Similarities and Opportunities to Learn, agree Constitutional Experts from Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka at PILDAT Conference on Constitutional Development in South Asia


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May 05; Constitutions and constitutional developments in Sri Lanka, Pakistan and India offer similarities as well as opportunities to learn from each others. So agreed speakers at the PILDAT Conference on Lessons for Constitutional Development in South Asia that took place on May 05, 2016 in Islamabad. Three Constitutional Experts, one each from India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan highlighted their country’s respective of Constitutional Development.

Sri Lanka, Pakistan and India, all three have Federal and Parliamentary systems. All three are also looking for empowered local governments and further strengthening constitutional provisions for protection of religious minorities. Although the three countries have witnessed different trajectories of Constitutional development, the models in place in each country offer a lot to learn.

Acting Sri Lankan High Commissioner, H.E. Mrs. E. A. S. Wijayanthi Edirisinghe, Vice Chancellor, West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata, India, Professor Dr. Ishwara Padil Bhat and Senior Advocate Supreme Court of Pakistan; Former Governor; Former Federal Minister, Mr. Shahid Hamid, spoke at the Conference as three esteemed Constitutional Experts.

Indian High Commissioner, H. E. Mr. Gautam Bambawale, also shared his perspective at the Conference. A complete copy of his speech can be accessed here.

Acting Sri Lankan High Commissioner, H.E. Mrs. E. A. S. Wijayanthi Edirisinghe said that at the moment, Sri Lanka is in the process of drafting a new Constitution, the effort for which was being spearheaded by the Public Representations Committee on Constitutional Reforms. This Committee has developed a unique model of public consultations, seeking the views and advice of the people ahead of formulating its recommendations. She stated that the need of a new Constitution has arisen due to the experience that the country underwent during the Rajapakse regime after the end of the 30-year insurgency by the Tamil separatists, which increasingly saw powers being concentrated in the Office of the President. She highlighted that shuttling between a Presidential and Parliamentary Constitution has only had a negative impact on the country’s Constitutional Development. Therefore, the growth of the Constitution had been haphazard, not organic. Her complete remarks are based on the Background Paper authored by Mr. Lal Wijenayake, Chairman Public Representations Committee for Constitutional Reforms, Sri Lanka, who could not join the Conference but sent his presentation which can be accessed at: Constitutional Developments in Sri Lanka.

Sharing Pakistan’s trajectory of Constitutional development, Mr. Shahid Hamid said that military rule automatically converts a Parliamentary form of Government into a Presidential one, as had often been highlighted in Pakistan’s case. He highlighted that given the 18th Amendment had been passed, the current Constitution was not that of 1973; rather, that of 1973 as heavily amended in 2010. He stated that the 18th Amendment had restored the original spirit of Parliamentary democracy in Pakistan. He, however, observed that Constitutional forums for debate and discussion, such as the Council of Common Interests, have not emerged as effective due to their infrequent meetings. The Background Paper authored by Mr. Shahid Hamid for the Conference can be accessed at: Constitutional Development in Pakistan.

Professor Dr. Ishwara Padil Bhat highlighted that Indian Courts consider federalism as the Basic Structure of the Constitution, beyond the amending powers of the Parliament. Pointing out India’s experience of federalism, he stated that well-planned federalism is a fort against national disintegration, especially in a country as diverse as India. He stated that from the angle of good governance, Parliamentary system has the advantage of flexibility, responsibility and control over the Executive. The Background Paper authored by Professor Bhat can be accessed at: Constitutional Development in India.

Earlier, in his opening remarks, Mr. Mehboob said that in the context of Constitution making in the Sub-Continent, the month of April has a special meaning. The Constitution of Pakistan was passed by the National Assembly on April 10, 1973; April 14, 2016 marks the 125th Birth Anniversary of Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, who chaired the Drafting Committee of the Indian Constitution. It was also on April 28, 2015 that Sri Lanka passed its 19th Constitutional Amendment, which introduced key reforms in terms of rebalancing the powers of the Executive Presidency and the Parliament.

Participants at the Conference included prominent scholars, writers, MPs, law faculties and media persons who engaged in a keen and candid exchange of views with the Speakers. Members of the National Assembly including Mr. Shehryar Khan Afridi, MNA, PTI and Ms. Nafeesa Khattak, MNA, PTI joined the Conference. Senators who were in attendance included Senator Hasil Bizenjo, NP; Senator Dr. Jahanzaib Jamaldini, BNP-M; Senator Usman Kakar, PMAP; Senator Karim Khawaja, PPP; Senator Sardar Muhammad Azam Musakhel, PMAP and Senator Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Abdul Qayyum, PML-N. A member of the Provincial Assembly of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Ms. Sobia Shahid-PML-N, was also in attendance.

As part of PILDAT’s focus on assessing Quality of Democracy in Pakistan, the Conference by PILDAT was also organized to commemorate Constitution Day, inspired by an initiative by the Senate of Pakistan, on the anniversary of the passage of the 1973 Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. The Conference was organized to showcase a comparative and holistic insight into the story of Constitutional Development in South Asia.