|Sunday, 14 November 2004|
Building up... :
Consensus to change Constitution
by Rohan Mathes, Jayantha Sri Nissanka and Ranga Jayasuriya
Eminent lawyers, professionals, top politicians and a cross section of the society opined that the Executive Presidential system should be scrapped in the interest of the country.
Some others spoke in favour of amending or reshaping the system to make the Executive more answerable to the people and Parliament.
The Sunday Observer interviewed several key persons and a cross section of the society to obtain their views on the issue.
Educationist, Human Rights Activist and former Principal of Zahira College Javid Yosoof, said that the Executive Presidency should be abolished and there should be electoral reforms as otherwise the country would not move forward, irrespective of the party in power. In the longer term, in order to resolve the ethnic issue, the constitution should also be revised.
The Executive President or the Executive Prime Minister as Head of State, must be accountable and answerable to Parliament. Then the Parliamentarians could interact with each other like in the old system. The German model with suitable modifications may be considered as a way out.
TNA Jaffna District Parliamentarian N. Raviraj said that the Tamil people are not concerned or interested in Constitutional changes or the abolition of the Executive Presidency (EP) in support of personal agendas.
They need a permanent solution to their problem and for that there should be peace negotiations.
Former Secretary to several Prime Ministers Bradman Weerakoon said that the EP is a useful mechanism as it enables the will of the people to be manifested, given sufficient powers to implement a programme of work.
However, certain amendments should be made as to the unlimited powers the President now possesses, such as immunity from court action.
Former UNP Minister and General Secretary Sirisena Cooray said that Sri Lankans should elect a correct person to the office of Executive President to obtain the maximum benefit for the country.
"It is the duty of the people. I am not against the Executive Presidency but certain powers of the Executive President should be scrapped to make the Executive President responsible", he reiterated.
"The immunity provision should be scrapped in order to shape a responsible President for the country, he added.
Former Secretary General of Parliament Sam Wijesinghe making comments on the Executive Presidency said that whoever was elected to this post tends to become corrupt as absolute power makes him or her corrupt.
He said "We must improve the Executive Presidency to suit the requirement of the country while cutting off absolute power and tailor the President to a manageable size". Nigel Hatch, PC and Advisor to the President on legal affairs argues that the government's engagement with the peace process should not delay reforms on the other areas of national interest.
"It is advisable that a government should not put off, or put on the burner, its democratic reforms due to its other commitments... in our context, the government should not wait till a final solution to the ethnic conflict, in order to embark on its democratic reforms," says Hatch who is also a member of the Constitutional Advisory Council.
He said that the political parties should arrive at a consensus to amend or abolish the Executive Presidency and to look into an alternative.
A non-executive presidency with certain powers - like in India -, a Prime Minister responsible to Parliament, an executive Prime Minister elected by popular vote, strengthening the powers of Parliament are some of the alternatives which can be looked in, according to Hatch.
Ketheesh Loganathan, the head of the Peace and Conflict Analysis Unit of the Centre for Policy Alternatives said the Executive Presidency should be abolished, but cautioned that the process should not be manipulated.
He identified two equally important issues, each should not be compromised for the other.
"There are two issues. The peace process and democracy and governance.
"There cannot be a sequence in addressing the two issues". Even though it could be ideal to wait for a comprehensive draft of Constitution which empowers minorities, improve human rights, Loganathan suggested that the government could introduce an interim constitution, where by it could abolish the Executive Presidency, or set up an interim administration for the North-East, etc.
Jathika Hela Urumaya Parliamentary group leader Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thera said the issue (the Executive Presidency) was now being subjected to an internal debate of the party and the JHU would announce its stance on the Executive Presidency by the end of this month.
He however said the JHU would reject any constitutional draft, if it is based on federalism or if it advocates a change in the existing proportional representation system.
Produced by Lake House