By Camelia Nathaniel
Deputy Secretary General of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) and Mayor of Kalmunai, M. Nizam Kariapper who is also one of the executive members of the SLMC participating in the discussion on electoral reforms, is firmly of the view that the judiciary should be in an un-compromise able position. In this principle he said that the SLMC have put forward proposals for inclusive democracy in terms of governance, representation, three systems, executive, legislative and judiciary. Whatever that is necessary, provisions which are universally accepted to ensure an independent judiciary has to be included in the new constitution. That he said is not compromisable. In an interview with The Sunday Leader, commenting about the outcome of the meeting between the TNA and the SLMC pertaining to the new constitution, Kariapper said that the two parties had taken a very basic and general understanding to make use of the documents from the draft constitution bill of 2000 up to the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission (ACRC) final report to use as a base document to the question of devolution because these are very significant, to satisfy the issues of the minority. This is what the two parties basically agreed upon.
Following are excerpts of the interview:-
Q: Is there a necessity for a new Constitution?
A: Both the President and the Prime minister had given a clear mandate for a new constitution and there is a huge cry all over the country for a new constitution to have a new form of governance for the people to decide on matters concerning them. This new constitution will determine what sort of election system we should have, rights and what sort of devolution the people should have. Definitely the people want a new constitution and add to that this will be the first constitution of the people. The first constitution was by the British, the 1972 constitution was one party and the 1978 constitution was more or less by one person. So our main objective is to have a consultative process with the people, and for the first time in history we are going to make the entire parliament as a subcommittee where all the members of the parliament will sit in this committee and express their views and there will be another subcommittee going all over the country collecting the ideas and proposals of the people. Even if there are millions of proposals we will categorise them in some order and give hearing to everyone and make it a constitution of the people of Sri Lanka.
Q: The TNA is in favour of the merging of the Northern and Eastern provinces. Is this the view of the SLMC as well?
A: This is just one aspect of what the TNA wants. There are many categories, but the media tries to pick on one aspect and create chaos. What we want is a dialog to be started both inside and outside of parliament and when the TNA makes such a request officially we will decide. At this time it is premature to comment.
Q: Why not just implement the devolution package under the 13th Amendment fully? Or just make some adjustments in it? Why go through the rigmarole of discussing the issue all over again. After all, discussions on devolution have been on since 1994-95 when CBK came to power with the promise of devolution?
A: I am talking about the constitutional reforms as a whole. For example there can be a number of omissions in the constitution where people are critical. My view is that we should discuss with the people and see if they say that the 13th amendment is enough or if we should go beyond. Not for the purpose of the devolution aspect, this is a new constitution for the purpose of creating a constitution and peace of mind. The people of this country have not had a constitution of the people, but instead what they had was a one man show that was changing every other day. Why are we not talking of an era of social media where internet, communication where out of 20 million people, I am sure we can get ten million people involved. Let them come and say what is fine and not fine by them and whether they want or do not want devolution etc.
I am completely open about what type of devolution, what type of governance or election reforms and what type of court system we should have. The people should also have the freedom to decide upon what types of fundamental rights or media rights we should have. This is a completely open dialog.
Q: While the shape of the new Constitution will be determined by a long drawn out and elaborate process of consultation both within and outside parliament (through parliamentary committees and the Public Representation Committee) a change which has been decided upon already is the abolition of the Executive Presidency. Do you think it is wise to give up the Executive Presidency when it has been able to give the country a stable and strong government?
A: I beg to defer. There is a proposal as there was one section who wanted to abolish the executive presidency, but still as the president said we are still to decide whether it’s going to be a complete abolition or if the presidency is going to have some powers retained is still left to be decided. Nothing is pre judged and remember that the very concept of a constituent assembly means nobody has the right to decide that a certain part has been decided already. If that were the case there is no point in having a consultative process. We will be starting the whole process afresh and giving the opportunity to everyone to express their views and then come to a consensus. Nothing is pre decided from our party’s point of view.
Q: Another aim of the constitutional reform process is to change the electoral system from the present Proportional Representation system to the First Past the Post system. But would the abolition of the Proportional Representation system not deny small parties and parties of the minorities a chance to get elected?
A: Those are some of the concerns. Will the PR system suffice, or having the parliamentary system or the presidency system, or the Hybrid system and how best we can ensure fairness, these are all areas that need to be discussed and decided upon. Not only the ethnic minorities but every minority party, there should be fairness to all. The fundamental or the bottom line is there must be inclusive democracy. Inclusive democracy includes every shade of political opinion which has a substantial number to have one representative of the party in parliament. For example if the people say that they want more women, then we will get together and say women representation should get at least 30 to 40%. They may not be able to vote for a female candidate in their electorate, but they should be able to vote for a female candidate who is contesting under the national level. Therefore they must be given that opportunity.
As I pointed out, these are concepts and what and how you are going to bring in these concepts are detailed, but there are a certain set of principles that we adhere to. First the most important principle as far as representations are concerned is that it should provide a base for inclusive democracy and the bottom line is every shade of opinion within this country, be it minority, ethnic minority, political minority or regional minority or policy based minority, they should be able to make representation, provided that particular lobbying is big enough, provision should be made for them to have their own representation. This is called inclusive democracy.
Q: Since the bureaucracy and other structures of the government are dominated by the Sinhala community, do you think places should be reserved for minorities in jobs and educational institutions as in India?
A: My first reaction is what is important is that every community has equal opportunity. But I must admit that there are communities such as the upcountry Tamils and some Muslims and Tamils who have just returned to the former war torn areas such as Mannar, Puttlam and Mullaitivu, who have been in a disadvantageous position. However we have to make some interim provisions for them to come in but our objective is to achieve all the appointments based on merit and establishing a Sri Lanka identity going beyond ethnicity.