By Kusal Perera –
“If the present Government does not so agree, abolition should be the first priority of a candidate who is willing to abolish the Executive Presidency. Such a candidate should commit him/herself to a draft constitutional amendment, which will in effect be the election manifesto. Such candidate will request the people for a mandate to abolish the Executive Presidency.” – “Suggestions for Immediate Constitutional Reform” – NMJS , made public on 04 April at a media briefing, presided by Ven. Maduluwawe Sobhitha Thera
When will the next presidential elections come ? The last was in January, 2010. But President Rajapaksa was not sworn in immediately after elections as in 2005 November. His Excellency had the privilege of swearing in this second time, on the day he thought he should. The interpretation for the date of swearing in, came accordingly. He was sworn in for his Second Term in November, 2010, almost ten (10) months after he was elected.
The law of the land says, next presidential election can only be held 04 years after the previous presidential election. From when would this 04 years begin ? Will it start ticking from end January 2010, or from 19 November, 2010 ? The calculation or the interpretation by the Supreme Court (SC) would definitely tally with the date the Rajapaksas feel is best for them. It could be 2014 January, if the Rajapaksa’s popularity run gets harder to sustain, or it could be 01 year and 07 months after this Sinhala-Hindu New Year. That also depends on what’s up their sleeve in winning a Third Term. Or, as it now goes, a simple amendment to the Constitution, interpreted as valid by the SC, could postpone elections by a full term.
Meanwhile, there is a hurried proposal to scrap the “Executive Presidency” from the “National Movement for a Just Society” (NMJS) that has Ven. Maduluwawe Sobhitha Thera, more as its Sinhala Buddhist gravitational centre than its “Convenor”. The title of the proposal says, “Suggestions for Immediate Constitutional Reform”. The Malwathu Shyamopali Siyam nikaye (sect) chief prelate, Most Ven. Tibbatuwawe Sri Siddhartha Sumangala Mahanayaka Thera was the first to officially receive this proposal from MNJS. The Most Ven. monk was quoted in the media as having said at the event, both the executive presidency and the proportional representative system do not suit Sri Lanka.
As for the abolition of the Executive Presidency, there is consensus with reluctance amongst political leaders and most vaguely within the city middle class. The rural voter and the Sinhala Buddhists may prefer to have the Executive Presidency if they can be assured, it would always be with an ardent Buddhist fan, who would also be a staunch Sinhala campaigner in the calibre of Rajapaksa. Even otherwise, the promise of abolishing the Executive Presidency and trashing it thereafter, had never been a serious political issue, so far. IF that was as serious and important as the NMJS wants to stress, neither Chandrika Kumaratunge nor Mahinda Rajapaksa would have had the fortune of reneging on the promise and then getting elected for the second term too.
Within middle class political debates, abolishing of the Executive Presidency has gained some currency over the possibility of having an Executive Presidency made accountable and answerable to the people, through Constitutional provisions. The call for abolishing of the Executive Presidency has also ignored the fact, the parliamentary system of governance in Sri Lanka was a total failure. Sobhitha Thera’s proposal that had in its deliberations if not in drafting, Constitutional Experts and former Presidential Advisers in the calibre of men like Dr. Jayampathy Wickramaratne PC, opens up with the statement, “The Executive Presidency (EP) shall be immediately and totally abolished with a return to a Parliamentary form of Government.”
Now what is this Parliamentary form of Government ? We had two such pure forms from independence in 1948 to 1978. The first, was with a bi-cameral parliament explained as one that had a “Senate” as a safety mechanism for the Minorities, while the Constitution itself was having safety clauses for minorities under Article 29. What happened in that parliament ? That parliament disfranchised and made the Indian origin Tamils, “Stateless bonded labour” in the plantations. Made “Sinhala” in 1956, the ONLY official language of all people with total disregard of minority Tamils, Muslims and Burghers.
The second form of parliamentary government under a Republican Constitution in 1972, removed all minority safety mechanisms, smudged out the multi ethnic presence in society by Constitutionally saying all are “Sri Lankans”, made Buddhism the State religion, politicised the State including the Judiciary and in 1974, allowed for standardisation of university admission leading to ethnic discrimination. These two forms of parliamentary governance (without an Executive President), thus paved the way for militarising and brutalising of the ethnic conflict, leading to the catastrophe the country is now living with.
Nor did these two forms of parliamentary governance create any decent, socio economic development in this country. It was a proven case of decline, year in year out of economic growth too. An election parade that brought one government after the other, each faring far worse than the previous rule. That, the failure of parliamentary form of rule in fact gave J.R. Jayawardne the excuse and the reason to shift to an Executive Presidency, is now comfortably forgotten.
