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Upper House in Sri Lanka - a new move to devolve powers


After the successful Presidential and Parliamentary Elections, United People's Freedom Alliance Government is seriously considering to do away with the unicameral parliamentary system and to introduce a second chamber, to be henceforth called the Senate.

It is reliably learnt that the ruling UPFA is seriously considering to amend the Constitution and the present Electoral System minus the preferential voting that was introduced through the 1978 Constitution by President J. R. Jayawardena.

While introducing the amendments to the present Constitution, it is reliably learnt that the government is considering the idea of introducing the Upper Chamber of Parliament which is popularly known as the ‘Senate’. The government is considering this idea of setting up a Senate, in order to facilitate a peaceful solution to the ethnic conflict. The government thinks the idea of establishing the Senate will satisfy the needs, aspirations and the participation of all sections of the community.

The government proposes to elect around 45% of the Members of the Senate from the Lower Chamber - the House of Representatives - that's the present Parliament. The balance 60% of the Members will be appointed by the President considering the recommendations made by the Maha Sangha and other Religious Heads, the Civil Society and from academics, intellectuals and veteran media personnel.

According to informed sources, the Senate will have a Chairman, Vice Chairman and a Deputy Chairman to preside when the Senate meets. The Chairman of the Senate will have the equal status as the Speaker of Parliament. All the Members of the Senate will have equal remunerations and other fringe benefits enjoyed by the Members of Parliament.

Earlier Senate was abolished on October 1971 by Srimavo Bandaranaika’s government prior to the 1972 Republican Constitution introduced by her. It is expected that the proposed Senate too will act as a stopgap barrier to prevent the government in power trying to rush through important legislations without giving adequate time to consider such legislations. The proposed Senate will have the power to reject a bill passed by the Parliament and send it back to Parliament for the bill to be reconsidered. This prerogative to refer a bill back to the elected house can be used only once for one such particular bill.

All what is mentioned above are only just suggestions and proposals that are being given careful consideration by the Officers who are directed to make a legal draft on this proposal to re-establish a Senate in Sri Lanka.

Accordingly, informed sources said Senate will have 65 Members and they will be called Senators. The previous Senate had 30 Members. According to the new proposa 28 Members of the proposed Senate will be from the majority community and the balance 37 from minority community - namely Sri Lankan Tamils, Muslims, Tamils of the Indian origin, Burghers, Malays and professionals like Doctors, Engineers, Lawyers, Accountants, academics, intellectuals, media personnel and others who will come under as Technocrats.

These suggestions are now carefully studied by the legal experts and they are expected to submit their reports within the next three months to the President, Mahinda Rajapaksa. Thereafter, Political parties, Members of Parliament, Religious Leaders and Civil Society Members will be given an opportunity to study these proposals and give their suggestions and observations to a committee which will be appointed soon to consider them.

According to a well informed source President Rajapaksa is inclined to implement the suggestion to set-up a Senate, which is expected to be another way of evolving powers to the minorities. The same source said that such a move will be less dangerous to the majority community than giving other powers of the Central government except the Police powers to the Provincial Administrations in order to satisfy the minority communities who are clamoring for more devolution of powers to the Provincial Councils.

The Political sources are also confident that such a move by the government will satisfy the International Community to a certain extent and thereafter the pressures brought on the government by the International Community will gradually be kept at bay.

- Asian Tribune -


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