By Malinda Seneviratne –
The passage of the 19th Amendment was not easy. It was not expected to be easy either; politicians after all think about the next election and not the next generation. They are all made of promises; delivery is not their strong point.
There was a process. First the party leaders agreed. Then the document which was agreed upon was altered to suit the UNP. There was objection. The Supreme Court was petitioned. The Supreme Court determined that certain parts of the amendment would require approval through a referendum. There were further adjustments. Further objections. Finally, a document was passed. The President’s powers were clipped in that whoever holds that office would not have the luxury of immunity. Other checks and balances were scripted in.
The document got a BIG ‘F’ in the matter of the Constitutional Council. The issue of composition was fought over. The legislators did not cover themselves in glory. Even a cursory perusal of the constitutions of other countries with such bodies would show this. A glorified Parliamentary Select Committee does not excite anyone and stops way short of the ‘independence’ and ‘stature’ one expects from such a body. It is an improvement on the provisions in the 18th Amendment, but still weak. Flawed though it is, the 19th was passed. Now it’s time for the 20th Amendment, i.e. the one pertaining to electoral reform pledged in Maithripala Sirisena’s manifesto and the ‘100 Days Programme’ that was tagged to it.
When the issue of electoral reform was raised in the early weeks of the Maithripala Sirisena presidency, some said that it was impossible to get it done within the ‘100 Days’. Delimitation that would be necessary would take at least a month and a half. ‘The 19th first,’ some argued. But now that the 19th is done and the ‘100 Days’ are over, focus is on seeing the 20th Amendment through.
There are advantages. Since the ‘100 Days’ are done, apart from the inevitable snickering from the Opposition, there’s very little ‘time pressure’. The electorate, by and large, know what is possible and what is not, clearly. The people, it seems, are not impatient. After all they’ve waited for 37 years already so what’s a few months more, right?
The issue right now is not about the 20th but about whether to have the next election on the basis of the ‘new rules’ or to use the ‘manaapa kramaya’ (PR System) one more time.
First of all, if the current system is flawed, and if flaw is recognized and addressed, what logic dictates the use of the flawed system to elect representatives when such representation would necessarily draw from those very same flaws?
Is the might hurry to dissolve parliament a deliberate plan to scuttle the 20th or to ensure that new rules will not come into force in the next election (since delimitation, for example, cannot be concluded in time)? The advantage is obvious. Our worthies in parliament have a better chance of getting re-elected if they contest under the PR System. It is obviously against their self-interest to change the system. If they have no option but to vote for the Amendment due to ‘pressure from above’ (as they probably did for the 19th) then the consolation prize they would like to take home is ‘postponement’, i.e. have the amendment come into for the election after the next one.
President Sirisena promised to do a lot in 100 days. Few are blaming him for the delay. The ‘better late than never’ principle still has some currency with respect to the reforms he pledged to institute. He promised to bring about electoral reform and promised to hold the next General Election according to the new rules.
He better deliver on this.
*Malinda Seneviratne is the Chief Editor of ‘The Nation’ and his articles can be found at www.malindawords.blogspot.com