Groundviews

The challenge of constitutional reform: Mediating change and managing continuity

KEYNOTE: ‘The challenge of constitutional reform: Mediating change and managing continuity’ by Rohan Edrisinha, 5.30-7.00pm, 17th September

 

JDA Perera Gallery, Horton Place, Colombo
Free & open to public. Parking available inside the venue. Seating limited.

 

The process of constitutional reform in Sri Lanka, if only just the 18th and 19th Amendments are taken into account, is deeply problematic. The opposition to the 18th Amendment, in terms of substance as well as the way in which it was pushed through the legislature, was in comparison to the 19th Amendment far more pronounced and widespread.

And yet, even with the 19th Amendment, significant concerns around the lack of information in the public domain around the draft bill, the resulting lack of strategic, planned, public consultation or debate and the perplexing inability (or unwillingness) to translate into Tamil and Sinhala in a timely manner the substance of the Amendment is indicative of enduring challenges. Negotiations over substantive and core issues aside, the failure to architect a robust process of constitutional reform seriously risks the needless strengthening of spoilers, and the eventual derailment of the best intentions.

How can one manage to secure public trust in a constitutional reform process? What can be done to encourage public interest in issues and considerations that so many see as largely peripheral to more existential concerns? How does a reform process deal with the legacy of the present constitution, and the common law jurisprudence that pre-dates it with the need to reimagine the State, nationhood and citizenship? What is the role of compromise, and at which point does necessary compromise turn into expedient connivance? How can vital substantive issues around the reform process, even if they don’t find direct expression in a new constitution, be publicly discussed, also leveraging the raft of technology tools available today?

Respondent: Ambika Satkunanathan, who will provide suggestions on the specific kind of constitutional reforms that have to be undertaken in Sri Lanka to counter authoritarianism.