By Upul Abeyrathne –
The writing of this piece was propelled by a telephone conversation, I happened to have with one of my batchmate who had earned a bachelor degree in Sociology even though I am ashamed of being, a batchmate to him. To my amazement, he was eulogizing his patron political masters while disgracing those who are having dissenting points of view on the policy measures adopted by the present government to contained corona epidemic. On my part in the conversation with the batchmate, I pointed out, that we do not emphatically understand the sufferings and sorrows of those fellow citizens who are employed in the informal sector of the economy and who are daily earners believing that he must be knowing the emphatic understand of social reality. However, he was blaming those very marginalized section of the society for violating the curfew laws and regulation intended to prevent spreading corona disease by the benevolent rule according his perception. I reminded him of how we had become public sector employees largely thank to the free education system of the country and necessity of becoming responsible citizens towards others. When, I reminded that both he and his spouse as well as I and my spouse do not feel the suffering and sorrow of the fellow citizens who are daily workers for we are receiving monthly salaries and can only understand them emphatically, he abruptly ended telephone call which he himself intended to do as a new year wishing gesture to me. This incidence prompted me to write something on the necessity of enlarged mind to comprehend suffering or sorrow of other in relation to imminent constitutional crisis in the context of corona epidemic.
In this context, firstly, I would try to explain the pending or imminent constitutional crisis in the context of Corona Epidemic. I maintained the power gratification impulse of the ruling regime had put the lives of the citizens of the country in a risky situation which citizens can only comprehend if they possess an enlarged mind. I prefer to term ‘ruling regime’ for it indicates a pattern of thinking both among the rulers as well as the ruled. If anyone with open mind tries to understand the impulse of the government through the statements made by president, prime minister, ministers such as Dulles Alahapperuma, Pavitra Devi Wanniaracchi and many others in relation Corona Epidemic and General Election of Sri Lanka but not to mention the drama played by the minister of health and public medical offices at the time of the recovery of the Chinese patient, he/she would understand the power gratification impulse of the ruling regime. It seems that the president and governing regime have regarded the electoral victory as the most precious and valued policy choice in relation to overcoming corona epidemic. Power gratification impulses of the ruling regimes had prevented selecting most appropriate and public friendly policy alternatives when they faced the dilemma of choosing and weighing policy options against their own power gratification impulses versus the general welfare of the public. It will be crystal clear if one read the evolution of the human civilization, the power gratification had put humans in danger whenever the community was not broad minded enough to respond to the power thirsty rulers. Democracy and democratic governance have been thought of civilized mechanism of preventing power gratification impulse of any government. However, it is also proven that prevention of power gratification impulse of the government is possible only if the polity is comprised of literate and citizens with enlarged mind. For the movement, I maintain that power gratification impulse of the government had prevented the ruling regime in grasping the nature and content of the corona epidemic in its entirety and consequently it had let the ruling regime to select general election to consolidate its power ahead of taking measures to prevent corona virus and assuring wellbeing of the general public of the polity.
Global Reality and the Power Gratification Instinct of the Government
Karl Marx had observed the power of capitalism in bringing each and every society into a singular world order. The capital accumulation would recognize no boundaries of the nation states in its search for capital accumulation and it would make people more and more mobile rather than the previous phases of roaming lives of our ancestors. Capital accumulation not only make a flight of capital but also flight of culture of fashion, passion and taste etc. as well as diseases particularly communicable diseases. I maintain that corona epidemic also had thought us necessity of thinking and imagining of global community which I am not going to detail the contours of my thinking. However, for the movement, I would highlight that the capitalism had proven that it cannot sustained without divisive ideologies such as nationalism and ethnic and religious chauvinism which is amply demonstratable by the acts and deeds of the unholy alliance of political, commercial and religious alliances formed to support the present regime in power in Sri Lanka even in the context of corona epidemic. The governments through out the globe with the collapse of left right political platform tend to be more nationalistic and forget the global realities and put human lives at risk. It is quite clear that the nationalistic government in USA, Japan and Sri Lanka had put their citizenry in catastrophes believing that their countries are safe from corona treating it as a typical Chinese illness which is confined to China and they had failed to pay any attention to global nature of everything including illness in the present global context. The propaganda of tourism promotion, the drama played by Minister of Health including the health officials and many utterances made by President of Sri Lanka and many other high-ranking ministers and politicos made it clear that the sole concern of the government has been to acquire more power and consolidate their power base. The power gratification impulse of the government has led President Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa to dissolve existing parliament prematurely and calling for a general election to the parliament of Sri Lanka.
