23 October, 2020

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End To Sri Lanka’s Democracy: Shouldn’t It Be Resisted?

By Jayadeva Uyangoda

Prof. Jayadeve Uyangoda

The debate on the proposed 20th Amendment to Sri Lanka’s 1978 Constitution is gathering momentum. The proposal, which has been published in the Government Gazette, is indeed a constitutional bombshell, literally. Its provisions are very destructive in their objectives as well as consequences. Perhaps, the management gurus and media moguls who advise President Gotabaya Rajapaksa may have successfully converted him to the somewhat naïve and politically dangerous doctrine of ‘creative destruction.’ 

Objectives

Even a hurried reading of the draft 20th Amendment tells the reader that its framers are motivated by the following two immediate political objectives:

  • Creation of a new office of ‘executive presidency’ and granting to the holder of that office unfettered and unchecked powers over the Cabinet, the legislature, the judiciary, the political system and society. The office of the President will once again be, as it was in 1978 and 2009, the central institution of state power which will stand above, and superior to, everything, and everybody, else in our society and polity.
  • Assigning and securing to one ruling family the monopoly of political power in Sri Lanka. 

Consequences

There are many negative consequences of the proposed 20th Amendment if it is passed into law by Sri Lanka’s parliament. Some are short-term and others are both medium and long-term. It has the most destructive potential to create conditions for:

  • Bringing an effective end to Sri Lanka’s much venerated parliamentary democracy and liberal democratic traditions and institutions.
  • Creating a political system in Sri Lanka similar to the one we have had under the pre-1931 colonial state, thereby ignoring and erasing all the achievements and advances the Sri Lankan people have made in term of political progress since 1931. The framers of the 20th Amendment and its well-wishers have also closed their eyes to  the bloodbath which the J. R. Jayewardene project of despotic constitutionalism caused soon after the enactment of 1978 Constitution.
  • Making it difficult, if not impossible, to dislodge the incumbent ruling family, or whomsoever who occupies the office of President, from power by peaceful and electoral means.
  • Depriving the people of Sri Lanka their sovereign right to change governments and remove rulers who violate their trust by peaceful means available within the framework of open, competitive, multi-party and electoral democracy.  
  • Granting constitutional sanctity to the arbitrary exercise of political power by the Executive, with only very restricted, if not non-existent, opportunities for society to exercise any control within the framework of Rule of Law which has so far been the cornerstone of Sri Lanka’s constitutionalism.
  • Eventually stablishing a one-party state in Sri Lanka in line with the much dreaded South-East Asian developmentalist state model.
  • Making liberty and freedoms of citizens vulnerable to arbitrary executive action in a situation in which new law reforms would seek to severely restrict (a) freedom of thought, (b) freedom of expression, (c) freedom of association, and (d) right to dissent and disagree.
  • Facilitating a swift transition from a weak democracy to an autocratic and tyrannical system of government.

With those consequences, Sri Lankan citizens will have to watch a rather tragic situation in which: (a) Parliamentary democracy is used to facilitate its own negation, that is, ending parliamentary democracy itself, (b) One hundred and fifty or so Members of Parliament would be asked to sign their symbolic death warrant collectively by voting for the new constitutional amendment as envisaged by the proposed draft.

That is why the proposed 20th Amendment is politically and constitutionally so destructive. It will destroy the most precious political legacy of Sri Lanka’s modernity and progress, parliamentary democracy and rule of law, and create in its place a post-democratic leviathan.

That is why the proposed 20 Amendment should be critiqued, opposed and resisted. That is also why President Gotabaya Rajapaksa should be asked by all his critics that he also has a duty to exercise some degree of political sanity and prudence in his capacity as Sri Lanka’s ruler.

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Latest comments

  • 13
    8

    It is a universally accepted fact that the average elector is a dumb and a stupid individual. It is confirmed without any doubt that the legislators who they elect are confirmed murderers, rapists, swindlers, robbers, foot notaries, liars and possessors all of such traits without any deficiency. To entrust them with the phenomenal task of framing legislation for the general good of the people must be the biggest joke. Just abolish the Parliament altogether and elect a person as the King for a specified period. In comparison the damage he can cause the nation is finite and the harm done by 225 of them is exponential.

    • 2
      9

      This is funny.
      .
      “”Mother Lanka is captured by the messy and wobbly monster called Democracy.””
      – Tisaranee Gunasekara.
      .
      “”End To Sri Lanka’s Democracy: Shouldn’t It Be Resisted?””
      – Prof. Jayadeve Uyangoda.
      .
      Tisaranee wants to kill the monster which Jayadeve wants to protect.
      .
      And I have a question for you Mr. Jayadeve Uyangoda. And I know you are not going to answer.
      .
      When did Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa renounced his US citizenship…?

      • 6
        0

        S. C. Pasqual, Yours is even funnier!
        Knowing that Mr. Jayadeve Uyangoda is NOT going to answer, you ask him the question.

