10 December, 2018

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Chaos In Parliament & Crisis In Polity: Parliamentary & Presidential Elections Are Necessary

By Laksiri Fernando

Dr. Laksiri Fernando

The sittings in Parliament during the last two weeks have been symptomatic of a deep crisis in parliamentary democracy, and in the political system in general. These are undoubtedly leader-made, and not at all people-made crises. The culpable key leaders can be identified as Maithripala Sirisena (the President), Ranil Wickremesinghe (dismissed PM), Mahinda Rajapaksa (former President and newly appointed PM) and Karu Jayasuriya (the Speaker).

The situation contrasts considerably, for example, to the last two weeks in France where the ‘Yellow Jacket’ groups broke into the streets, burnt vehicles and property, and had violent confrontations with the police over the issue of high petrol prices. Undoubtedly, the situation in SL Parliament particularly on 16 November was despicable where some UPFA MPs indulged in violence, while the Speaker came with a police force like a ‘paramilitary leader’ to conduct a parliamentary session at his will. All these culprits again do not represent the average citizens of the country where they go on with their day-to-day activities peacefully, although deeply worried about the future.

People and their Representatives

In any democratic country, presidential or parliamentary, there can emerge a considerable gap between the people and their representatives. The same applies to elected Presidents, as in the case of Sri Lanka. Although elected by the people, the representatives can get easily alienated from the people, particularly as the time goes by. In developed democracies there are several ways of ameliorating the situation.

In the US, there are midterm elections for both houses to gauge and rectify the situation. The term of the US President is also for four years and not five or six. In Australia, the term of the House of Representatives (HR) is only three years and not four or five. There are state elections to reflect the intermediary situation and caution any government. The recently held Victorian state election is one example where people friendly progressive Labour policies were overwhelmingly approved, instead of neoliberal trickle down policies of the Liberal commonwealth government.

Although the term of the House of Representatives in Australia and New Zealand is three years, there can be elections before, as required. Another approach to address the people’s grievances is to evolve bipartisan policies on important matters. After the significant political change in January 2015 this possibility was abundantly there in Sri Lanka, but the two parties, the UNP and the SLFP, terribly failed in this endeavour.

Although called the mother country of all parliaments, some of the above devices are not available in the United Kingdom unfortunately. UK is not a proper federal or a devolved system, to gauge people’s thinking from those elections. The term of the House of Commons is five years (not four or three) and now quite artificially fixed (since 2011), and the House of Lords is still a feudal institution. This is one reason why the issues like Brexit are now terribly deadlocked. Therefore, if Sri Lanka is going to take inspirations or examples only from the UK, it is going to be a terrible mistake.

Fixed Term is a Bad Idea  

Sri Lanka is a country in democratic transition. Much more important underlying factor is the economy (its health and prosperity). Considering the high population, ethnic polarity and political diversity, political will of the people could easily shift from one side to the other. In such a context, a fixed term parliament is utterly a bad idea and could create enormous crisis in the political system as evident today. You don’t need a fascist or a similar movement to do that. The structural collapse can easily eventuate such a crisis, while people remaining passive and uninterested in parliamentary gimmicks.

Let us take some examples. Maithripala Sirisena won the presidential election in January 2015 with a 51.28% island wide vote. However when his party, the SLFP, contested the local government elections in February 2018, it was only 12.1%.

At parliamentary elections in August 2015, Ranil Wickremesinghe’s UNP could obtain 45.66% of votes. However, at the local government elections, it came down to 29.42%. These are examples of how people’s choices could shift overtime or from time to time. During these two elections, August 2015 and February 2018, the JVP votes increased from 4.87% to 5.75%, while the TNA votes decreased from 4.62% to 2.73%.

It is noteworthy that the new party of the SLPP, under MR’s leadership, could obtain 40.47% of votes at the February 2018 elections. If the SLFP vote is also counted (12.1%), it might be argued that a SLPP/SLFP candidate even could win a future presidential election. However that is not necessarily the way the people make their election choices. Holding on to power at present, without a clear majority in Parliament, might disillusion the people of Rajapaksa intentions or objectives. The best option would be to resign to allow a new temporary caretaker government.

Mockery of Parliament

Whatever the criticisms one may have on President’s decision to dissolve parliament because of its apparent arbitrary and partisan character, a general election might still be the best option for the country given the above conditions. Even after the much desired change or ‘revolution’ in January 2015, the UNP could not obtain a clear majority in Parliament in August 2015. They could form a stable government only with the support of the President and some sections of the SLFP, although the UNP had implicit conditional support from the TNA (and the SLMC).

