The Bill for the 20th Amendment to the Constitution (20A) of the JVP has been published in the Gazette of 6 July 2018. In terms of Standing Order 52 (5), it can be presented to Parliament after lapse of two weeks. It completed two weeks on 20 July. The next Parliament sitting date is 7 August. Therefore, this bill can be placed in the Order Paper for the first reading on that date.
After the first reading, it will be referred to the subject minister, in this case, Minister of Justice, to inform Parliament his views about the Bill in a form of a report. He has six months to produce this report.
Meanwhile, M. A. Sumanthiran, Jayampathi Wickremaratne, and Suren Fernando have surreptitiously drafted a federal constitution without the knowledge of the Constitutional Assembly. The Constitutional Assembly has appointed a Steering Committee to prepare a set of proposals for the new constitution.
Hence, being members of the Steering Committee, Sumanthiran and Jayampathi should not have involved in preparing another draft. Tamil separatists are now impatient since the government failed to produce a federal Constitution as promised although it rapidly reaches its end of the term and the imminent defeat. That is why they compelled these three to prepare a draft.
A new Constitution should be approved by the people at a referendum in addition to approval of Parliament with two thirds majority.
The government will be able to secure the required majority in Parliament by lavishly spending for parliamentarians. However, it is near impossible to obtain the approval of people. The people are impatiently waiting for the referendum for the new Constitution.
They are in need of converting it to a referendum on the government’s conduct during the last three years. Hence, people will definitely reject the constitution at the referendum as an expression of their anger towards the government.
In this backdrop, the government should avoid the referendum for the survival of the new Constitution.
If the draft Constitution is published in the Gazette with the stated purpose of repealing and replacing the existing Constitution, it must be placed before the people for approval.
However, if the government can avoid publishing it in the Gazette, it can also avoid placing it before the people. The 20A plays a vital role in this avoiding strategy.
After finalizing the draft constitution, the 20th Amendment will be tabled in Parliament for approval. At the committee stage, amendments can be proposed to the Bill.
Usually, amendments mean minor additions, replacements, and deletions within the scope of the Bill. However, this government has established a new tradition of introducing entirely new material to Bills at the committee stage.
In this manner, the federal Constitution will be inserted to the 20A at the committee stage. Then people will be denied the opportunity to obtain a determination from the Supreme Court that it should be approved by the people at a referendum.
A well-tested strategy
A Bill cannot be tabled in Parliament until lapse of two weeks from publishing it in Gazette. This provision grants adequate time for people to study the Bill and express their views. If they find the Bill is inconsistent with the Constitution, it can be challenged before the Supreme Court. If any provision of the Bill is inconsistent of the fundamental articles of the Constitution, the Supreme Court will direct the government to place it before the people at a referendum.
However, if the government insert the federal Constitution into the 20A, people will be denied the opportunity to challenge it before the Supreme Court and to obtain a direction for a referendum.This is not a new strategy of the government. This is a well-tested strategy. The government tabled a Bill to guarantee minimum female representation in local authorities.
During the committee stage, it introduced a provision to the bill disqualifying field officers to contest the elections. Similarly, the government tabled a Bill to guarantee minimum female representation in provincial councils. During the committee stage, it introduced provisions for electorate-based elections for the PCs and thereby postponed the election indefinitely.
We petitioned to the Supreme Court challenging the procedure adopted in these instances. We pointed out that the procedure adopted is not only unconstitutional but also undemocratic.
Unfortunately, the Supreme Court was of the view that it cannot interfere with the legislative process and dismissed the petitions. These determinations of the Supreme Court have lit a green light for the government to insert the federal Constitution into the 20A.
The 20A is of course very bad. However, the federal Constitution is worse than that. It seems that the JVP has brought the 20A to pay the way for the federal Constitution. In this backdrop, it is crystal clear that the Bill to be presented to Parliament would not only abolish the executive presidency but also transform Sri Lanka to a federal State. Hence, it is the duty of all patriotic parliamentarians to oppose granting leave for the 20A when it is presented to Parliament for the first reading since it is the embryo of the disastrous federal baby.