by Manjula Fernando
The first draft of the new Constitution will be presented to the Steering Committee on Thursday, May 24, after much interruption, Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MP, M. A. Sumanthiran told the Sunday Observer in an exclusive interview.
The presentation will take place after the expert panel, advising the steering committee, concludes and finalises the draft during its meeting due to be held tomorrow.
“It will not be the final draft, because yet there are areas we need to reach full consensus. The contentious points are the Executive Presidency and the electoral system,” Sumanthiran said.
With regards the Executive Presidency, Sumanthiran said that they are willing to compromise and that they are not seeking for a complete abolition.
Although laws were passed accommodating a new electoral system, which was a 60/40 MMP (Mixed member proportional representation), its first use at the recently concluded local government elections has sprouted more practical issues.
Consequently, many political parties voiced their concerns and the need to revert to the old system or bring in further changes to ensure stability in governance.
An optimistic Sumanthiran said the steering committee should “complete this process in a month’s time and present a final report and a draft to the constitutional assembly.”
At the last meeting of the Steering Committee in December 2017, the Expert Panel advising the Steering Committee was asked to make a draft of the constitution based on the interim committee report and the outcome of the debate that took place in the constitutional assembly. The Secretariat along with the experts committee has been in the process of drafting the constitution since then.
In reply to whether TNA is hopeful and optimistic about the process with only eighteen months more for the sitting government, he said they were very optimistic of seeing a new constitution. “It is a process that Parliament unanimously adopted. We think it was the intention of the parliament, not only the sitting government. In 2016, the process was on track. The Committees were appointed, the steering committee also had an interim report ready. Unfortunately, after some time certain political parties started back peddling,” he said.
The constitution drafting process started on January 9, 2016, with the presenting of a resolution in Parliament to set up a constitutional assembly to work on a draft for a new constitution. The resolution was passed unanimously in March 2016, after amendments to some text phrases.
“However, the SLFP delayed bringing out the draft interim report. They had second thoughts on the matter, and they did not help finalise the interim report for a long time.
Finally, they brought it out with their comments (Party positions). With that, other political parties wanted to include their positions. Now these party positions have been annexed in the interim report,” Sumanthiran said. After five days of debate, the whole report was discussed exhaustively and the whole process was overshadowed by the announcing of local council elections last October. The government said the process will recommence after the election. “The election result brought about serious issues within the coalition government,” he said.
The post-election period was overshadowed by Cabinet reshuffles, a no confidence motion against Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and later sixteen members crossing over to the Opposition. Between February 10 and now, there was no progress.
However, the process is now slowly but steadily starting with the TNA being hopeful that the process will see its end.