24 September, 2020

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Democracy Threatened By A Two-Thirds Disaster

By Lucien Rajakarunanayake –

Lucien Rajakarunanayake

The political phone call syndrome is fast leading to a hunt culture that seeks to sweep into hiding the reality of politics and its manipulation of law and order in the Sri Lankan democracy.

The Ranjan Ramanayake situation, arising from the questionable exposure of telephone call recordings, raises many questions on the trend of democracy today, and also in the past, especially  in the past four plus decades, in the country that was Asia’s first to vote in a democratic government in the late 1930s.

The phone call syndrome is being swiftly manipulated into a political headwind moving against all opposition, for the Pohottuva Team to obtain a 2/3 rds majority in the next parliament, following the April 2020 general elections. It is necessary to look back at the political machinations in the decades since the country became a republic in 1972. 

It must be recorded that a precedent disaster for good government and administration came with abolition of the Ceylon Civil Service (CCS) in 1963, also by the Sirimavo Bandaranaike government on the recommendation of the Wilmot A. Perera Commission, paving the way for politician-ministers to appoint the administrative heads of ministries, leading to the overall politicisation of governance. 

The change in the constitutional system from a dominion to a republic, came with the victory of the United Front – SLFP – LSSP – CP- that brought the Republican Constitution, which significantly made Buddhism as the State Religion, moving away from secular State that prevailed till then, for which there was little demand in the electoral campaigning. This was the political work of Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike and the then leading LSSP politician Dr. Colvin R de Silva, Minister for Constitutional Affairs.

That UF government did major economic changes but was also faced with the first JVP uprising. In the final record of that government, with nearly 10,000 youth killed, and violence by the state forces against the JVP uprising, did not carry a good image of Buddhism in matters of State.  Significantly, the 2/3 majority that government had enabled it to postpone the general election that should have been held in 1975, and move to the two-year delayed 1977 election that saw the UNP led by JR Jayewardene sweep in with a 5/6th majority. This is the first warning of the dangers of a 2/3 majority in parliament.

The new constitution brought by the UNP and JR Jayewaredene’s  huge majority in parliament saw many changes leading to breaking up of the democratic process that was the overall tradition of governance till then. JRJ’s 5/6th majority enabled bringing 16 Amendments to the Constitution, to  enable important changes such as the Provincial Councils and the acceptance of Sinhala and Tamil as official languages, and also many narrowly political moves such as the prevention of cross-overs by MPs, extension of the period of the 11th Parliament by 6 years, and the increase  of MPs to 225.

The constitution changing majority that JRJ had, enabled the manipulation of the constitutional process, moving away from the democratic parliamentary traditions, such as that against MPs crossing over, putting  off a parliamentary election by 6 years, and the much larger aspect of the Executive Presidency which took away most powers of the parliament elected by the voters – making a mockery of the sovereignty of the people.

The change of the Constitution with a 5/6th majority in parliament was not an issue that was a major part of the election by the UNP led by JRJn in 1977. It was a campaign where the SLFP -led government, after the breakup of the United Front, had to face rising criticism  on the cost of living and massive corruption that emerged in the latter phase of that government. 

Benefitting from the public opposition to the Sirimavo Bandaranaike-led government, and able to go far beyond the 8-member opposition group in parliament, the JRJ government used its huge majority  to bring in the Executive Presidency, which had no precedent political debate in the country, and combine US & French traditions of governance, but outside the democratic values that prevailed in those systems, and also wholly move away from the importance of parliament that was the tradition in the UK.

The 2/3rd twist

A major constitutional change in favour of democracy and good governance under the republican constitution was the 17th Amendment passed in August 2000, by the government headed by President Chandrika Kumaratunga, which brought the Constitutional Council, and the independent authorities of the Public Service Commision, Elections Commission, JudicialCommission and the National Police Commision. What is most significant in this change is that it was not brought by a government that had a 2/3 majority in parliament, but by a government that had a simple majority, but obtained a  more than 2/3 vote in parliament, supportive of the democratic process that was being promoted.

The next threat of the 2/3rd majority in parliament came with the passage of the 18th Amendment in 2010. This was after Mahinda Rajapaksa won the 2009 parliamentary election with a simple majority. He was able through clearly undemocratic means, such as the promise of government office and other benefits, including financial gains, to obtain the 2/3 majority to make a massive anti-democratic move that was not part of any public debate. He used his popularity over the defeat of the LTTE terror – which did not give him an electoral 2/3 majority – to gain parliamentary support for the 18th Amendment which removed the limit on the number of terms that a President may serve and created a Parliamentary Council to make appointments to positions such as the Commissioners of Elections, Human Rights and judges to the Supreme Court.

