The Friday Forum calls upon citizens, civil society groups, and political parties to demand the resignation of the President and the Prime Minister, in the national interest.
Issuing a statement today the Friday Forum said “This will create an opportunity to form an interim government headed by the Speaker, with a new Prime Minister, as we move towards a parliamentary election in 2020, after dismantling the Presidency, as suggested, by a 20th Amendment passed before October 2019. Article 40 of the constitution provides for such a course of action. Everyone including the President and the Prime Minister who see a future for themselves in politics, can pursue their ambitions at a general election, without embroiling this country’s future in individual presidential ambitions. Hopefully a new and younger leadership to guide the destinies of the nation will emerge in parliamentary elections without an executive presidency. ”
We publish below the statement in full:
Grieve For Our Country In Crisis: Prevent A Descent To ‘Yamapālanaya’
Even as our country was struggling to cope after the Easter Sunday terrorism, sharing in solidarity a collective sense of grief with victims, violence erupted on the 13th of May.
Information in the public domain indicates that the destruction of private properties and businesses of some Muslim citizens and their mosques in the NWP, were deliberate and organized attacks by outsiders and thugs, supported by some politicians and people advocating an extremist communal agenda. The Human Rights Commission has, in their letter to the Police authorities, confirmed the anecdotal evidence on the Internet that the Police failed to effectively protect Muslim citizens and their places of worship. This is a serious violation of the government’s obligation to its citizens.
The Threat of Communal Conflict
There is a growing and disturbing environment of mistrust and intolerance in our diverse communities.
The understandable sense of insecurity and fear among our people after the Easter Sunday terrorist violence are being exploited by other groups, promoting a destructive and toxic anti-Muslim agenda, through social media and other communication channels.
The government has failed to give a strong and consistent message that incitement of communal hatred against any community will not be tolerated, and the law prohibiting such conduct will be strictly enforced. The political maneuverings of the President and the Minister in failing to ensure effective investigation and prosecution of politicians identified with extremist groups, have further undermined public confidence in the administration of justice, and the government’s commitment to national security. We have seen how this has led to a questionable form of protest (upawasaya) by a parliamentarian, supported by a section of the public including religious leaders.
The controversial Presidential pardon given to the monk Gnanasara, and the wide publicity given to him in print and electronic media, have strengthened a growing campaign by extremists (groups and individuals) advocating a majoritarian political agenda. Some call for isolating and boycotting Muslim places of business, and their goods and services, to cause maximum economic harm. A recent TV spot focused on a Buddhist monk, who actually called for a “maaranthika satana” (fight unto death) in place of a “maaranthika upawasaya” (fast unto death) to ensure survival of Sinhala Buddhism in this country. Some monks have adopted the unprecedented procedure of issuing what they call a “Sangha order” against an individual whose viewpoint they dislike. Such movements show a cynical disregard for the core values of Buddhism.
These extremist ideologies fail to differentiate between working for the legitimate protection of the human rights of minorities in a plural society, and advocating a narrow communal political agenda. This has contributed to growing mistrust between minority communities and the Sinhala Buddhist majority. The outcome has been the inability to forge a sense of Sri Lankan identity.
These are all dangerous trends that must be recognized, resisted and addressed, if we do not wish our country to spiral again into internal armed conflict and violence. Despite the government’s failure to give a united and consistent leadership through public statements and actions, many individuals, religious leaders including members of the Sangha and civil society, have promoted national harmony at this time. We have also witnessed acts of great courage in protecting victims of violence within affected communities. It is critically important to support all of them, especially youth groups, publicly rejecting extremist agendas promoted on behalf of any community. There can only be one priority at this time – ensuring stability and a sense of a Sri Lankan identity. Our survival and progress as a nation depends on it.
A New Political Order: No Executive President
As we face these challenges, it is also necessary to ask ourselves whether there is an urgent need for a change of course in our governance. By the end of the year we will be called upon to elect a new Executive President. Can we afford an election that will place in office, once again, an all-powerful Head of State who will abuse these wide powers for personal gain, and violate the rights of the people? We do not need a Hitler-like leader who is unaccountable to the people. This is not a time for “benevolent dictators.” We desperately need a leadership that can help to heal the wounds, reject the advocates of communal hatred and move to a future of peace and progress.
