24 September, 2017

An “Un-Common” Candidate For Presidency And Another “Sinhala” Constitution

By Kusal Perera

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”.

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    The belief is that merely using the abolition of the Executive Presidency as its theme song, is sufficient to gain traction as an alternative to the Rajapakse kleptocracy.

    That is not sufficient to draw on in elections, and a Common candidate that the UNP will definitely not subscribe to is going to strengthen the Rajapakse Presidency rather than result in an abolitionist President.

    Given that stark reality it is essential then only for the main opposition to lift itself out of its doldrums, and come up with an inclusive platform, reaching out to a sense of the party’s origins, in times of less friction, and appeal to the innate sense of the people to live in peace and prosperity without the resurgent fundamentalism.

    It is the race and religion based political parties that first need to be discredited as being divisive. If the opposition can succeed in doing that then there is light at the end of the tunnel to have a credible platform that gives a place to all Sri Lankans without fear or favor to prosper and grow. Only then will this country reach its true potential.

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    NMJS has kept its proposals as simple as possible as it has a task to bring together a diverse opposition on a common platform. Hence it would not be possible to go into such detail as proposed by the author. Abolishing the Executive Presidiency would be the main task and mandate of any new incumbent. By doing so it would herald the rebirth of democracy in this country.

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      Keeping simple as possible does not mean dropping principle positions that has become major national issues.
      There are no escapes from challenging Sinhala racism. You either support or oppose. This “simple” talk is giving into Sinhala racism!
      AS

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    Kusal,

    Thanks for getting the discussion and debate rolling on the proposed NMJS constitutional changes. I am personally inclined towards a US style constitution, with suitable adaptations, since Sri Lanka is not a confederated state. The Provincial Council system modified as per the APRC report can substitute for the ‘ States’ in the US constitution.
    Further, the manner in which the US cabinet is consituted is attractive to me. This permits the best of men and women from all spheres of life to contribute. A charter of inalienable citizens rights should be incorporated in the new constitution. The separation of powers in the US constitution and their interactions, under a constitution that is supreme, but yet permits interpretations to suit the times, are very visionary features. I also feel that we have to improve the executive presidential system without throwing it overboard. We should move forward and not backward.

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

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    The only way the Executive Presidency will ever be abolished is only after the Rajapaksas’ have been abolished. Any elections held under the 18th amendment will be a farce.

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    “When will the next presidential elections come ? ****The last was in January, 2010******. ….. 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 ?”

    According to the law it should be January 2010. But presdident can change the law. So the election can take place any time to suit his plan.

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    Kusal

    I agree with your criticisms of NMJS constitutional proposals as I have indicated in my response to their post.

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    MNSJ proposa:l “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)”

    Kusal says: 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.

    He then says that any proposal that “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.”

    But here is what the APRC proposal says in almost identical words:

    “The People of Sri Lanka is composed of the Sinhala, Sri Lankan Tamil, Muslim, Indian Tamil, Malay, Burgher and other constituent peoples of Sri Lanka. The right of every constituent people to develop its own language, to develop and promote its culture and to preserve its history and the right to its due share of state power including the right to due representation in institutions of government shall be recognized while strengthening the common Sri Lankan identity. This shall not in any way be construed as authorising or encouraging any action which would dismember or impair, totally or in part, the territorial integrity or political unity of the Republic.”

    Posted without further comment.

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      Veerajay,
      you have missed the most important difference in them. Two are very different. The APRC accepts the people of SL are composed of Sinhala, SL Tamils, Muslim, Indian Tamil, Malay, Burgher and other constituent people.
      Where are those people in the NMJS proposal quoted ? It’s just peoples of SL.
      In the APRC final report it is these mentioned ethnicities who are given the right to develop and promote their language, religion, culture etc.
      When such differences and the diversity is not accepted, rest is empty. MR. Kusal is therefore right.
      AS

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        Thank you Amaranath.

        The NMSJ proposals do not specify the communities as the APRC does. I think that is good because there are othera also like Chettys. Veddha community, Boras etc. So all the various “peoples” have the rights mentioned. I have no objection to having a long list but then some smaller communities not specifically mentioned may feel left out. I don’t think this is a big issue. NMSJ proposals are a good basis for further discussion and that is exactly what we are doing.