This was the use of the 2/3rd majority within parliament, not given in a public electoral vote, but through political and crooked manipulation, for the overall defeat  of the democratic process. The Executive President could serve for any number of terms (if elected) with the benefit of governing power, and removing the democratic benefits that curbed the powers of the Executive President through the 17th Amendment, such as the Constitutional Council and on the appointment of the heads of important Commissions.

The next democratic benefit through a non-electorally obtained 2/3rd majority came with the 19th Amendment on 2015. It reduced the president’s term to 5 years, brought back the two-term limit for the Executive President, brought in a minimum age limit for the Executive President, and widened the powers of the Prime Minister and Parliament in conducting the process of governance. 

Once again these democratic and socio-political benefits did not come from a government that had a 2/3rd majority in parliament. It was passed with a huge majority, going far beyond 2/3s, with a UNP-alliance government that had just a simple majority, and almost the entirety of the Opposition, with  the SLFP and its allies elected led by former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, also voting for it.

There are aspects of the 19th Amendment, such as the size of a Cabinet of a National Government, and the ministerial positions, if any, the Executive President could hold, which require amendment to make the process more democratic. 

What is significant  in this is that an electoral 2/3rd majority in not seen as essential for the progress of the democratic process. It is possible through the nature of the process or legislation presented, which can obtain a majority within Parliament, as seen in both the 17th and 19th Amendments, and the overall disaster of a 2/3rd majority in the 18th Amendment. 

This is of importance in the context of the current campaign of President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and the SLPP, for the SLPP and its allies to obtain a 2/3rd majority at the coming general election. There are no proposals for the widening or deepening of the democratic process  in the Manifesto of the Gotabhaya Rajapaksa election campaign, the Policy Statement of President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, and thus no requirement for an electoral 2/3rd majority in the House. What is necessary is for any truly democratic changes to be presented to the next elected House, with or without a 2/3rd majority, and expect the people’s representatives to give their votes for such moves as in the 17th and 19th Amendments.

Phone Twists

The debate on constitutional change is very much distorted by the political twists and largely perverted aspects of the Ranjan Ramanayake phone recordings. A basic and simple rule that the prior consent of a person has to be obtained to do any recording of a phone call, is being hugely distorted in the play of the Ranjan Phone Drama in social media and TV, and the political contortion that is now in progress. 

It is important to know how the former Ministers and political leaders of governments gave their special, often anti-democratic instructions to the Police and other officers, without any telephone communications. Are we to forget how the Police personnel dealing with MP Wimal Weerawansa’s ‘fast’ protest in front of the UN Office, communicated with the then Secretary, Defence, through a mobile phone?

When we go back to the JRJ years, do we forget the threats faced by the then Chief Justice, Neville Samarakoon (1977 – 1984) and believe there were no phone calls involved, or the threats and attacks to several other judges whose homes were attacked because of a judgment unfavourable to the government?

Is it in any way likely there were no phone communications in how the then Mahinda Rajapaksa government, pushed through the impeachment motion against former Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake, without any politically vital telephone communications, because they were not recorded by anyone? Was there no telephone (unrecorded) advice given to those who the political mobs that surrounded CJ Shirani Bandaranayake’s official residence at that time?

Is the public to believe there were unrecorded phone conversations, or direct communications with subsequent Chief Justice Mohan Pieris (who was also Attorney General) relating to the many questionable  judgments and legal actions that were taken at that time, most favourable to the then government?

In the context of ‘Phone Call Justice’, why did the previous Attorney General and the current holder of this office, not initiate any probes as to the undeclared telephone recording made by MP Palitha Range Bandara of the call by MP SB Dissanayake on crossing over to the ‘coup’ Cabinet in November 2018 with loads of cash also on offer?

Also why has the current Attorney General still not initiated legal action against the now interdicted former former Solicitor General, Dilrukshi Dias Wickremasinghe,  about a phone call on the Avant Garde case, that was handled by her? Is it due to negative pressure from the Rajapaksas?

This is a never ending saga of crooked politics that has prevailed in this country, especially with the use of a 2/3rd majority in parliament. The Ranjan Ramanayake situation today is overall political humbug, using a provision of law relating to phone call recordings, into a national call for the continuance of crooked politics and governance. Ranjan Ramanayake requires to be dealt with under the law for its violations, as any citizen should be; but not made to be an anti-democratic monster, by forces in power who have an ugly record of threats and damage to the democratic process.

In this context it is difficult to have much hope that democracy and justice will prevail with the lotus flower politics of today. That remains the hope the people should have, till the whole electoral process is changed restoring the Right to Democracy and genuine Power of the People.   