There is a long list of events that amounts to the distortion of ‘parliamentary democracy’ from the appointment of Ranil Wickremesinghe as the PM in January 2015 with only 42 MPs, to the recent holding of Parliamentary sessions without Standing Orders and arbitrarily declaring ‘No Government’ by the Speaker, Karu Jayasuirya. The repeated recognition of the TNA leader as the Leader of the Opposition was another distortion that the Speaker had previously committed. Another deviation from democracy was the freezing of elections for local government and then provincial councils. Both the UNP and the SLFP are culpable for this distortion.

It is in this series of distortions that the appointment of Mahinda Rajapaksa as the PM took place on 26 October with only 95 members in Parliament, hoping that the number would grow. The result has yet been a badly fractured hung Parliament which might justify the dissolution of Parliament politically.

Other Distortions       

There are other aspects to the distortions in the parliamentary system emerging from largely the electoral system. The abolition of the ward system has been a root cause of such distortions, in addition to the dreadful preferential competitions at elections. Not only that the so-called representatives have got alienated from the constituencies, but also have won elections on the strength of money and physical force. Women were the most disadvantaged. The situation has also created sort of a class distinction within all political parties between ordinary party members/supporters and the rich political elite/groups.

While the ordinary members/supporters are marginalized in the nomination processes, the rich political elite/groups overwhelmingly obtain nominations again and again.  There is no wonder why the age composition of MPs and leaders in general is quite high across political parties. The deteriorated educational standards is also a common predicament. No rational person would argue that there should be legally sanctioned age or educational limitations for MPs. However, those should come naturally, if the system is healthy and democratic.

The freezing out of independent candidates is another major predicament of the present electoral system. If one wants to contest independently, then he or she has to give nominations in a group (with a higher financial deposit) which is the very negation of one’s independence. Sri Lanka in good old days of parliamentary democracy had a good number of independent MPs who could bring sanity into parliamentary debates and political party rivalry. Often the Speaker of Parliament was selected from one of them on a bipartisan basis. This is no longer the case and the recent Speakers have been behaving strongly in partisan manner.

Role of the Speaker?

The most extreme of this pattern is the behaviour of the present Speaker purely for political reasons. Let me add an anecdote or two. When I was in Colombo in August, a ‘leftist’ friend of mine (you can guess), who is very close to political planning unfortunately now on behalf of the UNP told me that they intend to put forward Karu Jayasuriya as the next common candidate and asked my opinion, believing I would still continue to support such an effort. I disagreed and said, ‘if it is a common candidate, the person should be from a nonpartisan basis and preferably a woman.’

Therefore it is no wonder why Karu Jayasuriya is behaving in the manner he does now in Parliament, conducting mock parliamentary sessions and countering the President in all executive matters. His fervent effort appears to get the support of the so-called ‘international community’ aka some Western countries, utilizing their misgivings about the newly appointed Mahinda Rajapaksa as the PM.

It has been my position and understanding, as expressed previously, that the removal of RW and the appointment of MR are constitutional, and also conventional even under a nominal Head of State, when a Parliament falls into a perilous hung situation. However, the MR’s appointment is politically controversial and not sustainable under the given composition of the present Parliament. The prorogation of Parliament has been less controversial constitutionally. I have also given my interpretation on the dissolution of Parliament, right or wrong, and this matter is now before the Supreme Court. There is no doubt that when all three steps or President’s ‘trump cards’ came one after the other, the people or even the so-called experts got confused and divided.

I am not at all a rebel and has never been in sympathy with any insurgency (or violence), North or South, even in my young days. My only deviation could be that I don’t mince my words and often relish in polemics and sarcasm! I am for orderly progress in both the economy and democratic politics. I am also not hesitant to change my overt political or policy positions in advocating progress under given circumstances.

Conclusions   

The dissolution of Parliament is something that the political parties should have tolerated for the reasons given in this article. As the matter has been referred to the Supreme Court, the Speaker and the political parties in Parliament should have waited for its final verdict without having ridiculous sessions, although it may be true that the apparent time taken by the SC is too long for the impatient and acrimonious politicians to tolerate. The most damaging from a democratic and a political stability perspective is the mock sessions conducted by the Speaker in Parliament with the connivance of the UNP, the TNA and the JVP.

It is hoped that the present instability and chaos should end sooner than later, and both parliamentary and presidential elections should be held peacefully one after the other, in that order, to end the stalemate, although even that might not be a complete resolution to the underling crisis. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe’s speech today in Parliament is most welcomed. In agreement with all parties, there can be a new caretaker government, perhaps Lakshman Kiriella or someone like that as the temporary PM before the elections.

