23 June, 2024

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Akin To Fiddling When Rome Is Burning

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

The national priority ought to be reviving the economy, getting the production process underway, and distributing the costs of debt repayment in an equitable way among the rich and poor. Only those who are unscathed by the economic collapse would consider the national priority to be reform of the electoral system. With presidential elections due in less than a year President Ranil Wickremesinghe has taken it upon himself to embark upon a course of electoral reforms of major proportions for which he has appointed a presidential commission of inquiry. He appears to have done so without consultations with opposition parties or civil society. A group of senior lawyers issued a statement which highlights the irrelevance and duplication inherent in this initiative. The Lawyers Collective said that, “according to the Constitution, the Elections Commission is already mandated to issue guidelines to the media and political parties for the proper conduct of elections. It has also prepared numerous reports on many of the matters outlined in the Gazette Notification.”

The Lawyers Collective also noted that “the Commission of Inquiry has been appointed without any prior consultation, even with recognized political parties in Parliament and expressed its concern “about the timing of this particular proposal. There is an apprehension that these appointments might be intended to stall the electoral process in the country, especially when, according to the Constitution, the Presidential Election is just 11 months away and is set to be conducted between September and October 2024.” Disregarding this and other expressions of concern by political parties and civil society groups, the president has now gone ahead and appointed the presidential commission of inquiry, further expanding its mandate and bolstering the number of commissioners from nine to ten.

According to the notification published in the government gazette, the primary tasks of this commission encompass a thorough examination of existing election laws and the formulation of recommendations for their improvement. The Commission of Inquiry has been called upon to “examine all existing election laws and regulations and make necessary recommendations for the amendment of election laws to suit current needs, giving special consideration to following factors as well. These include securing an increased women and youth representation; providing an opportunity for electronic voting using modern technology instead of printed ballot paper; providing facilities for voting by Sri Lankans overseas.

Six Months

The commissioners have been tasked with a large and varied list of subjects, numbering more than 15, for which they have been given a tight time frame of 6 months. The subjects set for the commission include those that have been at the periphery of public interest or not contemplated in the general discourse of the electorate, such as enabling a person to contest elections for both provincial councils and parliament for the selection of people’s representatives and have the opportunity to represent provincial councils and parliament at the same time if elected. The commission is also tasked with providing voting opportunities for those who are living in foreign lands, such as expatriate Sri Lankan workers. In the context of Sri Lanka’s current economic crisis, this is going to be a difficult and expensive task with an estimated million persons leaving the country in the past two years.

The commission is also tasked with going into the controversial and hitherto unresolved issue of formulating an appropriate mechanism blended with the first-past-the-post voting system for the election of people’s representatives, not limiting to the proportional representation system, but taking into consideration the plural nature of society and reflecting such plural characteristics. The debate over this matter has been going on for several years without a solution. In fact, the re-demarcation of electorates for provincial council elections are now in their fifth year and has outlasted two governments that sought to address the problem. 

Even the re-demarcation of the much smaller local government electorates has proved to be a task beyond the capacities of the government. A recent news item states that State Minister of Provincial Councils and Local Government Janaka Wakkumbura said that the report of the National Delimitation Committee chaired by former Election Commission of Sri Lanka Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya has not been published because many political parties were not in favour of it. The preliminary draft of the report was handed over to Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena by the committee chairman on 11th April 2023 and the final report was handed over to the President subsequently. Now over six months has elapsed and there has been no further progress with getting the re-demarcation of electorates ratified by the political parties and parliament.

Elections First

It is therefore apparent that the presidential commission of inquiry appointed to accomplish a large number of difficult and complex tasks is unlikely to be able to complete its task in the six months given to it or before the presidential election falls due. The commission has been tasked with finding solutions and making recommendations in respect to all levels of elections which would be the local government, provincial council, general and presidential elections. If the electoral system for the provincial councils should have taken as many as five years and that too without a successful resolution of the outstanding issues, it can be imagined that reaching agreement on all four elections will be like waiting for Godot. The result of a failure on the part of the government to be able to hold elections when they fall due is likely to severely erode the legitimacy of the government and put into jeopardy its efforts to resuscitate the national economy and assuage the sufferings of the masses of people who are day by day seeing their living standards deteriorating.

