Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s decision to accept all amendments put forward by the SLFP to the resolution on the Constitutional Assembly seems to have changed a situation that would have become a deadlock of the whole process.
The SLFP has made use of the opportunity to request inclusion of electoral reforms as the first subject to be discussed in the Constitutional Assembly. If agreed, it is a clear sign that the process is going to start without delay.
Need for electoral reforms has been accepted by most political parties and already recommended by a parliamentary select committee. Having witnessed the ugly side of the preferential voting system at successive elections and having experienced the difficulties arising when there is no particular member for one’s constituency, the people are generally fed up with the existing electoral system.
As such, there is general consensus among the people on the need for a new system of elections and a hybrid system of first-past-the-post and PR systems has already been recommended. Therefore, it will be easy for the Constitutional Assembly to agree on this matter and move into the next important subject without much delay.
The other two main areas of contention that have to be discussed and debated would be nature and extent of devolution of power and whether to retain executive presidency, in addition to numerous novel features that are supposed to be included in the new constitution.
Reaching agreement on some of the less contentious areas like electoral reforms first, will certainly boost up the prospects for resolving some of the more difficult matters that have to be discussed subsequently.
Proposals have also been made to effect a series of amendments to the existing constitution instead of drafting an entirely a new one. There is some merit in that argument because a gradual process will create better understanding among all parties in parliament.
What matters ultimately is the end product and how the constitution can resolve grievances of all communities and bind them together. In that sense, the emerging consensus particularly between the two main political parties is a welcome sign unprecedented in the past.