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Latest comments

  • 16
    1

    Two third majority in parliament is beneficial to the rulers. There is no doubt on that. JRJ who went on a march against Banda-Chelva pact ruled this nation like a dictator after majority Buddhist Sinhala gave two third majority and enjoyed all the benefits of power. However, during that period, the country faced the growth of Tamil youth extremism with the help of India and JRJ have to surrender to India and he made an agreement with India which gave the birth of 13th amendment of the constitution. At the same time Srilanka faced JVP extremism where over 60000 Sinhalese were massacred by the Sinhala governments which was elected by Buddhist Sinhala majority. The war between LTTE and Sinhala government continued until 2009 which took the lives of 50000 Tamils and 50000 Sinhalese by the government elected by two third Buddhist Sinhala. The country is now fully sold to China and still the country is one of the poorest country. Now we are talking of another two third majority and the focus is to get from the Buddhist Sinhala only again. If Sinhalese give that mandate again, the consequences are going to be very high to the Sinhala Masses and to this country. The rulers knew they can cheat Buddhist Sinhala easily.Who knows?

    • 2
      13

      Mr. ajith,
      /
      By contrast… you all have already given us 149 seats in the parliament.
      /
      Thanks.

      • 0
        0

        S. C. Pasqual,
        How come? If the prevailing voter sentiment continues through election, I doubt whether MaRa can get even a simple majority!

        In any case, during the election, GoRa only talked about changing the constitution; not about getting a 2/3 majority. I believe that the reason for the change of the tune is the unexpected development within UNP politics which derailed the original deal between Ranil & goRa. The plan might have been to allow GoRa win the Presidency by giving nomination to small party leader while Ranil stay as the PM. But, bond scam encouraged the second tier of the UNP to take over the party. Now that it is getting increasingly clear that Ranil’s delaying tactic to weaken Sajith’s chances of taking over the party, if not the parliament as well, GoRa has no choice but to dream about 2/3 majority.

        However, it appears that the impatience to take over the Gvt following the Prez election, may have diminished the chances of getting even a simple majority. I do agree with already staled argument that 2/3 majority is a threat to democracy & HR. Why need a super majority if all the parliamentarians understand the need for an economic recovery, ethnic reconciliation and a peaceful living conditions particularly when Sajith already has promised to help pass each & every items in GoRa election manifesto? Is it b’cos Gora knows that the manifesto was a mere black magic designed to cheat voters?

        If GoRa has confidence in himself, all he need is a good action plan & a credible team of advisers that can win the confidence of the parliament. But the first couple of months action only shows that GoRa is fiddling hard like Musila to win the attention of the traders from Baranes (Varanasi). Under such circumstances, a 2/3 majority certainly will open the door for another Ra..kse destruction!

    • 9
      0

      Even without 2/3 already as of now, they have been abusing the pacts.

      Listen to the link below-


      So what talk about after getting 2/3 – I think our people should be made very clear that no means they should be offered 2/3.

      Lanken professionals come out of your cages and get ready to educate the masses that have been caught by Rajaakshe rascals for a 2/3 mandate.

      This country should not be allowed to govern by these rascals, people wake up !

  • 13
    1

    The next project – for/after two thirds majority of voters – is the fruition of a dictatorship, of course by Gotabaya Rajapakse.
    What he intends with the power thus attained, is to run (run NOT govern) Sri Lanka for the sole benefit of the Rajapakse family and a few hangers-on.
    Firstly, the Mausoleum Project will be completed as an essential National Project – never mind the financial crunch facing the nation.

    • 3
      1

      Pres. with his military background and no power is like a fish out of water. 2/3 is for a military junta which could extend beyond the dictatorship.

      Latest addition is another Retired Maj. Gen has been appointed to head the proposed future private army of 100,000. Double hit to tax payers (Hefty pension and a second pay cheque) . Sooner the voters understand better for the country’s future.

  • 13
    0

    WHY DO THEY NEED 2/3 MAJORITY.EVEN WITHOUT A PARALIMENT HAVING A SINGLE MAJORITY GOTHA MAHINDA (PVT)LTD IS HAVING MORE THAN 2/3 OF ALL GOVT DEPT AND CORPORATION UNDER THEIR FAMILY CONTROL.THIS SITUATION IS MORE THAN ENOUGH FOR THEM.

  • 2
    0

    Rays hope for democracy in the country was lost with the adoption of the Republican constitution, what we have been witnessing since then is anything but democracy!