There is a strong need for independent candidates and voices to emerge at both elections, with considerable number of women candidates. In terms of the expression of views, on the present situation, ‘critical, independent and objective interpretations’ are most essential, without supporting any of the present leaders.

 

 

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Latest comments

  • 5
    0

    I didn’t read the essay so I am not writing any comments on the subject matter. I am honestly accepting tired of reading this purposeful distortion to distract readers from the issues. There are many other things pertaining just to the Heading which I read can be brought here. I am still staying out of it, too. But I honestly accept that I browsed through all comments up to Ajith’s, which is the last one at this time. I only left, if I still wish, to comment only on comments.
    Other than Real Revolutionist’s comments no one is accepting this guy words.

    Many of the commentators show frustration, even outright anger, the way this gentleman is thinking, or rather pretending to be thinking. That fact is he is the one initiated to confer PhDs to the war criminals. When he deferred with them, probably in some personal issue, he acted like a gentleman. Now he is back on the track it seems.

  • 4
    0

    The writer may be a political scientist academically but his views are lopsided and biased . This whole crisis was precipitated by the no modaya whom we call the President. This fool cannot realise the economic disaster he has created which will ruin this country for months and year. Unfortunately this fellow does not have insight, vision or backbone to be the President.

    What we need at the moment is the presidential election to send this modaya home

  • 4
    0

    Dr Laksiri- you lost credibility when you became part of the bootlickers who gave doctorates to two
    o/l qualified politicians. Considering your arguments here, Looks like your doctorate is not much different !

  • 1
    0

    A general election should follow a presidential election so as to respect parliamentary majority
    We can all benefit from abolishing or curtailing of presidential powers, where like in India it is not tribal or dictatorial
    Yet, will this 3rd world politics and population permit a dramatic improvement and a cultural revolution is doubtful

  • 6
    0

    Laksri,

    I dont know what you are talking about but let me try and help you. I know you Mahintha lovers are desperate to find a way to bring your man back in but if it did happen either through the Parliamentary System ( not possible because numbers are against him) or through Elections which will spell disaster for the Country as you can see from the reaction of the Internataional Community which is very hostile.
    As for where we are now this was a RAPE by the SLPP ( Who is HIV Positive) of the Ex Partner MS. An illegitimate baby was concived which was delivered by a Cesarian operation and the baby who was prematurely born is in Incubation. Sadly for your information the Baby wont survive for a variety of resaons . The main reason Lack of IMMUNE System( to protect against War Crimes and allowing China to threaten ) and this is what happens when HIV positive dips into Non HIV.

    As for your misunderstanding of the issues let me pick on some taking into consideration the 300 word limit set.

    1) The sittings in Parliament during the last two weeks have been symptomatic of a deep crisis in parliamentary democracy, and in the political system in general.

    *** This is gang fight each fighting for his Turf.

  • 2
    0

    Moderator you have left out a chunk and if it has excedeed the 300 word limit. please edit out the whole thing as otherwise it doesnt make any sense and looks clumpsy. I wont comment any more.

    • 0
      1

      Dear CT Moderator This is also my observation and wondering if the comment section can have a word count will help us all.

      Thank you

      • 0
        0

        Agree with Thiagarajah Venugopal. But it takes just a minute to copy into a dummy Word Document and the Word-counter.

  • 2
    2

    Thank you Dr Laksiri, If my Father was alive and my home is habitable today we would have invited the entire parliment to my home and kept them in our house until they get their head together. My Mother would have cooked food for them all her best vegetarian dishes too. In fact my Father and Mother would have invited all their families too for the extra measure of love for Nation Building.

    It is shocking we are all One Mother Lankan children have to go through this misery. I do not get this madness at all.

  • 3
    0

    I think you are missing a point here! and first and foremost legislators and the executive should abide by the current constitution, and if they wish they can initiate a constitutional making process to change the constitution again once the legitimacy of the current palimentary system is restored!

    Hope you would not confuse laymen of this country hereafter as we have been arguing about very obvious things as if we are not in a position to identify what is right from wrong

  • 5
    0

    Sirisena wants a Second Term.
    He will do anything for it.
    Mahinda Rajapakse wants to be able to live the good life, like before – and make tons of money – and the opportunity ‘dropped into his lap’.

    Now, conveniently the ‘scape goat’ is Karu Jayasuriya.

    If all were “gentlemen” in parliament, the present situation would not have occurred.
    But, that species is rare among those who have enough money to enter parliament, in Sri Lanka.

