Mario Gomez

Sri Lanka: A Crisis of Institutions and Constitutions

Sri Lanka has been in a state of transition for many years. Somewhere in the seventies, it transited from democracy to a form of autocracy. A new constitution centralized power in Parliament alienated Tamils and sowed the seeds of the violence that followed. In the eighties, this transition was accentuated with the adoption of a new constitution that created a strong Executive Presidential system, unheard of in the democratic world.

In May 2009 the country made another transition when the LTTE was defeated and government’s writ ran over the entire country for the first time in 30 years. In between, there have been other mini-transitions. In 1994 a new political regime and a fresh political actor attempted to negotiate a peace with the LTTE and to address some of the rules of law issues of the previous regime. Both these failed. Part of that transitional process was an attempt to deal with human rights abuses that occurred during a war with
insurgents in the South of the country and to provide reparations to victims.

In 2003 Sri Lanka experienced its first serious peace process when the government attempted to negotiate a constitutional peace with external facilitation. This process also failed and this led a new political regime to resume a military campaign against the LTTE. Despite its most important transition – from war to peace in 2009 – the country still grapples with an institutional crisis and a constitution that lacks credibility. There is no institution at the moment that commands widespread public respect.

If this transition is to be sustained it will require at least three things: Equitable Economic Growth; A constitution that must distribute power appropriately amongst the three organs of the state and between the centre and regions; and embed the values of multi-ethnicity, democracy, and human rights; and Credible and independent institutions that will supervise the state and non-state actors ensure that the rule of law is adhered to. This paper will explore some elements of the latter two processes: what are
the elements that should figure in a new democratic constitution for Sri Lanka and how may independent institutions be created and sustained?