COLOMBO: The Sri Lankan Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, will kick-start on January 9 next year the constitutional reform process, which was promised in the run-up to the January 8, 2015 Presidential election, which had been touted as a struggle to restore democracy in the island nation.
An announcement from the Lankan parliament said on Tuesday that on January 9, the Prime Minister will move a resolution to form a ‘Constitutional Assembly’ (CA), comprising the entire membership of the present parliament. The CA will be charged with the task of drafting a new constitution for Sri Lanka. The Speaker of the current parliament will be the Chair of the CA. He will be assisted by seven Deputy Chairs.
The Srisiena-Wickremesinghe government intends to abolish the Executive Presidency and bring into being an electoral system which will not only do away with the politically debilitating preferential vote system, but also be more democratic. Among other aims of the reform process is the promotion of ethnic and religious reconciliation and the Rule of Law.
To help draft the constitution, the CA will appoint a Steering Committee (SC), which will be chaired by the Prime Minister and will include the Leader of the House, the Leader of the Opposition, the Minister of Justice, and not more than 17 other members of the CA. The SC will appoint sub-committees to tackle specific subjects and could consult anybody in the constitution making process. The proceedings of the CA will be thrown open to the public and the media.
At the end of its deliberations, the SC will submit a ‘Draft Constitution’ to the CA which could make amendments. Upon the conclusion of this process, the PM will present to the CA, a ‘Final Draft’. For the Final Draft to be carried, two-thirds of the entire membership of the CA would have to vote for it. If passed, the Draft Constitution will be sent to the President and the Cabinet for their approval and the CA will dissolve itself. The CA will stand dissolved if the draft is not passed.
A Bill based on the approved draft is then submitted to every Provincial Council for its views. Once this process is completed, the Bill is brought back to parliament for support by two thirds of the entire membership of the House. If it gets such support, it will be presented to the people for approval in a referendum. Once the people approve it in a referendum, the bill becomes the Basic Law of the Land.
This will be third time independent Lanka will be reworking its constitution. The Colonial constitution, which tied Lanka to Britain despite independence, was replaced by a Republican Constitution only in 1972. But in 1978, a new constitution replaced the UK style with a Presidential system.
Another distinguishing feature of the current constitutional exercise is that the Tamils, the largest minority, will be participating for the first time. It will also be the first constitution to be approved by a Referendum.