11 August, 2020

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 A Robust Parliament Can Counterbalance A Hyperactive Executive: Elect MPs With Integrity & Pluck

By Kumar David

Prof. Kumar David

The moan is common enough that many Members of Parliament are venal, not particularly well educated and unworthy of esteem – not everyone but a sufficiently large number to tar the reputation of the institution. It was not always so; parliaments of Ceylon/Lanka did seat men of the calibre of NM, SWRD, Colvin, Peiter and Suntheralingam. Their contributions were of intellectual merit. Not only were they of impeccable personal integrity immune from any trace of pecuniary misconduct, they also contributed to a robust and democratic polity by the extraordinary courage they displayed at times of crisis. It would be most uncharitable to write off every member of recent parliaments as unworthy, but the common refrain at every street corner is that parliament is degenerate. 

The matter of concern to today’s column is that the parliament to be elected on August 5 should be independent, strong, not cowed down by an all-powerful executive. It should be able stand with its head held high and take its place as one of three pillars on which constitutional democracy is founded. But there is reason to be apprehensive that this will not be the case. There is every possibility that a goodly majority of post 5 August MPs will be the puppies responding dog-whistles of an Executive master. In the days of the State Council it was men of the calibre of NM, Phillip and Dr Wicks who made the institutions of the Donoughmore Constitution robust and cleared the way for a meaningful parliament in the 25 years of the Soulbury Constitution.  

It is not slander or pessimism to fear that the post August 5 parliament will a lapdog of a strong executive. The SLPP is heading for a clear majority but its candidates are mere creatures of the Paksa Brotherhood. There is not one man or woman in its ranks of the calibre of the great parliamentarians of our past, who will stand up and be counted as a people’s tribune should the need arise. But this personal aspect concerns me less than its constitutional implication; one of the three pillars crumbles into the shadow of another. The legislature morphs into a creature on the leash of the executive. It was not long ago that a parliamentary majority including one-time leftists Tissa, DEW, Vasu and Dinesh danced like harlots and flouted decency to impeach CJ Shirani who had committed no offence; who enacted  the deceitful 18-th Amendment. Do you doubt that the next five years will be any different? 

The judiciary too does not inspire confidence. The recent judgement of the Supreme Court raised eyebrows. The legal luminaire of lower and higher courts, the AG’s department and a virulently divisive legal “fraternity” is a cacophony. Hence the third pillar of state too is incapacitated; its stature diminished. Months ago, I warned in this column that the road to dictatorship in Sri Lanka will not be a power grab or a coup but a process mediated by the erosion of institutions. Post August 5 we will see this accelerate.  

The one institution in the country that rivals our worst MPs is sections of the print and electronic media, mainly but not exclusively Sinhala. The lies and distortions that the media get away with is jaw dropping. Ratnajevan Hoole’s recent expose of brazen character assassination tells it all. That he is a Tamil accounts for the media’s and GLP’s witch hunt. There is no effective mechanism to hold the media to account for its lies. Justly, when you tell friends that you saw or read something on TV or the papers their first contemptuous reaction is ‘oh then it must be a lie’. When so many members of parliament make themselves disreputable the next place the cancer spreads to is the media.

I would have no hesitation in arguing that the NPP of which the JVP is a major constituent does live up to my title today calling for election of MP with “integrity and pluck”. I don’t need to argue the case because everybody, including those angered by the JVP’s 1971 insurrection and its 1989 folly, do concede that in parliament in the last nearly three decades the JVP established for itself a commendable record. The damn funny thing is the ludicrous irrationality of the electorate. Nine out of every ten people I meet declare the SLPP/SLFP and UNP/SJP “corrupt, inept and ignorant”, but eight of that nine will then proceed to vote for one of these cliques anyway! I have never in any other part of the world met such outlandish irrationality. Seven of every ten folks I meet unhesitatingly declares “Of the available lot the JVP is the best”. But how do you explain this – less than one in ten votes for the JVP! There is a disconnect that I have never seen anywhere else in Asia, Africa and the West in all of which places I have lived for years.