Reluctant Government, Humanitarian Disaster and Constitutional Crisis
It will be clear to anyone who can understand behaviour of the government both at the pre and during corona epidemic periods, government’s major preoccupation has been to fulfill its power gratification impulse at whatever cost. The government had basically concerned with consolidation of its power with the electoral victory of Gotabaya Nandasena Rajapaksa as the president of the country. However, the ambition to go for premature parliamentary election was barred largely due to the 19th Amendment to the constitution which resulted in curbing the undemocratic discretionary and arbitrary power given to the president by the original second republican constitution and culminated with the enactment of 18th amendment to the constitution which was altered to suit the power gratification of the then president which was believed to be tailored and mended by former law professor of the Colombo University and then the minister in charge of the law and constitutional affairs which remind me of the batchmate who spoke to me implying the literacy alone is not a guarantee of democratic governance for it requires broad minded citizens too. The power gratification impulse of the ruling regime compelled it to dissolve the parliament at the first instance where president is empowered to do so without considering the imminent danger of the corona outbreak and possible risk the general public has to face at a general election in the context of a global epidemic. It is now clearer that the government had reluctantly taken measures to shut down of the country due to different pressures inserted on it even though they had been eyeing an electoral victory to amend the constitution to rule the country according to their fancies and whims. However, for an enlightened citizen, it becomes clear that measures taken by the government almost like closing the gate of the shed after the horse escaped. It seemed that the government has been in urgent need of declaring the end of epidemic and make the corona relief package a marketable goods in the electoral political market place which can be judged disgraceful from whatever human yardsticks.
Fortunately, the independent Election Commission and braveness of the three commissioners largely due to the 19th amendment to the constitution of Sri Lanka had acted as blocking force for the power gratification impulse of the government. The Election Commission unlike other commissions created under the same amendment to the constitution seems to be assertive of its power in a democracy friendly manner. Thanks to the timely postponement of the election by the Commission, the election propaganda by various political parties had been largely prevented except of few instances recorded by the ministers of ruling regime including Minister Dulles Alahapperuma from Matara District etc. At whatever circumstances, the conflict of interests between the government and the election commission and citizens by extension, had put the country into a constitutional crisis.
The Emerging Constitutional Crisis
I maintained that mismatch between presidents power gratification impulse and the necessity of assuring the safety of the citizens in relation to general election by the election commission is heading towards a constitutional crisis in few days largely due to arrogance of the president. The commission too had resorting to its power given by the constitution and other laws took the initiatives to protect the lives of the citizens and public employees by postponing the election until further notice. The various statement made by ministers, prime minister and their henchmen indicates that the ruling regime is not in a mood of accepting the farsighted decision of the election commission to protect the citizens right.
The decision of the election commission shall have to be welcome by broadminded or enlarged mind citizens on the following grounds. According to the constitution of Sri Lanka which is the social agreement among citizens as well as the contract between government and the governed had vested sovereignty in the people. It is the election commission that facilitate the election of legislature and the executive through exercising of franchise freely and fairly. It is the bounded duty of the commission to protect the sovereign citizens who are to exercise their sole right to elect the legislative and deliberative assembly by them and for them. However, now suddenly and abruptly we the citizens of the country had to witness a constitutional crisis largely emerging out of the arrogance of the president. We now had realized the beauty of the 19th amendment to the constitution for it has deprived the president power to dissolve a parliament until it spend its tenure for 4 years and six months. However, it is clear for any rationally minded citizens that the everything president had done and said revealed that he was inhibited by an insatiable desire to accrue more and more power to rule the country according to his fancies and whims. However, the movement, he acquired the power to dissolve the parliament was also the movement of outbreak of corona epidemic in the country. Yet, president was not wise enough to calculate the timing of the election. Instead of dissolution of parliament, he should have adopted a consensus bound approach to get rid of the epidemic. Yet he has inclined to his power gratification impulse without proper estimation of the pros and cons of epidemic and proper understanding of the constitutional and legal provisions.
Largely due to 19th amendment to the constitution, power gratification ambition of the government was prevented by the election commission’s enlightened decision to postpone the election indefinitely. Now it is clear that holding an election is possible only after official medical assurance is issued indicating the country is free of the epidemic and the people can exercise freely their franchise. We shall not consider the point of view which is widely broadcasted and televised by Mr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe who had put fraudulent educational qualifications by himself for his personal aggrandizement misguiding the general public to shield the president from his own foolish decision to cling into his decision not to reconvey the dissolved parliament. It is my considered point of view that the commission had acted in the best interest of the public for it is the people who is sovereign according to the basic constitutional structure of the country. It is the people who elect their legislature and the executive through the franchise. If people cannot exercise their franchise without fear of interference by any other agent or disease like epidemic, democracy become meaningless. In this context, the commission is duty bound to assure free exercise of citizens’ franchise without jeopardizing citizens’ lives letting them marching to pooling stations to cast their vote.
Of course, reading the constitution in between the lines of relevant sections of the constitution reveals that there are obligatory duties towards the democratic governance of the country by the president. Let me quote from the constitution to understand the duty of the president in assuring constitutional governance. “A Proclamation dissolving Parliament shall fix a date or dates for the election of Members of Parliament, and shall summon the new Parliament to meet on a date not later than three months after the date of such Proclamation”. The above power of the president to dissolve a parliament is not absolutely discretionary and arbitrary. He is duty bound to convey and assure convening the new parliament within three months of such proclamation to dissolve a parliament. The constitution has provided that new parliament is needed to be summoned to meet on a date not later than three months after the date of such Proclamation. At present, the crisis is that election commission is not in a position to hold election allowing the president to convene the parliament before the prescribed time span by the constitution implying any act by the government beyond that point is illegal and illegitimate without the consent of the representatives of the people.
