New Constitution - aims at appeasing a majority of the people : Foremost place for Buddhism stays | Sunday Observer

New Constitution - aims at appeasing a majority of the people : Foremost place for Buddhism stays

Jayampathy Wickremaratne

The UNP National List MP Dr. Jayampathy Wickramarathne in regard to the formulation of the new Constitution said, “We are a diverse country in terms of culture, race, religion and political opinion. We will never get a Constitution which everybody agrees without reservations”.
In an interview with the Sunday Observer, the Constitutional expert, Wickramarathne said, if we can have a Constitution that has the widest possible support in the country among various sections of the people, then we have achieved something. All will not agree on all the articles of the new Constitution. So, we must get a Constitution which is acceptable to the largest majority of the people, and also, at least a majority in each community. Then we have achieved something.

Excerpts of the interview:

Q: Is there any change in the status of Buddhism in the new Constitution?

A: The place of Buddhism and the nature of the State are matters for the Steering Committee. It has not been passed on to any Sub Committee for their views. The nature of the State and the place of Buddhism etc will be decided only by the Steering Committee and not by any Sub Committee.
Both, the President and the Prime Minister have made public statements that the foremost place for Buddhism as given in the present Constitution and the duty of the State to protect and foster Buddha Sasana will not be changed. As regards federalism, the Steering Committee has not finalized anything yet, and as a member I can tell you, there is no proposal being discussed about federalism.

Q: Do you have any timeline for implementing the new Constitution and is there a plan to consult the people at a referendum?

A: Firstly, there is no timeline for the new Constitution, and we will decide as we proceed. The present Constitution requires a referendum for a new Constitution. There are certain articles which you can’t change - even a comma or a full-stop of such articles cannot be changed without a referendum. There are more than ten such articles. So, if it is a new Constitution and even if the present article is repeated in the new Constitution verbatim, you still need a referendum. Any new Constitution will need a referendum according to the present Constitution.

Q: What are the alternatives proposed for the Executive Presidency, if it is abolished by the new Constitution?

A: There are a number of options, but nothing has been finalized, yet. One is to go back to the traditional Westminster model which we had before 1978 where the Prime Minister was the Head of State. The President appoints the MP who commands the confidence of the majority of Members of Parliament, as Prime Minister. Also, there is a Prime Minister who can be directly elected.
I, for one am completely against it, it’s my personal view. They tried this in Israel and failed miserably. There are also other options. For example, various parties pre-nominate the Prime Minister before the election, and then the MPs are committed to it and that person is then appointed as Prime Minister. There are various similar proposals, e.g. whether he or she could be given a minimum period of two years, during which there cannot be a No-confidence motion.
This is practised in Germany and Spain. Another problem to consider is, what happens if the budget gets defeated? You could say the budget can be presented to Parliament again. What happens if the budget is defeated for the second time as well? These questions have to be answered. Basically, three or four options are being discussed, but nothing has been finalized.

Q: However, some political parties insist the Executive Presidency should remain in some form. Will there be any agreement on this?

A: I cannot say that. As far as I know, we are going on the basis that the Executive Presidency is to be abolished. The President himself has made it very clear.

Q: What kind of decision have you reached on electoral sector reforms? What is the most preferred system at present, First-Past-the-Post (FPP), Proportional Representation (PR) or a mixture of both?

A: Again, nothing has been finalized so far. But, there is strong support for a system called, Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system. It is adopted in Germany and New Zealand. In that model, the overall composition is Proportional Representation and the overall allocation of seats is Proportional Representation. But, it is not FPP vs. PR. It is overall PR but FPP built into it, so that you have two kinds of MPs. One is elected from the electorate.
Any candidate who gets the highest number of votes will go to Parliament automatically. Then, the total number of seats a party gets is determined on the second party ballot. If the number of seats they have won through the electorate is less than what is due to them proportionally, the balance will be given from the second list which is called ‘compensate list’. We are looking at this, but nothing has been finalized.

Q: Have you reached any finality with regard to devolution and the unit of devolution?

A: We are now discussing the principles of devolution. I can’t say anything more because it is not finalized. But, we are going on the basis that it will be Provincial Councils and nothing else.

Q: There is a proposal to increase the number of MPs to 240. What is the level of agreement among the various parties on this proposal?

A: That is one option. We are discussing electoral reforms, but I cannot say anything more right now. Various options are being discussed at present.

Q: What kind of decision have you taken with regard to the 13th Amendment?

A: Discussions are going on regarding this. We have 28 years experience of Provincial Councils. Naturally, we will look into the experience under the 13th Amendment. There are flaws in the 13th Amendment as well. When we make proposals, certainly, we will take into account the experience of the Provincial Councils under the 13th Amendment.

Q: How do you plan to meet the aspirations of all communities and religious groups with the new Constitution?

A: We are a diverse country in terms of culture, race, religion and political opinion. We will never get a Constitution which everybody agrees without reservations. But, if we can have a Constitution that has the widest possible support in the country among various sections of the people, then we will have achieved something.
All will not agree on all the articles of the new Constitution. Therefore, we must get a Constitution which is acceptable to the largest majority of the people, and also at least a majority in each community. Then, we have achieved something.


[The role of the steering committee]

The Framework Resolution for the appointment of the Constitutional Assembly, in terms of Clause 5(a), makes provision to establish a Steering Committee consisting of 21 members. The Steering Committee is responsible for the business of the Constitutional Assembly and for preparing a Draft Constitutional Proposal for Sri Lanka. As such, the Steering Committee is the entity instrumental in driving the process of constitutional reform and is assisted by the six Sub Committees appointed, which were established to deliberate and report on specified subject areas relevant to the Constitution.
At the first sitting of the Constitutional Assembly on April 5, 2016, the 21-member Steering Committee chaired by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was appointed. At an early stage of the process, it was decided by the Steering Committee that the following subject matters would be dealt with directly, by the Committee itself: Matters covered by Chapter 1 and 2 of the present Constitution, i.e. Nature of the State, Sovereignty, Religion, Form of Government, Electoral Reforms, Principles of Devolution and Land.
Six sub-committees were appointed by the Constitutional Assembly to make recommendations on areas of Fundamental Rights, Judiciary, Finance, Law and Order, Public Service and Centre-Periphery Relations. The Prime Minister presented the reports of the six sub-committees when the Constitutional Assembly convened in Parliament on November 19. These Reports have not yet been considered by the Steering Committee. The Steering Committee will consider the sub-committee reports and the views expressed thereon, in preparing its Final Report.

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