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Evolution of the Parliamentary System & its Procedures in Sri Lanka

by Dr.Telli C Rajaratnam

(August 05, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) By the middle of the 17th century, the Portuguese were driven out of Sri Lanka (and southern India) by the Dutch East India Company, which governed for more than 100 years, introduced plantation agriculture, developed trade, and left a legacy that includes Roman-Dutch law. But they too found themselves displaced.

Having won their struggle with France for mastery in India (and in North America), the British laid claim to Sri Lanka, which they called Ceylon, at the end of the 18th century after the Netherlands fell under French control. After a brief period as part of the British East India Company's Indian domain, Ceylon was designated a crown colony in 1802, and by 1815, the entire island was united under British rule. The British introduced coffee, tea, coconut, and rubber plantations, and efficient and enlightened administration.

The first legislature established in Ceylon were the Executive Council and the Legislative Council which were established on March 13, 1833 according to the recommendations of the Colebrook-Cameron commission. The Executive Council was composed of the Colonial Secretary, the officer commanding the Military Forces, the Attorney General, the Auditor-General and the Treasurer and the duties of the council were advisory and the Governor of Ceylon who presided consulted them but was at liberty to disregard their advice. At first it was made up of only British but later included native citizens. At the beginning 16 and later 49 members were elected for the Legislative Council, however a limited number of people were qualified to vote.

In 1931 the Legislative Council was dissolved and in its place a more powerful State Council Council of Ceylon State Council of Ceylon was established with its 101 members voted by universal adult franchise as provided by the Donoughmore Commission.

Prior to the granting of independence and the establishment of the Dominion of Ceylon on 4 February 1948, a new binomial parliament was established in 1947, according to the recommendations Soulbury Commission after the State Council was dissolved . It was based on the Westminster model with an upper house, the Senate, it members were appointed and a lower house of parliament, the House of Representatives, it members were elected. The House of Representatives consisted of 101 Members (increased to 157 in 1960) and the Senate consisted of 30 Members, of whom 15 were elected by the House of Representatives and 15 nominated by the Governor-General of Ceylon.

The Senate was abolished on 2 October 1971, in 22 March 1972 when the republic constitution was enacted, House of Representatives was replaced with the National State Assembly which add 168 elected members. This it self was replace by the Parliament of Sri Lanka when the constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka was enacted in 1977.

With the development of a nationalist movement across the Palk Strait in India in the 20th century, nationalists in Ceylon also pressured for greater self-rule, leading to further democratic political reforms in constitutions enacted in 1910, 1920, 1924, 1931, and 1947; included in the 1931 enactment was limited self-rule under universal suffrage. In 1948, with little actual struggle, and a year after Indian independence, Ceylon became a self-governing dominion within the British Commonwealth.

The period from 1948 through 1970 saw the evolution of Ceylon's multiparty parliamentary system in which orderly and constitutional elections and changes of government took place. Beginning in 1970, executive power began to be highly centralized under Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike.She introduced a new constitution in 1972, converting the dominion of Ceylon to Republic of Sri Lanka, reaffirming a Parliamentary system under a weak, ceremonial presidency, and making the protection of Buddhism a constitutional principle.

The Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) defeat in the July 1977 elections brought Junius Richard Jayewardene of the United National Party (UNP) to power. He became Sri Lanka's first elected executive president in February 1978, under a constitutional amendment of fall 1977 establishing a presidential form of government. Seven months later, a new, more liberal constitution came into effect, rejecting many of the authoritarian features of the 1972 constitution, introducing proportional representation, and defining the presidential executive system. In October 1982, Jayewardene was popularly elected to a new six-year term, and two months later, in a successful effort to avoid general elections, the life of the sitting parliament was extended through July 1989 by means of a constitutional amendment endorsed by popular referendum.

Before the colonial period, Sri Lanka was a Monarchy. Thereafter administrative and governmental reforms were introduced under the Portuguese, Dutch and British rulers. Firstly the maritime Dutch territories and subsequently the Kandyan Kingdom came under the British rule in 1815. According to the recommendations of the Colebrook-Cameron commission, the Executive Council and the Legislative Council- the first legislative bodies of colonial Ceylon - were set up by the Governor, Sir Robert Horton, in 1833.

The Executive Council and the Legislative Council met in the building opposite the picturesque Gorden Gardens, now occupied by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, until it was shifted to the old Parliamentary Building fronting the ocean at Galle Face. This building was declared open on January 29, 1930 by the then Governor Sir Herbert Stanley and housed the legislature till it was shifted to the new Parliamentary Complex at Sri Jayewardenepura Kotte in April 1982.

The Westminster model was introduced by the Soulbury Commission in 1944. The Parliament consisted of the Queen (represented by the Governor - General) and two Houses, namely the Senate and the House of Representatives. The House of Representatives consisted of 101 Members and the Senate consisted of 30 Members, of whom 15 were elected by the House of Representatives and 15 nominated by the Governor - General. The Senate was abolished on 2nd October 1971. Consequent to constitutional reforms, the name of the legislature changed several times as follows:

* The Legislative Council 1833-1931 (49 Members)
* The State Council 1931-1947 (61 Members)
* The House of Representatives 1947 – 1972 (101 Members and 157 Members after 1960)
* The National State Assembly 1972 – 1978 (168 Members)
* The Parliament 1978 – to date (225 Members)

The construction of the New Parliament at Sri Jayewardenepura Kotte, where the palace of the King Vikramabahu III's powerful Prime Minister Nissaka Alakesvara was situated, began in 1979 and was completed in 1982.

Secretary General of Parliament

The Secretary General of Parliament is the Chief Executive Officer of the Parliament and is appointed by the President with the approval of the Constitutional Council. The Office of the Secretary General of Parliament is a constitutionally protected post. One of the main functions of the Secretary General of Parliament is to advice the Speaker and other Presiding Officers on matters relating to Parliamentary procedure, constitutionality of Bills, Standing Orders, privileges and any other matters concerning the functioning of the Parliament. The Secretary General of Parliament is assisted by the Deputy Secretary General of Parliament and the Assistant Secretary General of Parliament in carrying out his/her responsibilities. The Secretary General is also the Chief Administrator and Accounting Officer of the Parliament. The staff of the Secretary General of Parliament is appointed by the Secretary General with the approval of the Speaker. The Secretary General or his/her nominee functions as Secretary to all Committees established by the Parliament.

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