens of Sri Lanka must unite to oppose moves by certain sections of the government to postpone the Local Government Elections due to political reasons.

State Minister of Finance Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena had told media that the Local Government Elections might have to be postponed indefinitely as the delimitation process cannot be completed on time.

However, Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CaFFE) has reliably learnt that Abeywardena’s statement is not true and that the delimitation commission, led by Asoka Peiris, can hand over its report by January 2016. CaFFE Executive Director, Keerthi Tennakoon said CaFFE is also aware that the current delimitation commission is doing a commendable job and has addressed a number of issues that had worried a number of stakeholders in the past.

Speaking at an event organised by CaFFE earlier last week, Chairman of the Delimitation Commission Asoka Peiris said they can hand over the report by January 15, 2016 and that the election can be held before April 7, 2016.

“This was a statement that received wide media coverage, and we are shocked and surprised to note that Abeywardena has contradicted this. In addition, during a meeting with the Elections Commission, we have learnt that the Local Government Elections can be held within the first week of April. We believe that there is an attempt to postpone the LG elections due to political considerations and we are opposed to any such moves. People have faced a number of issues at the grassroots because of the non-functioning Local Government bodies,” Tennakoon said.

Tennakoon said CaFFE opposes any moves by the administration to postpone the Local Government elections due to political reasons and urged President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to have faith in the Delimitation Commission and prevent such attempts to postpone the elections.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told Parliament on Friday that the Local Government Elections will be held before the Sinhala and Tamil New Year.

Asked from Minister Ganesan as to why the political solution on the national issue has not been given first preference, he said that even he had raised this issue in the presence of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, but the TNA did not push for it at the time.

The government had recently assured that a political solution for Tamils will be implemented through proposed constitutional reforms.

Minister of Highways Lakshman Kiriella had said the government will hold talks with the Tamil political parties to reach a political solution for the North and East issue.

He said that once the political solution is agreed upon, it will be included in the constitutional reforms and will be presented to Parliament for approval.

“We will seek a 2/3 majority from Parliament for this proposal,” he had said.

The Minister said the new government wants to set a policy that assures that there is no change in the future in the national issue even if there is a new government.