One part-credible explanation I have been offered is: “Why don’t those JVP buggers open up and admit that they blundered in 1971 and discuss the genesis of events and frankly discuss how and why they blundered? It was even worse in 1989!” I do know that internally the JVP has acknowledged that it screwed things up in 1971 and 1989, though the roots and causes have not been explored adequately.  It would be good to prepare an official history of these two periods and perhaps invite Lionel Bopage to spend a month with the party writing a collaborative history of these two periods. How a party understands, analyses and corrects its mistakes is of utmost importance for its future. This would lay to rest the fears of those who are scared to vote for the NPP for events of three and five decades ago.

Electing persons of political integrity and pluralist values is of significance for furthering the cause of the national minorities. Parliament has been a platform for Tamils for decades. They have long used it to launch campaigns for a political fairness. Unfortunately, the FP/TNA, the TNA’s forerunners and the Tamils have been taken for endless rides by the two main parties in the South. The TNA sems to have been sold a perpetual season-ticket for going on political rides. The NPP is a trustworthy ally as evidenced by its policy document released for the presidential election of 2019. It calls for release of political prisoners, establishing a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, empowering the Commission on the Disappeared to deliver justice to families of victims, it demands release of military occupied lands to owners, terminating ethnic based colonisation anywhere in the country and economic upliftment of war affected areas.  Though politically cautious it calls for the devolution of political and administrative power.  

These proposals motivate robust dialogue and form the basis for sound constitutional reforms. Against this setting the SLPP/SLFP and UNP/SJP (Sajith) are jointly and severally a motley bunch of political tricksters and slouches in respect of Tamil and Muslim affairs. It is a great pity that in 70 post-independence years, with the brief exception of Pokey Kandiah (Point Pedro Communist MP from 1956-60) no Tamil or Muslim has been elected to parliament from a left party. This is a grave shortcoming in minority politics. And now once again the minorities have the opportunity to rectify this inadequacy by taking their pick from a slew of NPP candidates. Tamils and Muslims need proactive representatives in parliament who also have a standing in trade unions, peasant unions and in socio-economic movements. This is the nexus that liberals like the TNA and conventional Muslim parties lack. Hence I conclude by broadening the scope of my title from “integrity and pluck” to include the need for progressive minority community MPs (leftists to put it bluntly) who will stand up for minority rights in parliament.

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Latest comments

  • 2
    1

    I agree that in any other country if the strategies of the ruling party were as crude as this, that the voters would go for some alternative. It is claimed here that distortion of COVID-19 data is going to be the Trump Card of the Rajapaksas:
    .
    https://www.lankaenews.com/news/3234/en
    .
    The first thing that all of us voters should know is who the candidates available to them are. This is the most user-friendly blog I have discovered so far:
    .
    https://cmev.org/2020/05/21/nomination-list-of-political-party-and-independent-groups-parliament-general-election-2020/
    .
    But since it was put out some time ago, one can’t find out the Preference Numbers of the candidates. For that, one has to go to the gazette notification:
    .
    https://drive.google.com/file/d/1_WM7t8QKipCOiHVOwuVC5NZ4XGolDQ2i/view
    .
    However, beware that because not only are all the candidates listed (in Sinhalese alphabetical order within each group), but also all the polling stations, it runs into more than five hundred pages. I have downloaded them all, less than three megabytes in PDF.
    .
    Intelligent democratic voting means studying all the possibilities, although one need study only what is on offer in one’s own District. Most of the Independent groups can be summarily dismissed!

  • 3
    0

    “Elect MPs With Integrity & Pluck”. That is a call for the voters. Very Good. But “WHO” are those “Nominated” by the respective (Main Stream) Political Parties? According to a “Contestant” nominated by the “PPM”, it is revealed that “113” “Beneficiaries” from the “Bond Scam” of “Yahapalanaya” era are in the running to secure a “Seat” in the Legislature. Apart from that, we know some of the “Ministers” ; “Deputies” and “State” Ministers who have to fight their battles in courts to get their names cleared are also in the “Run”. So what “OPTION” a voter has to comply with the call of the writer? As far as I know, there is only “ONE OPTION” and that would be the “Nominations” from the “PPM”, because there are no such “Nominees” with many skeletons in their cupboards. The question is: Will the “VOTERS” in this country are so “Independent” and “Responsible” to make choices that NEED them and the COUNTRY? I doubt it.

  • 2
    3

    It is pretty clear that leader of JVP sat with Ranil at Temple Trees and gave orders to officers in AG’s office to put Gotabhaya behind bars using any means. With that sort of a third grade leader, how do you expect MPs with “integrity and pluck”.