The priority for any government that seeks to engage in problem solving in a situation of extreme crisis would be to strengthen its legitimacy and not erode it. In a democracy, legitimacy comes by holding free and fair elections on time and prevailing. If the government does not appear keen to hold elections when they are due, it leads to the conclusion that those leading the government are only concerned with being in power, and not in solving the people’s problems. A mandate from the people enhances the legitimacy of political reforms even if they exact a price from the people at this time. Having a democratic mandate ensures that changes are made with the consent and approval of the citizens, reinforcing the democratic principles of governance. Elections that provide this mandate are needed at the present time in order to clear the decks for the reforms to come. It is not the other way round.

Obtaining a mandate helps in minimizing potential social unrest and instability by demonstrating that the government is acting in accordance with the wishes of the majority. A mandate ensures that the majority of the population is on board, reducing the potential for social unrest or division that might arise if changes were imposed without popular consent. Political fortunes of one party or the other cannot be subservient to the conduct of regular elections which is the bedrock of democracy. In Sri Lanka in view of its record as a vibrant democracy and the constitutional provisions that exist, the president will serve his interests better if he focuses on creating peaceful conditions during the next few months, which will facilitate holding free and fair elections on time. Renewing the people’s mandate will also enhance the newly elected government’s credibility on the international stage and open the door to the flow of international resources to a government that has the people’s backing.

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Latest comments

  • 8
    0

    Reviving the Economy.
    How to go about it.
    .
    Higher taxes is NOT an answer.
    More tourists is NOT the answer.
    Many more to the middle-east is NOT the answer.
    Reducing imports is NOT the answer.
    …. is NOT the answer.
    Arresting the exodus of human capital is a requisite answer.
    Increasing the yield and productivity of our cash crops is one answer.
    Meeting self-sufficiency in consumer produces is another.
    Utilising cultivable land to the fullest is yet another.
    .
    Making everyone feel bonded is the best answer.

    • 7
      0

      Lankans are the same wherever they go …….Rajapakse/Cabraal/Godahewa/Aloysius/Native-Ranil ……… pump and dump know-how taken global …….. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zhw8hT7mp-Q …….. and then blaming/insulting the victims :))


      And they all want to reform society but not themselves.

    • 1
      0

      Nathan ,
      Brilliant contribution Nathan . ” Making everyone feel bonded is the
      best answer ” . Yes , exactly ! But for that , you need to have the
      right mindset about making everyone happy at least in a reasonable
      manner . Right at the moment , one likes it or not , only NPP is offering
      that trial , The traditional lot is doing things just to pass time until next
      turn and that Next Turn is never used for a better one ! Only a small
      circle is their best investment and that circle does not take any
      initiatives towards their responsibilities for the country which is an
      important part of the system . They do have a responsibility to earn the
      appreciation of fellow citizens on whom the depend and not these
      parasites of politics instead.

      • 0
        0

        Please read ” citizens on whom they “
        —–

      • 1
        0

        Appreciate your kind words, whywhy.

  • 4
    1

    I like the essay. I cannot talk for others. That is ok. Unlike his usual habitual technologies, Jehan PhD did not play his hanky-panky, double acting. Start end he wrote real politics. We don’t know about the future either.
    “Elections that provide this mandate are needed at the present time in order to clear the decks for the reforms to come.”
    Here Jehan PhD writes like a person who doesn’t know much about UNP & its election manipulations. UNP brought the Indian Pakistani Citizenship Act (1948-1949) as the first major law Ceylon Parliament enacted. It was the first volume on making the UNPyers as the Emperors of the land. This is how UNP invalidated Tamils opinion on making the Naked UNP Evils as the Emperors of the land. The second volume came in 1978. It prevented the Sinhala Buddhist Modayas electing SLFPyers as the ruling party. By removing Valaiththodam-I, in the middle of the game, LTTE overturned Junious Richards’ scheme of ending the Mahavamsa chronicle with UNP. Rowdy Royals took it over and introduced the 18A and even they rewrote the Mahavamsa with their names, instead of Don Stephen’s name or Junius Richard’s name. Sinhala Buddhist Intellectuals are masters in ruling the country just by manipulating the election laws, instead of conducting elections and receiving the popular mandate to rule.

