Last year by this time the UPFA government was going hell for leather to demolish the last bastion of the northern terrorists. One year on, armed with an enhanced mandate, it is making a similar effort to do away with the existing Constitution and replace it with a new one. Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva has, as we reported yesterday, said that the next Local Government elections will be held under a new Constitution. Another minister has boasted that the government is capable of engineering several crossovers from the Opposition to raise the required two-thirds majority for that purpose.
The present Constitution is riddled with gaping holes and resembles, as it were, a jerrybuilt edifice with cracks all over. It needs either to be amended or replaced. But, the change to be brought about must be for the better and if that is the real intention of the government, it should desist from seeking short cuts. It should learn from the mistakes of the late President J. R. Jayewardene, who only sought self-aggrandisement through his new Constitution. He may have gained politically in the short term but the country has lost enormously.
If it is a lasting Constitution beneficial to the country that the government seeks, all stake holders concerned should be involved in its formulation and its passage should have the blessings of the Opposition. In the alternative, the government can always win over or buy over some disgruntled Opposition MPs, bulldoze its way through and impose a fait accompli on the country. But, such a Constitution is doomed to go the same way as JRJ`s. When the UPFA regime is ousted someday, another set of politicians will want to change the Constitution so introduced. There will be no end to constitution making.
The new Parliament was inaugurated on a very positive note. Unlike in 2004, there was no battle for the post of Speaker. He was elected unanimously. The government and the Opposition, for once, conducted themselves properly evincing political maturity. The 17th Amendment to the Constitution was also ratified in a similar manner. So, the government could rest assured that it will be able to secure the Opposition s co-operation for the passage of a Constitution acceptable to all stake holders.
President Chandrika Kumaratunga`s Constitutional reforms came a cropper in 2000 owing to stiff resistance from the Opposition because she had, after reaching an agreement with the Opposition parties, smuggled some provisions into her draft Constitution. The UNP, it may be argued, tried to fish in troubled waters but it was President Kumaratunga`s surreptitious move that created conditions for her Constitution to be torpedoed.
The last government was dependent on crossovers for survival as well as for the prosecution of war. Now that the war has been won and there is a strong government in power, we see no reason why the UPFA should try to lure Opposition MPs into defecting. After all, both the JVP and the UNP have committed themselves irrevocably to the abolition of the executive presidency, which constituted their main campaign cry during the last presidential election.
Constitutions cannot be made as hoppers are baked. It is imperative that every aspect of the new Constitution be amply debated both before and after its presentation to Parliament so that the final product will be free from such flaws as warrant periodical amendments to the basic law of the country. Manipulating the formulation of a Constitution to suit a government`s political agenda is the least desirable.
If the government is desirous of conducting the next LG polls under a different electoral system, let it fast-forward the electoral reforms that were being finalised at the time of the dissolution of the last Parliament.