    “I would have no hesitation in arguing that the NPP of which the JVP is a major constituent does live up to my title today calling for election of MP with “integrity and pluck”. “

  • 2
    5

    David is a commie. and the most unfortunate thing is that the JVP was not wiped out altogether like the LTTE

  • 2
    2

    Prof Kumar David,
    The conventional wisdom tells us that the next five years will be the same. The same old faces with a few new.
    The few new will be quick learners. They will in no time, turn out to be the same. We wait for an election to send the old rascals out and replace by the new. It will go on like a merry-go-round.

    We can make a few predictions.

    The 19th Amendment is in danger

    The 13th Amendment will be in danger.

    The Authoritarian Government in the horizon.

    A vigilant civil society is the only hope in this hopeless situation

  • 5
    0

    Was the JVP not corrupt when Wimal Weerawansa and Somawansa Amarasinghe were part of the JVP and supported the CBK govt? Lakshman Kadirgamar cultivated ties with the JVP of that time, perhaps with the belief it would help him become PM, but when MR became PM, the JVP, with its racial bent, turned around and supported the MR regime enthusiastically.

    Parties out of power have little chance to be corrupt, and that might explain why the JVP hasn’t been as corrupt as the other 2 major Southern parties.

  • 5
    2

    Prof. Kumar,
    It is a well thought article but how far it will reach to the people of Sri Lanka. Srilanka do not have a political leadership who can convince that they stand for the truth, they stand for the justice and they stand to challenge any one who violates the constitution, rule of law whether it is a Monk or Priest or any political leadership or military leadership or his family member. It is sad the people always fall into a trap of a fake propaganda on religion, national security. People have no alternative other than to elect from a sunk of people who lied again and again for seven decades. We should remember JR Jeyawardena promised to eradicate Tamil terrorism? Did he do that with the executive Presidency and military? No. Chandrika promised to find a solution and defeat LTTE terrorism with her executive power? No, Mahinda promised to eradicate LTTE terrorism completely? Did he do that? No. Most Sinhala Buddhist people think that Mahinda eradicated terrorism. Why then country did not move any further? How did then Easter Bombing happened? How did now they say LTTE is resurfacing. Why the Military is occupying the North? The problem remains worse. Ethnic violence on the increase, economic development on the decrease, there is no peace, every one is under fear of future.

  • 2
    2

    Ajith,
    The mistake you make is to identify terrorism with categories like the LTTE and JVP, or as many across ethnic boundaries believe, the state forces. I think a closer examination would show that terrorism comes from our bogus independence, whose foretaste was the PSO as the parting imperial gift, the laws by which we have been governed, and the ready resort to coercive legislation, resulting in the disappearance of our common law that protects our rights.

  • 2
    1

    Only way a robust parliament can be formed in Sri Lanka if JVP, TNA, and SJB in total get a majority. SLPP and SLFP should not get more votes that all the above three put together. If Mahinda even gets a simple majority he will buy candidates such as Ravi Karunananyake and Navin Dissanayake who are already on the fence will jump into the lap of Mahinda. Already Ranil is in bed with Mahinda. The coming General Election is the most crucial election in the history of the country.

    The talk about the same party should hold presidential seat and the parliament is crap. If the President thinks he cannot work with the Parliament it should be the President who should resign as he is one person and the Parliament is 225. Its better to govern a country with 225 minds, although there may be difference of opinions to produced a common decision, than one single racist religious mind.

  • 0
    0

    What is the bottom line? To preserve the public interest. The public in general may have its own irrational and erratic behavior such as voting for a group while cursing them as rogues. The biggest issue threatening democracy in this country would be wiping out the political competitiveness among parties leading to one horse races. Prof Kum, as usual has written a long article covering several matters. He concedes that the ruling party would get a clear victory even if it is not a landslide. What matters here is not to lampoon about super majorities parties may get but the creation of a strong opposition in the wake of a landslide victory by the ruling party. There were occasions in history where the number of seats that a major political party got is less than the number of fingers of both the hands. But the fight they put in the Parliament is commendable. Yes! At that time they were no attempts not would there be temptations to join the government for ministerial perks, perhaps to earn for seven generations, to join the government to travel in a super luxury car etc. but to perform the expected role.

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