by Easwaran Rutnam
Discussions on the proposed amended or new Constitution has resulted in a division with some pushing to maintain the Executive Presidency with reduced powers.
President Maithripala Sirisena, in his election manifesto ahead of the Presidential elections last year, had promised to abolish the Executive Presidency.
However most political parties engaged in talks to draft a new Constitution or amend the existing Constitution have expressed the opinion that the Executive Presidency must remain.
Members of the steering committee discussing the draft Constitution, which includes members of parliament, told The Sunday Leader that the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) is leading the push to keep the Executive Presidency.
Sources also said that the United National Party is also silent on the matter and seems to be giving an unofficial thumbs up to continue with the Executive Presidency.
When contacted by The Sunday Leader, Minister Mano Ganeshan, who is a member of the steering committee, said that power sharing and electoral reforms have been the focus of discussions held so far.
He said the steering committee and six sub-committees meet regularly and hold extensive discussions on the main areas of focus.
The Minister confirmed that there is a strong push to continue with the Executive Presidency and this position may have some support from minority parties.
He noted that the minority parties backed a call to abolish the Executive Presidency following a campaign launched by the late venerable Sobitha thero.
This was then included in President Maithripala Sirisena’s election manifesto and drew wide support from local civil society and others.
However Minister Ganeshan said that with the major political parties now wanting to continue with the Executive Presidency the minority parties feel their “generous offer” to back the abolishing of the Executive Presidency ahead of January 8, 2015 Presidential election, has not been taken seriously.
Meanwhile, the Minister said that the proposed electoral reforms, which will also be part of the new or amended Constitution, has seen considerable progress.
He said that there is a likelihood the electoral reforms will lead to a 240 plus member parliament as opposed to the current 225 member parliament.
Wide support has also been reached for an electoral system with a 60 percent of first-past-the-post system (FPTP) and 40 percent Proportional Representation (PR) system.
The electoral reforms proposal also includes a double vote ballot paper where the public can vote for a party and candidate of their choice.
Minister Ganeshan explained that the proposal also allows the voter to select a party and candidate not under the same symbol.
Talks on power sharing is possibly the most sticky issue in the process to draft a new or amended Constitution.Ganeshan said that there is division on the 13th Amendment to the Constitution which includes sharing powers to the provinces.
He said that some elements in the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) support Federalism while there are others who oppose it.
“Some political parties are not happy with the 13th Amendment in its current form while minority parties are for it,” he said.
The steering committee is part of the Constitutional Assembly which was approved by parliament.
The Speaker of Parliament is the Chairman of the Constitutional Assembly. There are seven Deputy Chairmen of the Constitutional Assembly.
The steering committee needs to submit a report to the Constitutional Assembly once it concludes discussions. The report may be accompanied by a Draft Constitutional Proposal.
The Constitutional Assembly will thereafter debate the general merits and principles of the Report and the Draft Constitutional Proposal (if applicable), and may also debate proposed amendments. At the end of such debate the question that “the Steering Committee be required to submit a final report and a Resolution on a Draft Constitutional Proposal” will be put to the Constitutional Assembly by the Chair.
The Steering Committee will thereafter, considering the amendments, if any, proposed during the debate, submit a Final Report and a Resolution containing a Draft Constitutional Proposal for the consideration of the Constitutional Assembly.
The Chairman will move that such Final Report and the Resolution containing the Draft Constitutional Proposal be approved by the Constitutional Assembly.
If the Constitutional Assembly approves the Resolution on the Draft Constitutional Proposal by a two-thirds majority, the Report and the Draft Constitutional Proposal will be submitted to the Cabinet of Ministers. The Report and the Draft Constitutional Proposal will also be presented to Parliament.The steering committee is meanwhile studying the report of the 20 member Public Representations Committee (PRC) on Constitutional Reforms which was appointed by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe with the approval of the cabinet for the purpose of obtaining proposals from the public for the proposed constitutional reforms.
After initially conducting 5 days of public sittings in Colombo in January 2016, the Public Representations Committee (PRC) on Constitutional Reforms started holding public sittings in the other districts in February.
Public sittings were conducted in several areas including Gampaha, Matale, Kalutara, Kandy, Vavuniya, Killinocchi, Mullativu, Mannar, Galle, Matara and Hambantota.The government recently insisted that a draft of the new Constitution is not yet ready and that discussions are still ongoing.
The Prime Minister’s office dismissed reports that a draft of the proposed new Constitution has been prepared
“There is no truth to claims that clauses are being included to the new Constitution,” the Prime Minister’s office added.
The government also insisted that there is no truth to claims that existing clauses in the Constitution on Buddhism have been removed or will be amended.The Tamil Diaspora have also been urged to back the Constitutional reforms process currently underway in Sri Lanka.
Parliamentarian and a member of the Sub-Committee in the Constitutional Assembly, Dr. Jayampathy Wickramaratne, had told Tamil in London recently that it will be impossible and unrealistic to expect all aspirations and demands of everyone to be met when the new Constitution is drafted.
Wickramaratne said the process of constitution reform currently taking place in Sri Lanka may not result in the ‘best constitution for Sri Lanka’, but there must be a push for it to be the ‘best constitution for Sri Lanka’ in the context of the current realities and circumstances.