Parliament to become Constitutional Assembly to draft New Constitution

ParlimentSri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe will soon present a resolution in parliament to turn it into a “Constitutional Assembly”  to draft a new constitution for the island nation, The Sunday Times reported.

The process is to be on a fast track given the fact that the promulgation of a new constitution was an election pledge of President Maithripala Sirisena early this year, and last Wednesday, the cabinet had given formal approval to his proposal.

The new constitution is expected to abolish the Executive Presidency and replace it with a parliamentary system. It could partially replace the Proportional Representation system by the First Past the Post System. District-wise constituencies are likely to be partially replaced by smaller constituencies. The “preferential votes” for candidates in a party list, could be abolished entirely.

The present parliament will continue to function as a legislature even as it is engaged in drafting a new constitution as the Constitutional Assembly. Ultimately, it is parliament which will have to pass the draft constitution prepared by the Constitutional Assembly.

Firstly, the present parliament will resolve to set up a “Committee of Parliament” to draft a new constitution. But this committee will comprise the entire membership of the current parliament. It will then be designated as the “Constitutional Assembly.”  The Speaker of the current parliament will be the Chairman of the Constitutional Assembly. He will be assisted by seven Deputy Speakers.

Steering Committee

The Constitutional Assembly will set up a “Steering Committee” to draft a constitution. This committee can sit anywhere in the country, but all voting will have to take place in Parliament House at Colombo. The proceedings of the Assembly and its Sub-Committees will be open to the public, and when appropriate, broadcast. A special website will keep giving updates on the proceedings.

Public Representations

The Constitutional Assembly will also appoint a Public Representation Commission (PRC) to get the views of the public. The public will be required to submit their representations within three weeks of the call for such representations. Oral representation may be allowed in select cases. The PRC will submit its report to Steering Committee  within three months. The Sub-Committees will report to the Steering Committee within ten weeks.

The Steering Committee, in turn, will submit a consolidated report and a draft constitution to the Constitutional Assembly. During the debate, amendments can be moved, but only on the details of the clauses. However, new Schedules could be added.

Referendum Enjoined

The draft constitution should get two third thirds majority to be deemed passed. If it does not get it, the Constitutional Assembly will be dissolved. But if it gets two thirds majority, it will be sent to the cabinet for approval. On approval it will be  sent back to the Constitutional Assembly to be passed by a Special Majority (two thirds of the whole membership of the House). Finally, it will be put to a public referendum as per Art 83 of the current constitution.

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