COLOMBO: In a historic move, Sri Lanka's Parliament was today converted into a Constitutional Assembly to formulate a new Constitution under which minority Tamils may get greater autonomy.
The move to have a new Constitution was based on a resolution adopted in the House in January this year. The new Constitution will replace the current executive president headed Constitution adopted in 1978.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe heads the 21 member steering committee. At least there members of the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa's faction were also included in the committee.
Speaker Karu Jayasuriya was elected as Chairman of the Assembly with seven Vice Presidents during the inaugural meeting held here.
"This is an historic occasion and we have an opportunity to seek the views of the public to implement the very radical political reforms needed," Jayasuriya told parliament.
This was only the second time in the country's history that a Constituent Assembly was formed to draft a new Constitution. In 972, a new Constitution was formulated.
The 1978 Constitution had replaced the 1972 Constitution which declared Sri Lanka, a Republic free of the British sovereign.
President Maithripala Sirisena in his January 2015 election manifesto had pledged to abolish the executive presidential system among other sweeping constitutional and electoral reforms.
"We are trying to have the new Constitution ready by 2017. The steering committee will report back to parliament with the report of the committee which sought public views on the new constitution", Wickremesinghe had said last week.
Wickremesinghe has pledged to devolve more political powers to Tamils as well as reduce the army's presence in the island's north, two key demands of Tamils.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) battled Sri Lankan forces for three decades for a separate Tamil homeland.
Rights groups claim government forces killed nearly 40,000 civilians in the final months of the brutal ethnic conflict.