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Sunday, 29 September 2002  
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Eighteen may follow 19 in new order

by Factotum

One does not bargain for explosions in public places these days! The ceasefire holds. The ghastly sand-barrelled barricades are few. Sandbagged check points, unsightly as they were and known for dark doing at times, are hardly sighted. There is greater mobility then and the city roads are peopled again even as the shadows lengthen late in the day.

Easy accessibility to the BMICH, coupled no doubt with the topicality of the subject 'Constitutionalism, the Rule of Law and the 18th and 19th Amendments' dealt with by valued panellists, one of whom was sadly not there though, drew an unexpected turnout leading to a bit of a commotion at the seminar organised by the Centre for Policy Alternatives on Tuesday.

Some left in a huff protesting the inadequacy of seating while others who were willing to help themselves to chairs outside were shouted at by a janitor who was heard hollering at a well meaning Professor Emeritus laboriously carrying a tub chair which he was presumably told was not meant for the likes that attended seminars in poky committee rooms. In the end, 20 minutes behind schedule order was restored and a rewarding discussion got underway with a few straight backs brought into accommodate those who stayed on.

One of the Law Lecturers in the panel set the ball rolling. He took up the position that reducing the powers of the Executive President was to undervalue the people. The Sovereignty of the people according to the 1978 constitution lies with President he claimed. He derided granting full immunity in the 18th Amendment, in conflict with certain provisions of the constitution.

The governing party politico made no bones about the fact that the objective of the 19th Amendment was to enable the present parliament to run its full term of five years. With the majority of parliamentarians not favouring an election right now there was hope that the required votes could be mustered although this was not certain. He opined that a conscience vote should be extended to all constitutional amendments and saw the provision of limiting that to this amendment only, as flawed. He was for the former parliamentary system with a ceremonial President and attributed brutalisation of society to the Executive Presidency. Immunity for Constitutional Councillors was totally at variance with his thinking.

Law Lecturer and Director CPA did not agree with the proposed provision of absolute immunity granted in the 18th Amendment. As for the 19th, he found it not only adhoc but also an hominem. The amendment was disgustingly partisan and he favoured a principled position, not a manipulative one. The restriction of the Conscience vote to the 19th amendment he felt was a cynical way of enforcing a rule. Another lawyer had no doubt the 19th Amendment was incapable of ensuring the achievement of those goals set out in the preamble.

he recalled that substantial devolution incorporated in the 1997 proposals was watered down considerably to accommodate the UNP but nothing came of it in the end. He argued that the President was for stability but this bogey of a dissolution had been hatched with a narrow partisan purpose. Surely if the UNF delivers and is riding high, dissolution was going to boomerang on the President and her party! He warned of anti-systemic forces benefitting from all the gerrymandering that is going on.

The President's Counsel on the panel saw merit in the 19th Amendment and wholeheartedly supported it. He argued that the minorities preferred the Executive Presidency, so retaining it with clipped wings was the alternative in a situation where there were two power centres. Incremental progress must be made in empowering Parliament whenever a two-third-majority could be had he said.

Due to the constraint of time the Chairperson had no choice but contain the irrepressible questioners one of whom pointed out that the chances were that contrary to arithmetic he learnt at Richmond 19 may precede 18 (a revised chronology) in another quirk of our times in bringing about a new order.

HNB-Pathum Udanaya2002

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