  • 2
    0

    From 1970, the time weeping widow Siri Ma O took over the power, every leader who came to power and his team had overstayed their term or corrupted the election system and constitution to prolong their term or came to power in an illegal manner. Only CBK goofed on that by conducting the election before due take, to make sure she will have advantage over UNP in the election that was about to come. She stole additional five years by manipulating the election date but the CJ, Buffoon de Silva who was appointed CBK, forced her to lose one year, in his hurry to illegally promote a criminal whose criminal case was going in the supreme court under his oversight. Then, in his greed to make his term for life time, Old Rowdy lost everything to White Flag Murderer. Alas, the entire Yahapalanaya government and opposition parties unitedly staged the Easter Sunday Tamil Churches massacre and stole the government. Now this guy has come. The interesting lesson the whole world watched was that an unfit Royal person who was promoted as Hitler the Great, by the Langkang elections stealing technologies, lost his throne by the same way he gained it.

  • 2
    0

    Because Hitler was not elected by people under ordinary circumstances, but he was elected by people under an induced emergency perception of the country’s sovereignty being hijacked by Muslim Jihadis, did not have any qualities to rule.

    One lie lead to another lie, until the liar ends up telling 9 lies. The Easter Sunday Emergency president had to give his way to another emergency person, who even did not want to stand for presidential election. Additionally, he was completely rejected by people, by not giving even one seat for his party. UNP has got one national seat, which comes out of the JR’s election manipulation, PR system. The utterly disoriented full power EP system of Langkang has adopted the least or worst elected person as the EP. Worse is Evil was appointed by the person who was ousted by the people. For 75 years, from 1948, this is what was created as the contemporary electoral system, election procedures, EP system by the Sinhala Buddhist Intellectuals, by continuously tinkering with the Soulbury system, which was a replica of the World’s most famous Westminster democratic parliamentary system. Now this unelected person, who has a mandate for nothing, whatsoever is trying to further cook up the PR election system and EP system.

    • 2
      5

      “Because Hitler was not elected by people under ordinary circumstances”
      Really?

      • 0
        0

        Where were you last night?

        Did you hear about Siri Ma O First Nephew and second Nephew organizing 4/21? Possibly she wouldn’t have talked that kind of thing with you, Would’ she?

        I hear Deva’s medicines damage the heads. Why not approach Rowdy Rambo. Anybody who takes his medicines really sleep well. You can have the rest of your life.

  • 4
    0

    Remember JR did his one with 4/5 majority and he had a mandate to change the constitution. The Evil Emperor object is furthering the JR’s system and making the UNP become the ruling party forever, even without winning any elections.

    Somebody has to go to the other world, bring back Queen Quveni, pay homage and please her, plead apology for what the nasty Sinhala Buddhist Intellectuals did for her. and ask her to revoke her curses on Langkang. That is the only one that can bring the lost innocent, peaceful life back to Langkang. Not any crook commissions can resolve Langkang curses.

  • 3
    0

    Dr.JP appears to have made a complete U-turn .

    • 2
      5

      P
      He is an expert in U-turns, double U-turns and you name it.
      Why do you take the man seriously?

  • 6
    7

    So, mad King Ranil is going to be like those Middle Eastern dictators holding no elections decade after decade. Difference is they have a lot more money than us….even Egypt. Since IMF tranche is not yet released (albeit agreed on pending reforms, and he’s not following the reforms, especially holding due elections), next plan is probably about selling completely to China and importing their killer robots to control and kill the Masses. People, do the hard work : Kick him out or be killed!

