4 October, 2022

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Consolidating Power Of Government At Expense Of People 

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

According to the philosopher Thomas Hobbes, the natural condition of mankind was a state of war in which life was “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” because individuals are in a “war of all against all.” Therefore, it was necessary for them to come to an agreement. The philosopher John Locke called this the social contract. Social contract arguments are that individuals have consented, either explicitly or tacitly, to surrender some of their freedoms and submit to the authority of the ruler or magistrate (or to the decision of a majority), in exchange for protection of their remaining rights. Constitutions set out the rules by which societies are governed.

The evolution of constitutional thinking since the 17th century that Hobbes and Locke lived in has been to find ways to regulate the powers of the rulers and protect the people from the rulers. Those who have power need to have checks placed on them. They need to be held accountable. If those who are rulers are not checked or held accountable, they invariably abuse their powers. That power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely has been a truism. Over the past 74 years we have seen that the rulers have used their power indiscriminately some more than others. PTA is an example of a law which was instituted to deal with the Tamil separatist insurgency over 40 years ago, but it still remains-to protect power of the rulers. In the past three years when the rulers of Sri Lanka held virtually absolute power by virtue of the 20th Amendment to the constitution, the situation in the country deteriorated. The country became bankrupt for the first time ever.

The current debate over the 22nd Amendment is to ensure and enlarge the role of civil society to mitigate the powers of the politicians who are rulers. This is particularly important in view of the eroded mandate and legitimacy of the current parliamentary majority. A key question now is with regard to the three civil society representatives who will be in the Constitutional Council. The present formulation of the amendment is that the civil society representatives will have to be acceptable to the majority in parliament (thereby giving the government final say). Unfortunately, Sri Lanka’s experience with constitutional reform has been in the direction of further strengthening of the powers of the rulers against the people. The so-called reforms have invariably strengthened the hands of the rulers against the people and justified that it is being done for the sake of the people.

Eroding Controls

The 1972 Constitution replaced the constitution that the country had inherited from the British colonial rulers. It ensured the independence of the judiciary and of the civil service and also had special protections for human rights and non-discrimination between ethnic communities. However, these protections were removed from the 1972 constitution that sought to empower the ruling politicians on the justification that they embodied the will of the sovereign people. It was argued that the elected politicians were closer to the people than unelected judges and civil servants. But being away from the people makes them non partisan, a value less understood. Judges were sacked when the new constitution came into operation and treated shamefully. The 1978 constitution repeated the activities of the 1972 constitutions. Judges were once again sacked and treated shamefully. At a later point they were even stoned.

It is these cultures we developed that have led to the present crisis of lack of values beyond the economy itself and formed the base for Aragalaya. From being a country near the top of Asia at the time of independence, Sri Lanka is today nearer the bottom. The life savings of its people have been halved in half a year and not a single politician has faced a legal accountability process.

The 22nd Amendment belongs to the family of constitutional amendments that began with the 17th Amendment of 2001. This amendment was agreed to by the then president due to the weakening of the government at that time. The amendment resulted in the reduction of the power of the president and sharing those powers with parliament, state institutions and with civil society. The idea behind the 17th Amendment was to strengthen the system of checks and balances and thereby promote good governance in the national interest. The 19th Amendment that resembles it was the work of a coalition of parties that had opposed the abuse of power of the rulers they had just deposed through an electoral mandate. But this was overturned by the 20th Amendment of 2019.

High Corruption

However, the limitation on the powers of the rulers has never been acquiesced by those who would be rulers or belong to their party. It is under the 20th Amendment which is about to be repealed that the corruption and abuse of power in the country reached its zenith and plunged the people into unprecedented economic hardship and poverty. It is these hardships that gave rise to the Aragalaya, or protest movement, that culminated with the physical storming of government buildings and the forced resignations of the president, prime minister and cabinet of ministers. The shrinking of the middle class who have toiled a lifetime are now falling between the cracks and joining the poor and vulnerable created by the government in less than three years. Yet highlighting the priorities of the rulers, no one of the seem to be thinking of compensating those who have lost their savings, only of compensation of what happened to a few of the rulers and their henchmen during the 2015-2019 period  or the Aragalaya period in which the houses of the rulers, much beyond their known sources of wealth and income were burned down.

