Creating Peace in Sri Lanka: Civil War and Reconciliation

By Robert I. Rotberg | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER ELEVEN
Constitutionalism, Pluralism, and Ethnic Conflict: The Need for a New Initiative

Rohan Edrisinha

THE PEOPLE'S ALLIANCE campaigned vigorously during the 1994 elections on the importance of a political solution to the ethnic conflict. Since it was recognized that constitutional reform would form a major part of such a political solution, there was, by implication, a promise to introduce a new constitution which would be a radical departure from the Second Republican Constitution of 1978. There were two main motivations for a new, Third Republican Constitution: authoritarianism and ethnic conflict. 1

There were several grounds for optimism. The emphasis on the link between authoritarianism and the strong executive presidency suggested that Sri Lanka's constitution-makers would get it right the third time around by designing a constitution which imposed adequate restraints on the wielders of political power. 2 Furthermore, the fact that the new government did not command a two-thirds majority in parliament meant that the government would have to reach out to the opposition and the minority parties, thereby preventing the introduction of a partisan and essentially majoritarian constitution, as happened in 1972 and 1978.

Unfortunately, despondency and frustration replaced optimism. The process seems to be stuck at the beginning. In October 1997, Gamini L. Peiris, minister of justice, constitutional affairs, ethnic affairs, and national integration, presented to parliament a document titled "The Government's Proposals for Constitutional Reform." The United National Party ( UNP), the main opposition party, thereafter released some sketchy and woefully inadequate draft proposals of its own.

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