  • 7
    0

    Executive presidency brought by JRJ, the uncle of the Ranil who was denied by the people for decades. So Ranil is not a fool to believe that people will elect him as president. Ranil will use all the power that was given by his uncle. This opportunity was given by another dictator Goya who messed the country wanted to destroy it by killing democracy.

  • 4
    2

    I know what you had at the back of your mind while penning this essay.

    …..Ranil is fiddling when Srilanka is burning…..

  • 1
    1

    No doubt this President Ranil W is “Fiddling” while the country is “Burning”. He is not only “Fiddling” but has become “Dictatorial” as demonstrated by recent outbursts of ordering “SIT DOWN” even in Parliament and other public appearances. In his recent visit to N’Eliya, he asked the Post Master General to hand over the historic Post Office built in 1847 for a hotel project proposed by Taj Samudra of India. Also, he said: ” If you (addressing the Post Master General) don’t hand it over, I will have to think of appointing another to replace you”. His “THREAT” was well demonstrated in granting an extension of service to IGP overlooking the non-approval of it by the Constitutional Council. He even acts in violation of the Constitution of the country, in granting another extension of service to IGP quoting a provision in that very Constitution that prohibits such an appointment. His own Secretary, a Senior Civil/Public Official in that letter of extension says: ” subject to covering approval by the Constitutional Council” which stipulation is completely negative to the provisions of the appointments to such stipulated positions.

    The “GOD” has put him on the “Throne”, but at the same time made him “INSANE” to dig his own Grave. That is going to be a self-inflicted severe punishment. That is the way NATURE works.

    • 1
      1

      Douglas,
      .
      You have come up with an amazingly comprehensive and perceptive comment:.. The only problem for us in Sri Lanka, is that you have offered no solution.
      .
      And isn’t this necessary for us to understand that it is not only we who have problems?
      .
      https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/middle-east-conflict-why-we-should-support-israel/
      .
      We’re all making good observations, but none of us seem able to offer solutions.

      • 1
        0

        Dear S-M: Did you read the recent “Research” results put out by two “Non-Political” Research Institutes? The research was conducted mostly by selected participants from the “Rural Population” as to how they would vote if an election was held now. A large segment said “47%” would vote for NPP while all other parties viz SJB; UNP; and SLPP stood much below of NPP.

        That “NPP” looks to be the SOLUTION. However, that party has to improve to go beyond “47%” and achieve the required “51%” (in a Presidential Election) and “131 seats & above” in a Parliamentary Election. Hope NPP will reach that level and prove to be the “Solution”, you are asking for and I do wish for.

  • 1
    1

    Many centuries ago even Nero was not fiddling when Rome was burning and
    he was helping his subjects according to eye witness who later was reported
    to have written the incident in his book which is now lost . Our modern day
    Hitler and Polpot are far worse than centuries ago darker times .

    • 2
      5

      “he was helping his subjects according to eye witness who later was reported to have written the incident in his book which is now lost .”
      So how was the ‘evidence’ discovered?
      There are flaws in the story about Nero fiddling like there was only the harp then and the fiddle came much later.
      But the essence is indifference of the head of government.

      • 0
        0

        ” So how was the ‘ evidence ‘ discovered ” ? Annals ( Tacitus)-
        Wikipedia could give you some clue . Roman Historian Tacitus
        wrote that Nero was rumoured to have sung while watching
        the city burn . And he wrote clearly that this was not confirmed
        by eye witness accounts . However , Jehan’s labour to compare
        this incident with that of our crisis where Ranil is pictured to
        saviour than a sadist , will not help because Ranil already finished
        earning his name .

