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    The third Republic

    A Constitution is the nation’s political and legal Bible which cannot be tampered with except in extraordinary circumstances. Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe of the Unitied National Party, who have just completed one year of their national government, a unique experiment in the nation’s history, have found the second Republican Constitution of the nation introduced in 1979 by the UNP President JR Jayawardene inadequate to fulfil their mandate to abolish the Executive Presidential system in vogue for the last 37 years, to devolve power to the elected Provincial Councils and bring about much needed electoral reforms. In order to achieve these laudable objectives for which there is broad agreement among the people of Sri Lanka, the 225-member Parliament has been converted into a Constituent Assembly to draw up the nation’s third Republican Constitution. Britain’s last Governor-General of Ceylon, as the country was then called, Lord Soulbury, drew up a Constitution in 1948 which protected all communities. Article 29(2) specifically barred Parliament from enacting laws against any ethnic group. The Sinhala Buddhist majority abolished the Soulbury Constitution in 1972, renamed the country Sri Lanka and proclaimed it as a Republic. Article 2 of the new Constitution declared Sri Lanka a unitary State, Article 6 gave Buddhism the foremost place and Article 7 made Sinhala the sole official language. Article 29 of the Soulbury Constitution was repealed and thus sowed the seeds of separatism among the Tamil minority. The Second Republican Constitution introduced by Jayawardene in 1979 adopted the Executive Presidential system on the French model which made the President the Head of State, Head of Government and the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. Under this system the last President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, turned himself into an absolute dictator that made the people opt for a paradigm change.

    Introducing the resolution converting Parliament into a Constituent Assembly, Sirisena said, “We need a Constitution that suits the needs of the 21st century and makes sure that all communities live in harmony.” He was ready to shed executive powers in favour of parliamentary democracy and was not opposed to a federal system within the unitary State which would ensure greater political power for ethnic Tamils who constitute 12 per cent of the population. For power-sharing between the Centre and the Provinces, Sri Lanka already has a blueprint in the yet to be implemented 13th Amendment. Had the authorities implemented the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayagam pact of 1957 or the Senanayake-Chelvanayagam pact of 1965, Tamils neither would have sought secession nor would the LTTE have taken up armed struggle. It is a good augury the SLFP and the UNP are on the same side now with the requisite two-thirds majority. Sirisena should not miss this opportunity to solve the ethnic crisis.
    Courtesy – The Statesman

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