An Indian political analyst Dr Maya John, has written, “Although the Aragalaya targeted not only individual politicians like the Rajapaksas but also the wider ambit of corrupt political forces – as evident in the parallel slogans of “Gota Go Home” and “225 Go Home” – the bulk of people’s energy was overtly focused on dislodging certain individuals from political power; indicating the tendency for the ruling establishment to still hold sway with the ouster of particular politicians. As the well-known Sinhalese proverb goes: inguru deela miris gaththa wage (exchanging ginger for chilli), we have simply got rid of something bad and got something worse in return. So, the Rajapaksas have been replaced but the same ruling clique and political system remain intact; in fact, in a more offensive reincarnation.”

Unequal Treatment

The protest movement was a reaction to the social tolerance limits, economic hardships, shortages, queues and steep price rises that in effect halved the general income of the people, with some suffering more than others. But the crackdown on them by the rulers has been both subtle and harsh in the present period. Those who gave it leadership are being picked off one by one, put into jail or being put on bail so that they dare not protest again. The unequal and discriminatory treatment of the protest movement is given the veneer of law which the government would he hoping would get it through the monitoring of the UN Human Rights Council next month and preserve the economic rewards of the EU’s GSP Plus, which is given to country’s that are making a genuine effort to improve the lot of their people, poor people not only the rich.

In 2018, parliamentarians who attempted to stage a constitutional coup (which failed because the judiciary stood firm) sat on the chair of the speaker of parliament whom they had forcibly chased off. They flung chairs and wrenched microphones out of their sockets. But none of them were punished even when the coup failed. However, those who joined the protest movement and sat in the chair of the president are being located one by one and arrested. A protester who took the beer mug of the deposed president has been arrested. But ministers who are accused of corruption, accused reportedly even by diplomats accredited to the country, and ministers who have been convicted by the courts sit on, in government. Such unequal and discriminatory treatment is likely to cause the sense of grievance to grow especially when the people are faced with price rises and shortages. They form the basis to cause another Aragalaya.

The current version of the 22nd Amendment which gives the rulers the power to pick the civil society members through a parliamentary majority that has lost its mandate and legitimacy who will be in the constitutional council is not a sign that the government will heed the voice of the people. In this reluctance to be held accountable and to use power in a just manner, is a recipe for confrontation between the rulers and people in the future in which repression will be the response of the rulers who disregard the people. It may explain why the military budget continues to take first place despite the economic collapse. Unless the people’s voices are represented truly in the parliament and the political processes, which can only come through a fresh set of elections, it is difficult to expect accountability in the system which is a formula for disaster sooner or later.

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Latest comments

  • 3
    2

    Ranil thought he can consolidate his power by sending the army and police to attack the alleged ‘Aragalaya’ fighters. But it boomeranged on him and today he is looking for people to join him without success. The ‘tiny’ respect he has had is no more. No political party with an aorta of decency will back him.

    • 1
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      It is clear that RW’s involvement in good governance, not Sorisena, gave true democratic values. There people started saying “democracy is overflowing – out the door”. Remember? I don’t support anyone but if someone respects law and order and can move things forward to some extent or mildly, not completely, then I have more respect for them.

      However, it ended with Sorisena falling into the lap of Mahinda Rajapaksa, the worst politician in the entire South Asian region and good governance making it miserable. R.W. Rajapaksa survived the bond fraud charges and the UNP was eroded from Sri Lankan politics. Not only the UNP, but also the “Super Clean JVP” was sidelined leaving only 3 instead of 5 in the Parliament.
      So as our late Reverend Sobitha prophesied in January 2015, the rotia is burnt to the point of inedibility. This is how corruption dominated Sri Lanka accepted good governance.