  • 1
    2

    Sri Lankans, mostly the rural Buddhists, became very brave and elected a non-career politician as their Leader. Not the Parliament is the next institution which needs heavy reform and restructuring. Hindus and Catholics also benefit from that. Most Protestants lived side by side nothing happened. So, they all have to remember. Only the church and their wealthy and those earning from this May like the National Candidate Project.
    Anyway, I read here and there the word SECULAR. When I check it’s origin, it is completely from the west and originated in church related documents. The opposite antonym for the word religious is secular. For example they describe BATHING AS A SECULAR WORD BECAUSE IT DOES NOT INVOLVE THE GOD AND THE RELIGION. So, in Sri Lanka, those who wants to use the word SECULAR is those who are anti-Buddhist.
    Anyway, Every Sri Lankan, except a handful who earns because of the Neo-Liberalism and PIVOT TO ASIA programs, they know the parliament is exceptionally corrupt and is a wasteful organization. The only it can be done is giving the 2/3rd majority. If President Gotabhaya focus about how he won, he can do it. He did not win because of political parties or the unblemished records of any of the previous govts or prominent politicians.

    The next democratic benefit through a non-electorally obtained 2/3rd majority came with the 19th Amendment on 2015. – How sinister is this statement. What the author is Island wide people elected President is secondary to the Electorate or electoral district elected Parliamentarian. They are not able to that, and they need 15th amendment, 17th amendment and other legislation to to establish a govt. I heard, that is what has happened Rishad Bathiuddin. He gave Dinar bundles to every one and he did irt according to the book. So, nothing can be done.

  • 1
    7

    You criticize Buddhim. That is typical Christian Hatred. Even to date Christian/Catholics are at the forefront of mass killings all over the world. In the past, Numerous Crusades are also by the same people. Parliament does not have good buddhists. They are mixed. Take census on that and see. Besides, the west gave Military aids to kill Che Guvera but not LTTE. For Zaharan also, they are behind. I am pretty sure, when LTTE was active LANKADEEPA was asking political solution and now they may be talking about NATIONAL QUESTION.

  • 2
    5

    Sri Lanka is not Buddhist. Even some Bhikkus behave as Christians. Sri Lanka has highly disintegrated Sinhala-Buddhist culture. Now, they are talking about the Bulldozing of ancient sinhala buddhist civilization both irrigation schemes and dagobas etc.

  • 1
    2

    Excellent revelation. 19th amendment was an indirect 2/3rd majority for the anti-Buddhist camp. If they win ans if they can dominate that is the only way to democracy. So, true majority should kneel infront of them. That is. the Roman Kingdom way, Anti-Old Testament, anti New testament way. Minority should hold the power and that is democracy. Majority is oppressed in order to minority to have power.

  • 4
    0

    ‘This is a never ending saga of crooked politics that has prevailed in this country, especially with the use of a 2/3rd majority in parliament.’

    Proper democracy in this country died an instant death when religion was substituted for politics and the guiding principle at every election was not issues that governed our every days lives but whether the politician was capable of protecting the majority religion.

  • 1
    1

    i think the two thirds is really driven by mahinda ,not gota.If mahinda gets it he will abolish the 19th amendment and then try to run for the next presidential elections.Gota will for the sake of unity have to give in.However if mahinda tries to for the fourth term have namal as the candidate,then open war will break out between the brothers and mahinda will lose the war.As long as gota is there namal is out and rightly so because though his mother is pushing for him he has to wait in the queue.

  • 0
    0

    The author, a senior journalist, has made his point. A two thirds obtained can be for the good or for the bad and that two thirds may not necessarily be through a direct election. The fear expressed is with all this a possible two thirds majority in the next election can be a reality which could be for worse. The real issue arising out of “Ranjan leaks” is, the public perception, rightly or wrongly, that a person can be sentenced to death with a view for a possible promotion hits the ceiling. The goodness of the 19th amendment is blown to smithereens. Worst still is that the plea not to make further telephone calls for the fear that the decision can be changed in such an event echoes and is synonymous with “I can make the law or break the law”, the content of yet another telephone call. It is a wonder that people did not take to the streets and took “people’s action” against the black coat community. An honest judge told one of my friends that these incidents are unthinkable and he is still in a disturbed state of mind over the perversion of the course of justice. In any case, unlike the pre 1972 era, giving telephone calls to influence is a reality and after 1977 any professional has lost his back-bone and integrity to curry favor with the high and mighty for benefits. THAT IS THE NATIONAL TRAGEDY and no amount of two thirds majorities can cure that.

    • 0
      0

      A senior journalist has undersold his journalist ethics (that is for christians, buddhists have at least conscience and panchaseela) and conscience has made him a cunning fox if not donkey out of him. He was just writing and he did not learn anything out of his life. Pathetic writing. Good for the blog but not for a talk some where

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