New constitutional amendments:
Opposition must think of positive approach - Minister Dinesh
The Chief Government Whip and Water Supply and Drainage Minister
Dinesh Gunawardena says it is better for the UNP and its alliance to
think of a fresh approach of working with the Government on some issues
for reforms that would be beneficial for fast economic growth in the
country. This is the need of the hour today. The Minister in an
exclusive interview with the Sunday Observer said as per the new
constitutional amendments, the President is to come to Parliament in
every three months. This has never happened in the history of our
presidency since 1978. Therefore, the Government has taken one step
forward from the Parliament's point of view.
Q: You were the Chairman of the Parliament Select Committee
appointed on electoral reforms. Why are electoral reforms necessary?
A: I was the Chairman of the select committee on electoral
reforms at the last Parliament. But this Parliament has not yet set up
such a committee. But our deliberations at the last two committees were
very clear. There was an all round consensus by political parties both
Government and the Opposition, national organisations and the public on
electoral system based on PR and preferential system and there has to be
changes on this basis. This is a nation wide drive which has reached the
highest peak today. We went into these issues and also even the Election
Commission's reports and made recommendations to have a new election
system based on First Past the Post majority, PR and raise the number of
Members of Parliament. This system should be adopted right now to the
Local Government level where the Local Government elections would also
have votes about 75 percent PR about 25 to 30 percent to give grassroots
representation and accountability to the members elected.
Q: How is the next Local Government Election going to be held?
Will the new system apply to all elections including the Presidential
A: The Local Government Elections Electoral Reform Bill has
been drafted by the Government and it has been recommended by the
Government to the Cabinet of Ministers. We hope we could get through the
legislation in Parliament and have the next elections on the new system
where the preferential votes will be out and the unnecessary expenditure
of voters representatives will also be out. On this matter, President
Mahinda Rajapaksa appointed a delegation to discuss with the Opposition
Leader and the Opposition, Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa,
Local Government and Provincial Councils Minister A. L. M. Athaulla and
myself met the Opposition Leader and his delegation. We reached a
consensus on this matter. So the smooth sailing of the bill is expected
within the next two or three weeks.
Q: There were some good points of the PR system such as
enabling minority and small parties to come to Parliament or another
body. Will that be lost in the new electoral system?
A: Definitely not. Minorities would not be deprived or
unrepresented through the PR percentage. Secondly there will be
multi-member constituencies which would give an additional safeguard to
the minorities to represent different ethnic groups. Therefore the
minorities would definitely able to elect their representatives.
Q: Is there provision in the new electoral system for more
representation by women and youth?
A: Of course. Women's representation and youth representation
have also been included as mandatory in the nomination papers.
Q: Is the Government planning to hold the Northern Provincial
Council election in due course? Will it be under the new system?
A: Of course. At the moment our Provincial Council elections
have been held under the old system. So the Provincial Council elections
will have to be under the old system. The Government would hold the
Northern Provincial Council election within the next few months, because
the democratisation process is in progress and we have been able to
strengthen the democratic process after defeating terrorism due to moves
taken by the President. This would pave the way to the people's elected
representatives in the North and the East to drive the development work
of their people.
Q: Will there be a limit to registration of new political
A: The legislation recommended by our committee was passed in
Parliament where the Commissioner of Elections will have to conduct the
annual registration and re-registration of parties. Those who don't
qualify would face deregistration. We have about 59 political parties.
More than half of them are totally defunct. Even the Commissioner of
Elections himself has also reported about this matter. But he has no
powers for deregistration. These powers have now been given by necessary
Q: The Constitutional Reforms also call for the establishment
of an elections commission. How will this mechanism work and how will it
A: The present constitutional amendments especially the 18th
amendment has not deleted any other commissions except the Police
Commission. For better functioning of the Police and prompt functioning
of the Police service, the Government decided to take the Police
Department because the Police is a department which comes under the
normal defence establishment. The other commissions are going to
function and the elections commission also will be one of them.
Q: Is there a possibility that the new electoral system would
reduce violence, elections violations and rivalry among candidates of
the same party?
A: Very much. That was one of the key reasons to propose this
new electoral system. Under the present electoral system unnecessary
expenditure, rivalry and violations have been increased. So the new
system would definitely be much more peaceful and much more cost
effective in the electoral process.
Q: Is there any possibility to let Sri Lankans abroad to vote,
as done by many other countries for their citizens abroad?
A: There is a proposal for that. That proposal has been
studied. But the finality has not been reached. We have an overwhelming
majority of people working abroad specially in the Middle East. Whether
they could be allowed to come for vote etc is a process which the
Government will have to discuss before bringing these legislations.