      It is believed that if you want to eradicate coconut beetles, you should introduce another beetle to combat the pests.
      Also, Sri Lanka can only be salted by leaders who have been rotten in that politics for so long. I think…. AKD or others will not work. As you know Gota achieved nothing.

      • 2
        0

        The hell WHICH was then called SERENDIB by the westerners. :.. it was turned out to be a hell thanks to Medamulana animals.

        • 1
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          Dr. JP Argentina on its 21st IMF agreement which bailed out Vulture Funds like BlackRock,
          It is in the midst of massive protests again because of economic disaster and soring inflation and the lack of Economic Justice and Rights in that country.
          Why don’t the USAID funded NGOs focus on Economic Rights and Debt Justice in Sri Lanka at this time and stop wasting breath on another Constitutional draft and the CIA Arab Spring Aragalaya super stars ?? Time to talk about Debt Cancellation and Economic Rights and Justice in Lanka.

          • 1
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            The Aragalaya brought to power the US back Ranil Rajapakse govt. to deliver Lanka to the IMF. and the Washington Consensus and DISTRACT us all.
            Aragalaya was a sinkhole of energy and a post-Covid 19 lockdown party for the spoiled brats of Colombo, while people who were impoverished by the corrupt system only came to see the Aragalaya NGO show! Funded researches have written reams about well funded NGO protestors and the Aragalaya but We need a realistic analysis of the staged protest which was PARASITIC on genuine grievance of people.. The CIA’s Aragala activists enabled distraction from the lack of ECONOMIC RIGHTS and critical analysis of the Staged Default of Sri Lanka for Washington and IMF to take over the country!

    • 1
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      Are you sure?
      What is the queue before his office? Not for petrol I guess.

  • 5
    0

    Elections will not bring about a systemic change from an inherently corrupt one to a relatively clean one. Elections have never delivered to the people any justice. Nominations are always given to crooks who are able to throw around money to bribe organisers and the desperate poor who want some personal benefit. Just before elections, some relief measures will be announced, and the cattle will yet again fall for it. The solution is in a massive revolution that sweeps away all vestiges of the parasitic system and ushers in a young, committed, uncorrupt set of leaders and teams. That is the only solution. Then, institutions can be redeveloped as independent, strong and credible ones, not subject to political whim.

    • 2
      0

      Elections in Sri Lanka continue to cheat politicians and voters. The election results lead to their entry into parliament, but nothing moves an inch in line with their many campaign promises.
      Therefore, elections should not be called until courageous voters and politicians are educated enough to use their votes properly. It’s like throwing people’s funds back into the water.
      .
      It is said that pictures are worth a thousand words. Experts believe that in order to get more results, the improvement line should be aware. Then only “healthy voters” emerge from highly corrupt societies.
      . Pictures can turn people’s apathetic nature into conscious and healthy people. At the moment, helping them with facts and figures in the form of drama or pictures is the need of the hour. Whatsup and other social media can contribute a lot in this regard so that the public opinion will be positive towards people who enrich the knowledge of Sri Lankan politics.

    • 0
      0

      A good deal of truth in what you say, Lasantha.
      .
      But how often should we have such resets, and who makes the decision that the time for the re-set has come?
      .

      Given the situation in Sri Lanka most of us would say that the time came some time ago, and that the need is still there. But how do we set it up as an objective desideratum?

  • 1
    3

    Revolutions are started by morally corrupt lawbreakers and never result in anything good, look at history. People are stupid enough to keep trying revolutions to put in power leaders who are inexperienced in politics and government. If the Presidency had been abolished this would never have happened – so they say.

