Sleepless nights. Today Sri Lankan voters are going to decide our political future. Are we too late? I have nothing much to say. I have said it all. Even long before the elimination of the LTTE. Even long before Rajapaksas became so-called war heroes.
I wrote two articles in July 2006 in Ravaya, a Sinhala language weekly where I worked at that time. One was about why people called Ranil a loser. (You can read the Sinhala version July 23, 2006 here). In that article I explained Ranil’s major mistake. He should have supported Chandrika’s 2000 proposals. I said that people should be aware this Mahinda Rajapaksa is not a Nagare Premadasa but a Game Premadasa. (He is not an Urban Premadasa but a Village Premadasa) Anyone who knows his character should have understood that. He is a born dictator. The other article titled “What Remains for Mahinda to do”. One of my friends has translated that article. (You can read the Sinhala version July 30, 2006 here).
I know the opposition led by Sirisena is not made up of angels. To me Chandrika, Fonseka and Maithripala are war criminals. But this election is not about war crimes or human rights violations. We can deal with those issues later. This election is about the political future of Sri Lanka. It’s about how to stop Mahinda from becoming a real King and Sri Lanka from becoming an authoritarian country. It’s about how to stop a family rule. Are we too late? That is my question! Will the opposition and civil society succeed in preventing Mahinda from turning into a authoritarian leader? I hope we are not too late!!
I publish below the translation of that article;
Chandrika was elected to the post of prime minister in August 1994. The presidential polls were scheduled for November. What did the leader of the opposition Gamini Dissanayake attempt to accomplish at this juncture? Citing the promise contained in the election manifesto of the United Front, Dissanayake suggested that instead of holding a presidential poll the executive presidency should be scrapped. But the civil society intellectuals who supported Chandrika at the polls advised her against the move insisting that the abolition of the executive presidency at this juncture was a secondary and not a major issue for her .
Chandrika secured the support of the JVP for her presidential bid by giving it a written undertaking to abolish the institution of the executive presidency on or before the 15th of July 1995. Subsequent to the polls, not only did the JVP abandon its quest to abolish the executive presidency but also become protectors of that institution!
Batty Weerakoon of the LSSP, by now a cabinet minister, introduced a Private Member’s Motion calling for the abolition of the executive presidency. Nobody knows what has happened to that Motion! The civil society intellectual advisers of Chandrika vetoed Batty’s proposal as they did Gamini’s proposal earlier. These intellectuals insisted that the main issue before the new government is the settling of the vexed “National Question” . They further observed that instead of trying to revise the constitution in piecemeal fashion that the energy of the government be directed towards the promulgation of a new constitution.
Yet in 2000 when Chandrika did propose a draft of a new constitution, it did not receive the support of these same intellectuals. The priority for the latter who by now had grown disillusioned with Chandrika was to remove her from the political scene. Now Mahinda has become president. He is a virulent critic of the executive presidency. Perhaps that is why he stated as follows under the section titled ‘Primacy for Public Opinion’ on the last page of his manifesto titled “Mahinda Chintanaya”:
I expect to propose a new constitution based on national consensus, which will seek to abolish the executive presidency as at the same time finding solutions to a host of other problems facing the country. Until such time as a new constitution is drafted, I propose to so amend the constitution as to make the executive president officially answerable to Parliament.
In order to discharge the responsibility the president owes Parliament, I propose to attend Parliament at least once a month.
As at the time of this writing, nobody refers to those pledges made by Mahinda Rajapaksa, which have been observed in the breach.
The institution of executive president is a creation of the UNP which, in the wrong hands, held the potential for disastrous political consequences for the country. That is the reason why a seasoned politician like Gamini Dissanayake desired its abolition. Unfortunately for Sri Lanka, after the assassination of Dissanayake his successor as leader of the opposition, Ranil Wicremesinghe, showed no signs of the political maturity of his predecessor. Wickremesinghe day dreams of occupying this position one fine day. All predictable signs are that his dreams will never materialize.
It seems futile for such defenders of the executive presidency as the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress and the Ceylon Workers Congress to continue to retain their faith in this institution. Their view was that as the executive president is elected by voters of the country as a whole, the votes of the minorities become crucial in a presidential poll. Consequently, these parties felt, that the minorities will have greater bargaining power and will be in a position to seek solutions to their problems via an executive president. But, events have proved that while such may be the case with regard to the Tamils of the North and East, that it is not so for the minorities outside of the north and east. It is likely that Prabhakaran might continue to demand that Tamils keep away from voting at national polls. For, it will be farcical, to say the least, if a man who desires to establish a separate state in the north and east were to encourage ‘his subjects’ to vote for a leader of the country against which he is waging a war of separation. Hence it is debatable if even the minorities wish to retain the executive presidency any longer.
Today we have been subject to all but one of the consequences arising from the all powerful executive presidency.
We have seen how the executive president has corralled Members of Parliament into hotels and compelled them to vote for a constitutional amendment; we have seen how an executive president has, using the awesome powers of his office, withstood the challenge of an impeachment; we have seen the drama of ‘co-habitation’ when one political party has held executive office and another parliamentary power; we have seen the coming into being of a president and a leader of the opposition from one and the same political party ! We have also witnessed the flagrant abuse of power by the executive via the appointment as Chief Justice a citizen who happens to be a defendant in several cases before the Supreme Court of the country.
Today all that is left is for Mahinda under our form of government is to turn dictator and act the role of a latter day Hitler.
It is true that we need to seek means to solve the “National Question”. It is also true that we need a new constitution. But to think all this can be accomplished in a brief time frame is only a dream. Instead of waiting until a new constitution is forged, it is beneficial for the country to attempt suitable amendments to the existing constitution.
What has been promised in the “Mahinda Chintanaya’” is no less, i.e., until such time as a comprehensive constitutional revision is accomplished to introduce relevant constitutional reform to make the executive more answerable to Parliament .
The task of an enlightened opposition is to push the government and the president to turn that election pledge a reality. To rely on the personal goodness of one who is elected president to abolish the presidency is a pipe dream. Even the least imperfect human being amongst us is unlikely to oblige. Such is the corrosive power of the executive presidency. Will the opposition and civil society succeed in preventing Mahinda from turning into a latter day Hitler?