We as citizens are placed in an intolerable situation when we are compelled to choose among presidential candidates who have repeatedly failed the people, by putting their personal political ambitions before the well-being of the country. It is surely time to call urgently for an all- party consensus to abolish the Executive Presidency within the next few months, supporting if necessary, a revised 20th Amendment to the constitution, already proposed by the JVP.
Politicians in a past regime who abused public office, amassed ill- gotten wealth, interfered with the justice system and violated the country’s constitution by setting up an illegal regime, now claim in this crisis to be the saviors of the nation. They say that they have been victimized in court proceedings. They now announce on public platforms their readiness to take on the mantle of political office and provide leadership with good governance. It is important that we as citizens remember and recall their abuse of power and corruption -even if the “yahapalanaya” government that followed, failed to investigate and prosecute those crimes. It is time to say “enough is enough”, and take a stand in rejecting the arrogant hypocrisy and dishonesty of those who seek our votes yet again, presenting themselves in a new “avatar”, as role models and defenders of the rights of the people.
Sri Lanka on a path to a Failed State?
The President and the Prime Minister are on a collision course, pursuing a personal political agenda, with grave implications for the security and stability of the country.
In this desperate national environment we as citizens must recognise the serious risks we face in becoming a failed State due to the refusal of the President and Prime Minister to work together in the governance of the country. The President has a record of violating the constitution – a serious ground for an impeachment, which did not take place. From the beginning of this year, he has acted in a manner that demonstrates his incapacity to fulfill his responsibilities. We have a right as citizens to hold him accountable, as Commander in Chief and Minister of Defence for the appalling lapse in national security that cost the lives of 259 people, injured 500 others, and seriously damaged properties in the Easter Sunday terrorist violence. He was out of the country at the time, without establishing a chain of command through his Prime Minister, or an acting Minister of Defence. He now refuses to accept responsibility, by seeking to find fault with senior officials. Is he telling us that these officials could act on their own, without reference to the National Security Council, or to him, while he is Minister of Defence and Commander in Chief? Others have pointed out that the Presidential pardon of the monk Gnanassara at this time is an abuse of the Presidential discretion to grant pardon, seriously undermining the judicial power of the courts. The President’s recent foray in the area of international diplomacy, on the summons of the President of China, without reference to his Prime Minister, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, or the officials of that ministry, is an astounding violation of the accountability of a Head of State to the nation.
The Prime Minister has also failed those who placed him in office. We recognise that a partnership in governance that degenerated into an uncomfortable “cohabitation” posed challenges. Yet, he received a second chance to act in conformity with the commitments he made on norms of democratic governance, early this year. However, he placed in cabinet office a person with serious allegations against him, failed under his watch to ensure investigation and prosecution of even emblematic cases, or implement findings of the Bond Commission. His conduct in relation to national security imperatives and his bilateral negotiations on defense with the USA government without reference to the President or parliament have attracted severe criticism and a loss of public confidence.
This irresponsible and confrontational interpersonal conflict between the current President and Prime Minister can no longer be tolerated in the national interest.
The Friday Forum calls upon citizens, civil society groups, and political parties to demand the resignation of the President and the Prime Minister, in the national interest. This will create an opportunity to form an interim government headed by the Speaker, with a new Prime Minister, as we move towards a parliamentary election in 2020, after dismantling the Presidency, as suggested, by a 20th Amendment passed before October 2019. Article 40 of the constitution provides for such a course of action. Everyone including the President and the Prime Minister who see a future for themselves in politics, can pursue their ambitions at a general election, without embroiling this country’s future in individual presidential ambitions. Hopefully a new and younger leadership to guide the destinies of the nation will emerge in parliamentary elections without an executive presidency.
Prof. Savitri Goonesekere and Mr. Chandra Jayaratne
For and on behalf of :
Prof Camena Guneratne, Dr. Geedreck Usvatte-aratchi, Dr. A.C. Visvalingam, Bishop Duleep de Chickera, Mr. Priyantha Gamage, Ms. Manouri Muttetuwegama, Mr. Faiz-Ur Rahman, Dr. Radhika Coomaraswamy, Mr. Dhammapala Wijayanandana, Rev. Dr. Jayasiri Peiris, Mr. Daneshan Casie Chetty, Mr Tissa Jayatilaka, Prof. Gameela Samarasinghe, Prof. Gananath Obeyesekere, Prof. Ranjini Obeyesekere, Mr. Pulasthi Hewamanna & Ms. Shanthi Dias