  • 1
    0

    “The renewal of the mandate will also enhance the international credibility of the newly elected government and open the door to the flow of international resources to a popularly supported government.”
    /
    /
    It will not be easy for any old party, including the Janata Vimukti Peramuna, to succeed in the next election as the uncertainty of the people is growing day by day. The gap between them and the floating voters will be a wider margin next time than ever before. How tired are people of a Sri Lankan politics where promises evaporate like water drops on a hot metal plate? In the last 15 years, the people’s trust has been corrupted by criminal politicians.
    /
    Now because Sri Lankan cricket has been stolen by brokers to ICC, the second religion of the stupid nation led by SB is hurting even more. Reliable sources reveal that even former cricketer Mahel Jayawardena may be involved in the process of “fixing” cricket matches. The cancer of the nation aka Mendra Rajapaksa and his group are actively involved in the Central Bank of Sri Lanka. Everything has now crumbled to the utter dismay of Sri Lankan cricket fans. Lankan cricket was held high by fans like poor Indians watching their childish Hindi movies and dreaming about their lives.

    • 1
      0

      Dear LM: There is no Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna in the election field. It is the National Peoples Power (NPP) of which JVP is a constituent party among many other political and social groups. Even in the present Parliament, there are three members nominated and elected from the NPP. For your information, Harini Amarasuriya is not even a member of JVP but a member of NPP who came to Parliament through the National List, on the total votes polled to NPP and not JVP. So I expect a person of your standing to understand this “Difference” which has been properly understood by the people of this country whom you tend to classify as a “STUPID NATION”.

      Recently two popular “Non-Political” Research Institute have in their research, found that 47% of voters are for NPP; 12% for SJB; 9% for UNP, and nearly 3% for SLPP. There is no mention of a party named “JVP” in that survey. So please give up your criticism of “JVP” but do talk of “NPP”, no matter what your views are.

      • 4
        1

        “So please give up your criticism of “JVP” but do talk of “NPP”, no matter what your views are.”
        This seems the most anti-democratic argument in support of the JVP/NPP.
        Until the NPP publicly disowns the JVP and its policies, the two cannot be totally separated.

        • 1
          0

          Erudite SJ,
          .
          Big 😊 thanks to u.

        • 0
          0

          SJ: Sorry for giving you room to think that I am not in favor of criticism. I am all for it.

          What I would like you to understand is criticism of JVP is not that relevant to a Government by NPP because an appreciable change has been incorporated into the Policies and Plans of NPP from those of JVP. Of course, JVP as a separate entity could be criticized, but more beneficial to talk of NPP as it is the sole entity in the political arena among other parties and not JVP.

      • 1
        0

        Dear Douglas,
        😊 pleased to read from u though after long silence, again.
        .
        “Recently two popular “Non-Political” Research Institute have in their research, found that 47% of voters are for NPP; 12% for SJB; 9% for UNP, and nearly 3% for SLPP”.
        .
        I wonder if this came representing a cross section of the lanken society? Please 🙏 add more info about the outcome . Unbiased lankens like us are ready to change our minds at any time, if the darkness hovering above the looters’ island would be disappearing🙏🙏🙏
        .
        To tell u the truth, y day my own meta analyses based on YT commenters [sinhala videos]convinced me again that Rajapakses are still held above their altars in southern and other sinhala Buddhist ☸️ dominated provinces of the slavery. 😔 but the reality. It is comparable to the behaviour s od some uneducated masses of commoners towards the artists 🎨 in some parts of India 🇮🇳

  • 0
    0

    Dear LM: Thanks. Please don’t be in a hurry to change. I know people of your caliber and standing make well-informed and considered judgments. The problem is with a large majority, pressed with day-to-day survival struggling to keep their heads above water. The survey results I quoted have been published and details appeared in the print media. I will give you the links later.

    Don’t worry about your “Madamulana Moosalayas”. Apart from “Re-Construction” work, I am pressing hard to establish that program to eliminate corruption, fraud, waste, and, mismanagement of our resources together with a “No Nonsense” of getting the “ROGUES” to suffer for the “Crimes against Humanity” (all frauds and corruption) and RECOVER the loot and any failure to restitute to take them to “JAIL” to rot there and perish. I have no reservations about that attempt. That is why I voice for the NPP because there is no other alternative and that is the only hope at present.

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