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    I think NMJS’s proposals are a good beginning for the new constitution making process. It just cannot be exhaustive at this stage. The main thing we have to note here is the move to get rid of the despicable Presidential System and the abrogation of the 18th Amendment. The rest have to be filled in by concensus after a full public discussion of the pros and cons of other provisions taking into consideration what led to to the current crisis in Sri Lanka. The moot point should be the fact that Sri Lanka is a pluralistic society and that there is an undeniable need to ensure that citizens are treated as equal citizens not merely in words, as it is now, but in actual practice with suitable and meaningful remedies for those whose rights are violated.

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    Go on Kusal, bash Sobhitha Thero and save your old friend Mahinda Rajapakse from defeat. I am with you. We must not let the opposition unite. So let’s whip up opinion against Sobhitha Theros’s proposals. Let us pick more holes.

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    it is common knowledge that buddhist clergy in SL lack any idea abt the ethnic problem in SL or why tamils demand devolution. So it is not surprising that a constitution change coming from them doesnt answer this problem.

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    Make Sri Lanka a secular and bilingual state with an executive president answerable to Parliament. Each and every problem will be solved easily.
    Ne Watumulla.

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    Mr.Perera,

    I dont know what your educational background is but I presume you are an Academic but you and your colleagues ( includes Tamil & Sinhalese ) are only a tiny minortity putting forward ( you think you are ) ideas to change Sri Lanka for the better. But this is a peception and depends on who you listen to as the majority wolud say that there is no need to change as MR is doing a wonderful job . You are not going to change Sri Lanka as sadly your audience is very small and you dont have enough numbers to make the change you are yearning for at the ballot box ( which is prone to rigging if you believe Sarath which is not just sour grapes as there is some truth in it).

    “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.” –

    The above statement desirable though it is the question is is it achievable. It will be achievable if it is on the top of the list of the majority of the electorate. Certanly not:

    It boils down to a bread and butter issue and sadly who can ethnically cleanse Sri Lanka and convert Sri Lanka into a Sinhala State.No one fits that bill better than MR as he not only has that vison, Charisma and the commitment and conviction. He appeals to the Gallery better than any one because the Gallery is inherently racist. If proof is needed just listen to statement from BBS and their rapid rise in the pecking order with Gotha as their patron.
    To complete his agenda MR is ruling by deception deceiving the World that his programme of reconciliation is on schedule where as the truth is just the opposite using brutal force using thugs to enforce Law & Order with callous disregard for civilsed standards and the Impeachment of Dr.Shirani is an example.

    He is moving at a relentless pace to colonise sri Lanka and the World is either unwilling or unable reverse the trend because of the support he receives from the corrupt and equally Genocidal Central Government in India. But I am confident the prospect for a better future for the Tamil minority is not far off with the General Election only months away and the election of BJP with Miss.Jeyalalitha as an important partner. If any one cared to listen to the statement from the Leader of the Hindu Nationalist BJP ( The Government in waiting) that should send alrm bells ringing.
    His statement was as follows:

    “MR stop playing games with us and grant the Tamils Equal rights or we will calve out a Tamil Eelam.”
    These are serious words as the Iron Lady will be playing a major role in the next Government to rule India and she has made her intentions clear.

    I agree wholeheartedly with the statement below but we have not seen any tangible evidence in the last 63 years that there is genuine intention to fullfil that commitment.
    So the big question is why and how would this attitude wil change from within without outside intervention.

    “(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)”

    The statement below is a wishful thinking but a distant dream which is not going to materialise.

    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.

    I wonder who these hard line Anti Rajapakse purists are frankly I cant think of any( May be Dr.Shirani but she is sadled with a Tamil husband and can you imagine him taking up residence at Temple Trees).
    Or could it be SF but he is considered a traitor and therefore a Welikade resident rather than a potential resident at Temple Trees:

    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 frankly that will be a political suicide. Southern Sinhalese Joining hands with Northern Tamils which is like Seetha agreeing to marry Ravana and Seethas family blessing the marriage.

    Lets us hope the big brother next door will force the necessary change in Sri Lanka for the better for all communities concerned which will be a welocome change and Sri Lanka can get back into the League of Civilised Nations where she belongs.

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