The Sri Lankan government has rejected former Constitutional Affairs Minister G.L.Peiris’ contention that a single Referendum on the new constitution will not do, and that there should be separate Referenda on changes made in the eleven Articles of the present Constitution which are entrenched as per Art .83.
Speaking on behalf of the government, which is due to introduce a new constitution in 2016, Constitutional Advisor and MP Dr.Jayampathy Wickramaratne said on Wednesday, that the existing (1978) Constitution does not ask for separate Referenda on each of the 11 Articles which are entrenched. Art 83 only lists the entrenched provisions and says that none of them can be amended or repealed without a Referendum. It does not seek 11 separate Referenda, Wickramaratne pointed out.
When Peiris moved the then President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s draft Constitution in parliament on August 3, 2000 in his capacity as Constitutional Affairs Minister, he had not advised the cabinet to go in for a separate Referendum on each of the entrenched clauses, Wickremaratne recalled.
“He didn’t seek 13 referenda.”
However, Peiris told Express that it would be wrong on the part of the government to hand over to the people a whole booklet containing 172 Articles and ask them to say Yes or No. If changes are sought in the entrenched provisions, they should be stated separately and people’s opinion sought on each change, he said.
Among the entrenched provisions are the unitary character of the Lankan State and the grant of “foremost place” to Buddhism.
Peiris feared that fundamental changes could be brought about surreptitiously through sleight of hand. They could well be hidden in a thick booklet with 172 other Articles in it. Such sleight of hand was used recently when a bunch of ten different international treaties were presented to parliament for ratification. Such a technique denied the MPs the right to support some and oppose others.
“If the government does not follow the set provisions for repeal of the constitution, the Joint Opposition will not support it,” Peiris warned.
The Mahinda Rajapaksa group in the United Peoples Freedom Alliance (UPFA) goes as the “Joint Opposition” in the Lankan parliament.