That therefore demands an answer from NMJS and those who propose a reversal to a parliamentary form of government, to the question, “WHY should Tamils in Sri Lanka accept a parliamentary form of government, once again ? What is there for them in a parliament that paved the way for the brutalised conflict ?”
There could have been much for the Tamils living in SL to engage in, if those who propose this abolition of the Executive Presidency and getting back to a parliamentary form of government, actually wanted to include provisions the Tamils have been asking for decades. The APRC Final Report on the other hand, has plenty of provisions for Tamils, Muslims and any other minority people living here. It has proposed a bi-cameral parliament too, with clearly demarcated areas of power sharing within provincial structures that provides North-East citizens their place in decision making on socio cultural and economic life as in Tamil Nadu. It proposed another elected structure for the Tamils of Indian origin and the Muslims, outside the East to intervene on issues related to their cultural identity. This parliament, the NMJS led by experts and Ven. Sobhitha thera proposes, has nothing for Tamils and nothing for any minority.
This NMJS proposal for “immediate constitutional reforms” in its entirety, is an adaptation of the 1972 Republican Constitution. One that goes back from where we are now, though the abolition of the Executive Presidency is projected as the biggest achievement ever, if possible. While it has no mention or proposal on power sharing and have completely ignored the PCs, though accepted as not at all adequate, nevertheless a governing structure meant for the provinces, the proposal discounts plurality of SL and wants ethnic recognition to be once again smudged out as in the 1972 Republican Constitution. The stress again is in establishing a common “Sri Lankan” identity.
“(3) The peoples of Sri Lanka who together constitute the People of Sri Lanka have the right to develop their own language, protect their own religion, to develop and promote their culture, to preserve their history and the right to their due share of State power including the right to due representation in institutions of government, without in any way weakening the common Sri Lankan identity. This shall not in any way be construed as authorizing or encouraging any action which would dismember or impair, totally or in part, the territorial integrity or political unity of the Republic.(emphasis added)”
Everything else that precedes this “common Sri Lankan identity” and most importantly, the last sentence which concludes the para quoted, in this present proposal was there in the 1972 Constitution as well. The 1972 Constitution under 16(2)a, d, g, 16(4), 16(6), 16(7) and 16(9) talks of everything this quoted para (3) has. This “common Sri Lankan identity is only an escape route for those who do not wish to have their Sinhala chauvinism, exposed.
A “common Sri Lankan identity” here in this Sri Lanka, can only be one dominated by Sinhala culture, Sinhala values, the Sinhala heritage and identity that all extremist Sinhala elements keep harping on. There can not be a “common” culture with equal space for other cultures and identities. The only commonality can be within the social acceptance for a Sinhala, Tamil or Muslim person to be both a Sri Lankan citizen and a Sinhala, Tamil or a Muslim person at the same time. A multi cultural, multi linguistic, multi ethnic, multi religious Sri Lanka, accepted without doubts and with respect in social thinking and accordingly reflected in its Constitution can be the only sustainable provision for peaceful co-existence. The National Movement for a “Just Society” refuses to accept that logic in its proposal for Constitutional Reform.
Therefore a constitutional reform proposal that
1.does not accept plurality of this country,
2.ignores the most important political necessity of power sharing for that plurality to enjoy democratic life in a single country,
3.does not accept the failures and drawbacks of our own experience in parliamentary form of government,
4.does not wish to have the APRC Final Report as its basis for discussion
should have other political reasoning and objectives to surface at this time of our political complexities and crises.
The most plausible of all political reasoning for such an “alibi for Sinhala chauvinism”, is the inability of mainstream political Opposition leaderships and their political organisations to present a viable political alternative that can politically challenge this Rajapaksa regime now, and immediately. Therefore the marginalised political elements from stubborn Sinhala nationalist urban middle class and the present day illogical “left” left overs, continuing with their anti – UNP ancestry, along with the hard line anti – Rajapaksa purists, have come together to propose a platform they think could out manoeuvre the main UNP opposition. A platform they feel could attract the Southern Sinhala constituency, better than the UNP that could have a possible tie up with the TNA, at an election.
The first ceremonial visit to the hill country to inform of this proposed abolition of the Executive Presidency to those considered the custodian of Sinhala Buddhists in Sri Lanka, strips the democratic dressing of the NMJS slogan and exposes its Sinhala nudity. It is no surprise, though. While Sinhala chauvinists wants such camouflage, the traditional “left” had always compromised with Sinhala chauvinism to promote “anti imperialism and anti UNP” platforms and brought about the most vulgarised regimes in post independent Ceylon and Sri Lanka. This simply is an attempt to keep to “tradition”.