Q: Will the Government introduce electronic voting in due
course? This is already being done in India and many other countries?
A: We did recommend in our report that there should be an
electronic voting. The Commissioner of Elections is in full agreement.
It will be a process which will bring more confidence to the voter and
the candidate. It would also bring very fast results as well. We don't
want to spend hours and hours and unnecessarily bother of Public
Servants and pay overtime for counting right through the night. All
these shortcomings will be eliminated if we have electronic voting. Even
Moratuwa university has developed a machine. Countries like India and
Bangladesh have also implemented this system. Similar systems can be
introduced to our country as our literacy rate is very high. The
Government is also in full agreement for the implementation of this
electronic voting system.
Q: What is the significance of the new constitutional
amendments? Why should the executive presidency continue?
A: The executive presidency will go through many reforms. This
has also been stated by the President as well. The whole constitution
will go through various reforms. We have had this constitution for a
very long time with its defects. The issue is the executive incumbent
being given the right to recontest. This not only for a person A or
person B. This is for anyone who will hold that office. At the moment,
the restriction on two terms has been removed. This has to be passed by
the legislature. If you allow the incumbent President to recontest,if
the people want, they will reelect him. If the people disagree, they
will not elect or the incumbent may not contest. Just because this
clause is there, it does not make it mandatory for incumbent to
But I would ask a question. Who decided on the two terms of the
President? This country or people did not decide. It was a model copied
by late President J. R. Jayewardene and we have been asked to follow it.
We are in Parliament and recontest. Sometimes we get defeated and
recontest again and get elected. There is no bar for Parliamentarians or
even the Prime Minister in terms of getting reelected. So it is relaxing
the right of the voters to have more choice on the presidency. The
President himself has agreed on the constitutional amendments and he is
going to come to Parliament every three months. This has never been done
in the history of our presidency from 1978 and other Presidents didn't
agree for this. So from Parliament point of view, we have taken one step
forward. As I mentioned before, the constitutional reforms will continue
and so many other matters will come up.
Q: Why do you think it is important for the President to visit
Parliament at least once every three months?
A: The President has to have a very good dialogue and a
rapport with the affairs of Parliament such as Parliament control,
finance, legislative powers and many other related practices. Therefore
the President's visits to Parliament will indirectly a form of being
answerable to Parliament and participating in affairs of the elected
representatives to the Parliament. This is a very positive step. We will
have an extra clause under which the President could visit Parliament
and address Parliament at any time. I think this will happen. President
Rajapaksa is a people's representative winning an overwhelming historic
majority and he will work more closely with the elected representatives.
We have got two thirds in Parliament. This is a historic victory under
the PR system which means the UPFA has been given an overwhelming
mandate to make reforms for the betterment of the country.
Q: The Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe has said that
they would oppose to these constitutional amendments in Parliament. How
do you view this?
A: The Opposition Leader has been voting against everything in
this country which is for the people and for the Motherland. Even during
the entire battle against terrorism, he opposed to the Government at the
last hour. Because Wickremesinghe, the UNP and the alliance supported
terrorism, and separatism they always tried their level best to oppose
the Government. If anything is bad for the country they have become the
champions of the goal like the secret and undisclosed agreement what
Wickremesinghe signed with the LTTE Leader. Today it is exposed that
perhaps even he did not know how it came. So what are they talking about
It is better for the UNP and its alliance to think of a fresh
approach of working with the Government on some issues for reforms that
will be beneficial to the people of our country for fast economic
growth. That is what the country wants today. The President has assured
a leap forward in economic development. But today the President has
unnecessary delays and blockades to be relaxed. That is why we are
bringing the constitutional council process into account. When we had to
form a probationary Government with the JVP, they put forward the 17th
Amendment. It was prepared by the UNP. But the JVP put forward this and
our Government accepted it. But when it came to the Parliament, so many
clauses were amended to get two thirds. It was not done with a studied
effort. It was done in haste. What happened? The Constitutional Council
was represented by political appointees. The political appointees were
answerable to their political leadership rather than being impartial
members of the Constitutional Council. As a result the delays and the
formation of it was becoming impossible. Even earlier former President
Chandrika Kumaratunga refused to appoint political sympathisers or
activists. Therefore the Constitutional Council did not function. What
happened was the process closed down and the entire administrative
system, appointments, promotions and absorbtion to the cadre got
delayed. As a result, the economic development work which is the prime
importance today gets delayed. There has to be some rectification for
both one to eliminate political interference in this Council as much as
possible and reduce the delays in the administrative structure which is
necessary for faster economic development.