    • 1
      0

      Come, come, Justice,
      .
      I’m sure that Sirisena is not such an idiot but sees the writing on the wall; or to mix metaphors, please reconstruct with original characters; the villain-king was regally re-buried less than a decade ago; (one clear hint left in tact):

      .
      MAHINDA: Rescue, my Lord of Norfolk, rescue, rescue!
      The king enacts more wonders than a man,
      Daring an opposite to every danger:
      His horse is slain, and all on foot he fights,
      Seeking for Richmond in the throat of death.
      Rescue, fair lord, or else the day is lost!
      .
      Alarum. Enter KING RICHARD III
      .
      MAITHRIPALA: A horse! a horse! my kingdom for a horse!
      .
      MAHINDA Withdraw, my lord; I’ll help you to a horse.

      MAITHRIPALA: Slave, I have set my life upon a cast,
      And I will stand the hazard of the die:
      I think there be six Ranils in the field;
      Five have I slain to-day, instead of him.
      A horse! a horse! my kingdom for a horse!
      .
      [ [Exeunt.]
      .
      http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/richardiii_5_4.html

  • 2
    0

    Dear Prof Laksiri Peiris,
    .
    Thanks for responding to Rizwan and others. You replied me, too, about a month ago.
    .
    However, I find your words disturbing. How can you possibly fault the Speaker? Not a guy I liked inordinately; now he’s acquired hero stature. I don’t know about the Law, but this four and a half thing seems very fair to me (given that our guys want to consult astrologers during the 6 month window).
    .
    You have said:
    .
    “The term of the House of Commons is five years . . . and now quite artificially fixed . . .” and then ascribed problems in Britain to inability to hold elections. Don’t you remember that the last British Elections (which cemented Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party), were held early? May asked the Commons for permission to have early elections, and Labour ensured near unanimity (I think!). The feeling was that a Labour veto would have been seen as proof that they would be wiped out.
    .
    Elections should not be held arbitrarily at times that suit one side. I don’t want Ranil leading the UNP; but that is something that supporters of the party (I’m a floating vote, really) must endorse. Sirisena was wrong to stage this coup.
    .
    I want to now see Sirisena eating humble pie. I want Ranil to be made Prime Minister for just one week; thereafter, let some younger person take over. That would be fair, and would lead to the restoration of faith in the system by the common man. That is what we want. What do you want? Legal chicanery or ethical governance?
    .
    It is up to “your side” to persuade the UNP to give you the two-thirds approval.
    .
    Panini Edirisinhe aka “Sinhala_Man” posts with green gravatar.

    • 0
      0

      {Panini Edirisinhe aka “Sinhala_Man” posts with green gravatar.}
      The square thingy on the left is different to that of the real Sinhala_Man.
      Will the real Panini Edirisinhe stand up?

      • 0
        0

        Part One
        .
        Dear K. Pillai,
        .
        The gravatar depends on the e-mail address that goes with the name for posting. Perhaps I should have confused you less by sticking to one e-mail address.
        .
        This is the real Panini Edirisinhe (the “g” in the surname carelessly dropped by my great grandfather many years ago) – actually he spelt it “Edrisinha”. The man was great great grandfather to Rohan, of the Law Faculty (strangely silent now, given that he was considered an expert on Constitutional Law, but then I don’t know him all that well, what with me having been brought up a villager in Bandarawela – I’ve worked mainly in Maha Vidyalayas). I’ll sign this as “Sinhala_Man” bringing back my pink gravatar.
        .
        To make it even clearer about my being one and the same guy with two gravatars, I shall give you something where both gravatars are used by me, with appropriate handles. In fact, you’ll not only see my name as the author of the article, but also two photographs of myself taken more than sixty years apart.
        .
        https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/the-thomian-pharisees-are-unrepentant-why-this-matters-to-all-sri-lankans/
        .
        Incidentally, the fine old Anglican Church which is the backdrop to the older photograph is the church of the Ascension, Bandarawela. The picture appearing in the two earlier articles is the pile of buildings built in a deliberately old style at Gurutalawa.

      • 0
        0

        Part Two
        .
        Chief Justice Nalin Perera is one of the few who studied at Gurutalawa up to A. Levels. He’s only five and a half years younger than me. I began teaching there when I was only nineteen years old. I shudder to think what I could have taught then – or even now! I hope that I didn’t teach him. I guess I could ask him after he retires.
        .
        By the time I began teaching, my erstwhile classmate, Rajan Hoole had begun doing Electrical Engineering at Peradeniya – something he never really liked. He got a Second Upper, but later it was first in Maths and PhD in some arcane area where Mathematics and Philosophy meet.

