By Sarath De Alwis –
“Had every Athenian citizen been a Socrates, every Athenian assembly would still have been a mob.” – James Madison
We live in times of hope and despair. That is to be expected. The opposition seems to have succeeded in enlarging the composition of the Constitutional Council under the 19th Amendment. The opposition insistence on elected members of Parliament instead of independent members appointed by political parties though flawed is understandable.
In the light of the good governance practices of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in the last one hundred days, the opposition position has some incontrovertible logic. Who defines independence and eminence? The Prime Minister described the three lawyers he appointed to inquire and report on the bond fiasco as eminent men. He has also made a number of other appointments where the appointees derive their eminence and exceptional credentials on grounds best known only to Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe and perhaps Mr. Malik Samarawickereme.
So, why not members of parliament? In the opinion of this writer, the only member of the present parliament who should not be appointed to the constitutional council is Professor G.L.Pieris. He is a professional constitutional greaser and repairman. He is also the author of the 18th amendment which nearly excluded the God Father from running for a third term.
*Photo – President Maithripala Sirisena observes the voting on Second bill of the 19th amendment to the constitution from President’s Chamber inside the Parliament, April 28, 2015.
Since the provision for appointing members from a national list is to be retained, political parties can select eminent men and women who could then serve in Parliament and the Constitutional Council. Institutionalisation of people’s sovereignty is too complex a matter to be achieved by statute. It requires men of character and vision. State sovereignty is dependent on norms and practices in governance. Our democracy belongs less to the governed and more to the government. The President wants to walk the talk. The interim Prime Minister is yet to commence his walk.
The election of President Maithripala Sirisena was a near miracle brought about by multiple groups with contradictory aims. The minorities and minority parties wanted to dislodge a despot. The JVP wanted to frustrate a fascist regime. The UNP wanted to regain office. President Maithripala Sirisena and former President Chandrika Kumaratunga wanted to regain the Sri Lanka Freedom Party.
Despite its seemingly superficial exposition, this analysis helps understand the present predicament of our painful transition from the Rajapaksa Kleptocracy to the defective democracy of President Maithripala Sirisena.
The presidential contest pitted a machine against a movement. The Machine was perfected over a period of five years. The movement was a hastily assembled coalition of disparate groups with different priorities of what should be done after.
Perhaps the chances of successes was so remote that none felt the need to nuance their own positions. Nothing has changed since then. The bickering is audible.
In defeat the Rajapaksa Machine is deprived of its coercive state resources. Yet the Lion in winter retains and relies on a network of operatives. Their Mafiosi style allegiance was demonstrated by the overnight sleep over in Parliament.
He has also retained the support of a segment of Buddhist clergy of the variety that physically eliminated the founder of the SLFP.
President Sirisena is in a struggle to hold the momentum of his movement. He repeatedly reminds his party of the epochal change and the tragic assassination of the founder of the SLFP. The apocalyptic reference is telling.
All reform movements offer opportunities to opponents to provoke public disenchantment and further their own objectives. Extremists of both sides can also join ranks to isolate the moderates.
The dichotomy of the Maithri- Ranil alliance was apparent to anyone who listened to the Presidential address to the nation and the one on one interview of the Prime Minister on ITN TV on the same day. Both events coincided with the end of the first hundred days.
The President was focused on the restoration of democracy. In the painfully choreographed interview the Prime Minister focused on governance and corruption. That Corruption is a bi partisan privilege was conveniently overlooked by the interviewer who eloquently extracted the credentials of the manor born Prime Minister.
Therein hangs a tale. The contradiction is obvious. Maithripala Sirisena rebelled against the Autocrat. Ranil Wickremesinghe colluded with the autocrat. He would have happily continued to do so if the gamble failed. The peasant visionary and the elite realist are in an uneasy coalition.
Somawansa Amarasinghe seems to be the only politician who has realized the enormity of the implications of this lopsided coalition. In a hand written open letter to the President, he has called for a full inquiry in to events on the night of January 8th when votes were counted and the outgoing president is allegedly attempted to annul the results. In a recent interview on Derana TV he described how the defeated presidential candidate Sarath Fonseka was physically detained in an unknown location immediately after the 2010 elections. “The poor man was at a meeting with me and some others including Rauf Hakeem and Mano Ganeshan “he said much to the discomfiture of the TV anchor who was anxious to veer him off the delicate subject.
The majority of our people are not too concerned with the expression of ‘we the people’ or ‘Sovereignty’. They are much less concerned with constitutional subtleties of the separation of powers. It is precisely this public apathy that allowed the Rajapaksa regime to use sovereignty as a shield to justify arbitrary state power.
Let the constitutional council consist of as many members of parliament as necessary. Let the people elect eminent men and women to represent them in parliament. The discretion and common sense of the people should be superior to that of the working committees of either the UNP or the SLFP.