SRI LANKA HAS STRUGGLED in its efforts to create a viable political system that is sensitive to the culture of the country and maintains democratic institutions. There have been three constitutions since 1972, and a fourth was being debated in 1998. Each time a different party has come to power in the past twenty-five years, its members have changed the constitution.
In their efforts to find a suitable constitutional arrangement, the Sri Lankans have gone from a political system modeled on the British Westminster system of government from 1947 to 1972, to a similar unicameral government from 1972 to 1978, to a French system of government from 1978 to 1997, and they are now seeking to return to a Westminster-form government with significant changes to reflect Sri Lankan society and culture.
The most drastic change to the constitution came in 1977 when Junius Richard Jayawardene, who was initially elected to parliament during the colonial era, became prime minister. He incorporated many of his personal views into the constitution, creating a quasi-presidential arrangement modeled on the French system of government. 1 He of course became the first executive president of Sri Lanka. The overall impact of the new constitution was to concentrate power in the hands of the executive and to make the president the dominating figure in the government. 2
Once Jayawardene left office in 1988, pressure to change the system began to emerge. This pressure culminated in proposals to change the government in the 1990s under the leadership of President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, who was elected to office in 1994. She had been elected to office vowing to abolish the executive presidency. However, once in office she was unable to obtain a consensus on constitutional change and the plan was delayed.
During the colonial era Sri Lankans were given limited influence in their government. Although there have been many arguments concerning