        .
        I do apologise for the two gravatars; I really shouldn’t be causing unnecessary confusion.
        .
        But then this is Sri Lanka, where we have a President (mea culpa again – I was one of those who voted him in) who has been doing so much ww for the last month.
        .
        .
        P.S. “ww” stands for “vedi veda” – confusion again regarding “w” and “v”.
        .
        By the way, what’s become of Bishop Daniel Theagarajah, the Boston Trustees, Jaffna College and UGC? there’s another year to go before it may become necessary to write again about “S. Thomas’ “. Some of these things have been forced on me by history. We are the only guys who who don’t abbreviate “Saint” to St. Bishop Chapman didn’t use our eccentric abbreviation, but not many know that.
        .
        Mostly snobbery, really!

    • 0
      1

      I don’t see anything wrong in anyone having a favourable view on purported four and a half year limit. But my view is different. There can always be different views on different matters. However, was there any public discussion/debate on this matter before enactment? Was it an election promise? Why this was smuggled into the 19th Amendment? Yes, the six months period is for the astrologers! Even in UK today, there is much post-enactment debate on the fixed term legislation. One suggestion is to have consensus between the PM and Leader of the Opposition before recommending dissolution.
      Yes, Speaker has acquired a hero status among some. John Amaratunga called him the Saviour! Some of your other statements are also personal views like “I don’t like Ranil leading the UNP” and “I want to now see Sirisena eating humble pie” etc. Not that I completely disagree, but I cannot comment arbitrarily in a short space.
      Your first sentence and the real name given appear a result of a ‘prejudice’ some other people have created! Yes, I have asked some people to reveal their true identity when they come up with baseless, insulting and personal allegations. I have name them even cowards. Otherwise, I don’t see anything wrong in anyone commenting in pseudonyms. I respond to comments depending on the relevance, circumstances and time permitting. I am not Laksiri Peiris!

      • 0
        0

        I’m sorry, Prof. Fernando,
        .
        Laksiri Peiris is Kumar Sangakkara’s father-in-law. A great guy in his own right.
        .
        Laksiri Peiris visits East Africa regularly: he manufactures and sells tea factory machinery – a niche market where he’s made good money by working hard.
        .
        I’m relatively a pauper – being a teacher who never became a tuition master.
        .
        Yes, being a layman, and a voter, I thought I had a right to personal views; I air them honestly. I think that I have every right to express myself subjectively. But My3 can’t – but just see what hubris he exhibits.

  • 2
    0

    Laksiri, This will be last from me. You brought this on your self. Your were advising on Mental Health to people who were commenting on your article. Just go and look at your self in mirror. Since you wrote your distortion (with in hours) I hear MS had meetings with Speaker Karu, UNP and Tamil Party and the speculations are multiple. In the mean time another Donkey with PhD like you Wijedasa reportedly left what ever party he was in stating “he will be independent but at the same time will not resign as a minister?????” I guess this is what Lankan PhD are about. To get to power and hold on at any cost. Lankan politics is like a weather report, which keeps changing from hour to hour. And then we have Political scientist like you (pretending to know and predict these changes ) dishing your altered facts.. Try to find a job as “weather man” ,may be then people may take you serious.As a physician my request to you is please dont step into areas you are not familiar with and start advising on Mental Health. You already have done enough harm by selling your self and your own profession.

  • 1
    0

    FYI. Laksiri I have a quit a lot of buddies in down under who seems to know you. And there opinions of you cannot be published in any social media , even after editing. So thank the CT readers for not being so abusive, as them.

  • 2
    0

    Laksiri Fernando mentions that in his country Australia, the state elections do put a brake on any untoward steps by the Government of Australia.
    .
    Why does he avoid saying that Australia has its own form of federal government?
    Laksiri is harsh about Brexit and points out that UK is not a federal government.

  • 2
    0

    I am amazed the writer seems to be floating on another planet while the country burns. The parasites of the political class want power but will cohabit with competitors in order to exploit the people’s gullibility. Their common enemy is the voting public, and they will always close ranks to protect each other from the wrath of the oppressed. Hence, laws will also be structured to suit their agendas.

    This is a rare opportunity for the people to see the stark nudity of a vulgar gang of rapists who are ruthlessly violating Mother Lanka and will seek the people’s mandate under different pretexts every so often.

    You do not seem to understand or appreciate this reality and write your lofty words a few inches off the ground. I suggest you smell the earth and write about these stark realities instead of providing respect for these evil vermin who have destroyed the nation. A people’s assembly from outside the political framework is a dire necessity.

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