Islamabad - Experts yesterday observed that the constitutions and constitutional developments in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and India offer similarities as well as opportunities to learn from each other’s experiences.

They said Sri Lanka, Pakistan and India have federal systems and parliamentary systems, all the three are 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.

Speaking at the one-day conference on ‘Lessons for Constitutional Development in South Asia’ organised by the PILDAT here on Thursday, three constitutional experts, one each from India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan highlighted their country’s respective of constitutional development.

Acting Sri Lankan High Commissioner 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 and Federal Minister  Shahid Hamid spoke at the conference.

Acting Sri Lankan High Commissioner 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.

Sharing Pakistan’s trajectory of constitutional development, former governor 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.

Indian High Commissioner Gautam Bambawale also shared his country’s perspective at the Conference.

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.

Earlier, in his opening remarks, PILDAT Chief  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 Shehryar Khan Afridi, PTI MNA, and Nafeesa Khattak, PTI MNA, joined the Conference. Senators who were in attendance included Senator Hasil Bizenjo, National Party, 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 including Sobia Shahid, PML-N also attended.