  • 0
    0

    Elections in Sri Lanka continue to cheat politicians and voters. The election results lead to their entry into parliament, but nothing moves an inch in line with their many campaign promises.
    Therefore, elections should not be called until courageous voters and politicians are educated enough to use their votes properly. It’s like throwing people’s funds back into the water.
    .
    It is said that pictures are worth a thousand words. Experts believe that in order to get more results, the improvement line should be aware. Then only “healthy voters” emerge from highly corrupt societies.
    . Pictures can turn people’s apathetic nature into conscious and healthy people. At the moment, helping them with facts and figures in the form of drama or pictures is the need of the hour. Whatsup and other social media can contribute a lot in this regard so that the public opinion will be positive towards people who enrich the knowledge of Sri Lankan politics.xx

  • 0
    3

    All we need is cash inflow from other countries. Sending people to work aborad could be a solution. Export and Srilankans immigrated to Other countries could send money to their kith and kin in dollars or pound . Political reforms or election is not the solution.

  • 1
    1

    “consolidating-power-of-government-at-expense-of-people”?????
    ======
    what is Democracy?
    Democracy is a rule of the people, for the people and by the people”
    =============
    #Aragalaya – struggle of the people
    ====
    lets finish the job that was started and go for system change not just change of President

    • 2
      0

      R
      Are you around for the job?

      • 0
        0

        Yes I was I have to go to Colombo for some personal reasons and visited at #GotaGoGamma.
        ====
        “Are you around for the job?”
        ========
        lets finish it off …Dirty Dozen?

  • 1
    1

    Now the battle is between unarmed people and armed rulers. We all now agree that the elections are manipulated by rulers every time and all others including the military in which more than 90% are from low income families and they have to serve the needs of the rulers rather than the needs of the people or their family. It is similar to that how the 5% ruling families control other 95% people, a few powerful Military leaders control the rest of the soldiers by allowing them to have drugs, alcohol, and rape.
    The rulers commit all the crimes pretending to Protect Soverignity, Democracy, Rule of law, and justice are usual weapons to use the military power against innocent Civilians. Unfortunately, our neighbours and friends also use the same slogan to oppress the people in their countries and they protect these rulers. This is what Rajapaksa did, Ranil did and doing. If you took arms you are a terrorist, If you take non-violent protest you are a fascist.

    • 0
      1

      “Now the battle is between unarmed people and armed rulers.”
      Is it?
      You may be on a time machine some years into the future..

  • 1
    0

    During the Yahapalana administration the national anthem was sung in Tamil as well as Sinhala. They came in for some abuse for this from the ‘patriots’. Now Ranil does not have Cheerio Sirisena blocking him anymore and he has reinstated this. He has also said there would be no need to renew the emergency. These are political acts and he is surrounded by enemies so he has to be cautious. Only a matter of time before the PTA goes and political prisoners are released. Slowly, slowly RW is moving the nation towards democracy and justice . And all that the fools can do is to take potshots at him.

  • 0
    1

    Thero de Silva, Jehan PhD, Basil, Dr. Jayampathy, Harsha, Eran, Kabir Hassim, Harsha Gunasena…… they all are lion cups from the same jungle… the La La……. The only difference within them is some are green in color; some are red or blue. All these are Mr. Cleans (or Mr. Beans) work in progress. These guys are now voicing for system change, showing the 22A. They all did their best to close the protest, siding with Ranil Evil saying protesters have no idea what to do next so the Anarchy is going to set in. Protestors were very clear that Ranil should resign from the Prime Minister position of Gothapayal should sack him before leaving. Did not this sound like the next step protestors wanted, for these pundits. Jehan PhD the Koolukkum Paadi Kanchikkum Paddi Worked with all crooks to make sure Ranil Evil remains in PM job until he gets promoted to EP. now pretending like an honest person. 19A was brought by Jayampathy & Sumanthiran to install Evil Emperor as lifetime PM of the country. Evil is no longer begging for a permanent Prime Minister job because the president. Remember from Chandrika time, SLFP & UNP were standing in elections to abolish the EP. Reasonable times they got 2/3, including when Yahapalanaya passed 19A. But did anybody show any interest in abolishing the EP, including Chandrika?

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