Constitutional expert and parliamentarian Dr. Jayampathy Wickremeratne has requested all the political parties to be flexible and support the government’s efforts to draft a new Constitution. He has also indicated that this is the most opportune moment to come up with a Constitution that will be fitting for the country.
As he had pointed out we should neither delay the process too much nor should we try to do it in a hurry. What it means is that if we try to do it in a hurry we will end up with a faulty document which will serve no purpose, while on the other hand if we delay it too much it will never happen.
A case in point for a faulty document was the infamous seventeenth amendment to the present Constitution. It was approved by parliament unanimously as the purpose was to set up a constitutional council and several independent commissions under it, a move hailed as a great step in democracy. Unwanted haste resulted in the framers of the amendment omitting the inclusion of provisions for quorum in the constitutional council. As a result the council became non-functional when minority parties failed to agree on their nominee to the Council.
As Dr. Wickremeratne himself had pointed out, if we try to get everybody’s approval we will never be able to draft a Constitution. What is necessary is for the document to receive the general approbation of all major political parties that are represented in parliament so that there will not be any allegations to say that the Constitution was designed to help one particular political party or a community.
It is no secret that the Constitution of 1972 was drafted to suit the agendas of the political parties that were in the ruling United Left Front and their socialist ethos. Moreover, it was boycotted by the Tamil political parties. Similarly the 1978 Constitution was pushed through by the JR Jayewardene government using the massive majority they had in parliament disregarding views of all others. There were allegations that the Constitution was tailor-made for JRJ and the UNP.
That is the very reason why none of those Constitutions worked and in fact every government since 1994 came into power with a promise to change the Constitution and the executive presidency although it has not happened up to now. All the efforts by the Chandrika Kumaranatunge government to adopt a new Constitution were scuttled by the UNP that was in the Opposition at the time.
For a Constitution to be successful, it needs the general approval of all major political parties in the country. In that sense the present moment where the two major political parties are working together, with the JVP also playing an active role in parliament, it seems to be more opportune than ever before for drafting a proper Constitution for the country that will last long. The process should neither be delayed nor should it be hastened unduly, but it should happen within a reasonable time for otherwise as the next election approaches the priority will shift from the Constitution to the need for winning the election.