Many statements made by president, prime minister and the rest of timid ministers of the government had revealed that it is ready to head the government without bowing to the constitutional provisions indefinitely.
In this context, we shall appreciate the commission had guided somehow a mechanism to seek the opinion of the supreme court believing its capacity to guide an amicable solution to the crisis. However, the kind request by the commission request had already curtly dismissed through his secretaries letter by putting the burden on the commission to hold the election with any regard to the safety of the citizens. This implies pressuring the independent commission to dance to the tune of the executive and largely supported by government sponsor media and social media which also seems to be sponsored by the ruling regime itself. As result of president’s reluctance to seek the opinion of the supreme court of the country and government power gratification impulse, it seems that the Commission of Elections is immensely pressurized to hold election through the propaganda mechanism of state sponsored media both of public sector and private sector, Further, the clergy and pseudo academics and scholars and various other opinion makers are invited to misguide public over the possibility of having an election before the mandatory date of summoning new parliament. It is clear public health situation is needed to be counted by the commission if it is ever to have a free and fair election. However, the such conducive environment is not to be seen in the close vicinity. how to deal with this situation is an issue area of the public that needs to be dealt with enlarged mind or broad mind of citizens of the polity.
If people are to act broad mindedly, they need to explore the possible way out of the constitutional crisis where president and the rest of the ministers are big stakeholders. It is also the situation where the necessity of citizens’ actions with enlarged mind, a term best can be translated into our cultural context as “Karuna Peraderi” is required . In Western Political theory, enlarged minded citizen implied one who can understand others from their subjective mind of others. Karuana in Eastern Languages such as Sanskrit, Pali and Sinhala implied the mental capacity of understanding the sufferings and sorrows from the one’s perspectives who had undergone suffering and sorrow (Para Dukkhe Sati idan Hadayan Dukkhan karotiti Karuna is the definition in Pali Language). Politics is not confined to what goes in government. It involves our day to day interaction as fellow citizens. If one does not have enlarged mind that goes beyond our individual gratification impulse of the things in the public sphere, he would think of others disregarding others situation of lives. It would prompt other to behave like the ones who inhabit the state of nature. My friend reminded me of a man who is still living in the state of nature. He expects, others shall not disturb his comfortable life and his family for his household is sufficient enough to survive even in the amidst of corona epidemic. However, I am convinced of that my comfort of life depends on others wellbeing. If they are not meeting their mere survival needs at least, they would encroach others private and comfortable zones of lives eventually leading to chaotic social life. The same mental attitude is required on the part of the president, rest of the government and the citizens.
As a citizen who is trying to understand governance from an enlarged mind, I do have queries what is happening to the aid in donations and debt taken by the government and how they are being spent and the like issues, I am expecting, surely, many other fellow citizens would share with me . Further, I am also worried over the money spend by the government and the way the money is being spent for the money the present regime is spending is not inherited from their parents. I maintain that the elected representative on my behalf shall deliberate in the national parliament and arrive at decisions over how to spend, and who is to be benefited. I emphatically understand by looking at my own surrounding in Galle, many of my fellow citizens are left out of even the meagre subsistence which government is promised to provide and I have listened some of the Chairman of Pradeshiya Sabhas had sold donation and accrued un-deserved benefits amidst suffering of the fellow citizens in the context of Corona epidemic. This is why I support the reconvening of the dissolved parliament by way of revoking the proclamation by the president. I curtly dismiss the suggestion made by certain religious quarters and some segments of the civil society that government can be run by without elected legislature military, medico and administrative technocrats for there is no mechanism to assure transparency and good governance taking into account unheard voice of the society for many of them are incapable of broad minded thinking and lack Karuna Peraderi thinking process.
President Responsibility to Avoid Crisis
It has been already pointed out that the president’s decision to opt for an election amidst Corona outbreak has put the country into Socio-economic as well as a constitutional crisis. If president was prudent enough foresee nature and content of corona virus , he could have sought the help of the opposition to face the corona epidemic. If the required support by the opposition was not provided it would have put opposition in a real political trap. Instead, he had chosen the path of going along the path of election eyeing an easy capturing of political spoils and seems to be pressurizing the election commission to go ahead of his chosen path to have an election. The reading of the constitutional provisions as a whole reveal president is answerable and accountable to parliament and without summoning the dissolved parliament beyond three months period will amount to a government which is illegal and illegitimate. If government is intended to continue in power further without consent of the parliament would amount to a government which treat law as exception in a context of emergency even though government had not declared an emergency calculated political gains.
It is my considered conclusion that president had been dismally failed to realized the situation created by the corona epidemic and he had disregarded the wellbeing of the citizens of the country by calling an election at that critical juncture of the country. Even he used his power to lift curfew to facilitate nomination process to the general election proving my point of argument. However, the three commissioners who were farsighted enough of the epidemic has taken initiatives to postponed the election indefinitely and thus shielding the lives of the citizens from power gratification ambition of the president and the ruling regime. I am of the opinion that the commission had acted wisely by resorting to legal provision enshrined in the act that govern the conduct of an election which is quoted in verbatim from the law.