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Changes proposed in SL constitution

A Lankan professor suggests that the nation adopt parliamentary form of govt, reports PK Balachandran.

india Updated: Jan 10, 2007 17:37 IST

In an effort to reconcile the sharp differences within the Sri Lankan government's Experts Committee on devolution of power, the Chairman of the Committee, Prof Tissa Vitharana, has come out with his own formulation.

But political observes say that Vitharana's proposals are radical enough for powerful and influential sections of the Sri Lankan polity to denounce them and scuttle them.

To be submitted to the All Party Representative Committee (APRC) as a Discussion Paper, Vitharana's formulation is as radical, and could be as controversial, as the "Majority Report" of the Experts Committee.

But Vitharana hopes to finish the consultations with the political parties and present a final document in two months' time.

Abolish Presidential system

As per the version which appeared in the Morning Leader on Wednesday, Vitharana has suggested that Sri Lanka give up the Presidential form of government and adopt the parliamentary form.

He has also said that the Presidential system should cease to exist at the end of the present incumbent Mahinda Rajapaksa's six-year-term that is in five years' time.

But many wonder if any incumbent of the office of "Executive President" or any aspirant to such a powerful office, will agree to its abolition.

The present Leader of the Opposition, Ranil Wickremesinghe, is an ardent advocate of the Executive Presidency.

Vitharana has proposed that the unit of devolution be the province. But it is well known that the Sri Lankan polity is generally against this, and has been favouring a village-based system, where the unit of devolution is the village.

The minority Tamils have been fighting to get the "province" (like their own North-Eastern Province) to be the unit of devolution since 1948.

Therefore, there is going to be a Sinhala-Tamil divide on this issue, as has been the case all along.

Controversial Concurrent List

Prof Vitharana has suggested the creation of three legislative lists - the National, Provincial and the Concurrent Lists, as in the Indian Constitution.

While the Sinhala majority may agree to this (albeit grudgingly) the pro-LTTE Tamils will reject it as they feel that the Concurrent List will eat into provincial autonomy.

Vitharana has also proposed the creation of two houses in the national parliament at Colombo - the House of Representatives (like the Indian Lok Sabha) and the Senate (a House of Provinces like the Indian Rajya Sabha).

To make the Prime Minister an all-Island person rather than merely the leader   of the majority party, Vitharana has suggested that he be directly elected by the people, as the Executive President is elected now.

Discouraging ethnic provinces

To allay fears among the Sinhala majority about ethno-based provinces seceding, Vitharana has suggested that the formation of linguistic or ethno-based provinces be avoided as far as possible.

But in view of the long standing demand for a Tamil-speaking North Eastern Province, this particular issue could be settled after negotiations with the LTTE and other groups, he said.     

Vitharana's proposals have stringent provisions against secession and give the Centre powers to intervene and thwart movements seeking the partition of Sri Lanka.

His proposals are expected to appeal to the moderates across the ethnic   divide.

They do not vary very much from the Majority Report of the Experts Committee.

But the moderates are only a minority in the Sri Lankan political system.

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