  • 8
    1

    There are many ways “MAFIA RULE” can be established. One, we have seen and the experienced world over is to capture power by a “COUPE” or a “Revolution”. That has become too old and primitive. Against this type of “RULE”, there immerged “Rule by Democracy”, which is by “Majority Conscious” through “Elected Representation” by “VOTE”. Now, this system has and is going through many “Evolutionary” processes. As of date, Sri Lanka “Democracy” is also going through that “evolution”. First, an “Elected President” with a “Majority Vote” of all the eligible voters in the country, making that “President” eligible to “Think” and “Act” as per the “Mandate”. Second, the “Parliament” -the Legislative Body. The elected President asks the “Same” voters to give him the “Majority Power” in that body and that same “Voter Bank” gives what is asked, in S/L case the “2/3rd Majority”. Now, the “Peoples” choice of President and “HIS” “Legislature” (voted as per the “asking”) start to Govern the Country. In that process of obtaining “Majority Power”, there were so many “Stake Holders”. such as “Religious Barons”, “Civil Society Maguls”, “Media Mafia”, “Intellectual Cohorts”, “Criminals of all sorts” (convicted and punished by Judiciary) who take “Front Seats” to “Dictate” the Policy and Practices to be “Religiously” carried out with the all-mighty power of “Majority Mandate”.

  • 11
    1

    We have got there somehow. We need to find a way to extricate ourselves.
    Have we not learned anything from the consequences of fielding a political zero merely to be rid of MR?
    When the “Good Governance” team made its first few mistakes it was clear that worse was to come. But wishful thinking dominated the supporters of GG.
    There is no sensible parliamentary option before us.
    Mass mobilization based on issues that concern the people, without eyeing electoral gains, is the route to take.
    I do not expect much to come out of the opposition. Some have hopes pinned on the JVP. But the JVP has to come clean on many matters before it can expect public trust.

    • 7
      0

      SJ: No more “JVP”. Now talk of “Jathika Jana Balavegaya” – (PPM). Did you hear the maiden speech of its representative Harini Amarasurya in Parliament? She has already REJECTED the “Car Permit” given to New Entrants to Parliament. Also, don’t forget AKD and Wijitha Herath contested and got elected on PPM nomination.

      • 7
        1

        Simon
        A rose by any name?
        Please tell me what has changed?
        *
        BTW, the JVP MPs when they were elected in large numbers declared that their MP’s allowances will go to the Party.
        It is a good gesture by Harini A. But what has the JJB to offer?

        • 6
          0

          SJ. “What has JJB to Offer”. Please study the “Manifesto” put out at both Presidential and Parliamentary elections. Also, compare that with other “Policy & Action Plans” of other parties. Most importantly, evaluate and assess the background, commitment, and the pledged dedication of the people who have “PLEDGED” to implement the “Action Plan”. One such, “Pledge” has already been implemented by JJB Harini, whereas “JVP” during the last regime took the “Vehicle Permits” and dedicated for “Party Work” rather than “SELLING” and making 30 to 40 million profit. JVP MPs allowances were “Credited” to Party and if you get a chance to peruse through their “Annual Statement of Accounts” filed (up to date) you can find that along with the “Public Work Projects” it has done.

        • 0
          0

          This is not the place to analyse any manifesto.
          *
          The JVP has a past that has offended people of various identities.
          Has the JJB offered an explanation for the offensive actions of the JVP?
          A new brand name or product label does not change the content.
          The JVP and/or JJB need to come clean on many issues to be trusted by enough people to be elected to power.
          *
          Kindly state what the serious shift in policy is from JVP to JJB and how is is explained/justified.
          Otherwise like TNA-FP one can play games.

  • 13
    0

    Prof. Jayadeve Uyangoda.

    Professor you are right, our parliamentarians are going to vote against their own interest and in this process will destroy parliamentary democracy itself.

    It will be a mass suicide.

    I do not have any faith in a single politician whether inside or outside parliament whether in the government rank or in the opposition.

    The civil society is the last resort.

    Only way out is for the civil society to mobilize the masses and engage in a continuous extra parliamentary struggles.

    Visionary leaders will emerge from this mass struggle and common programme could be formulated that will inspire and muster the entire population.

  • 3
    4

    Realistically only ISIS or LTTE can save SL now!

  • 5
    0

    Jayadeva Uyangoda is a thoughtful man. His announcement, ‘Assigning and securing to one ruling family the monopoly of political power in Sri Lanka’, is unlike him!
    ______________________
    Rajapaksas were a near non-entity until Chandrika made Mahinda the PM, out of expediency. She has said that it was a mistake!
    __________________________
    Rajapaksas are feeding the anti-minorities venom to SB’s to ‘create’ a ‘ruling family’ image.
    That image is not going to last long.

  • 5
    0

    I learn that HILER came into power by democratic means and became a dictator within a short period, thereby killing the human beings the world over, directly or indirectly with the power of the army. A similar situation cannot be ruled out in Srilanka, where the first casualty will be the Tamils, Muslims and the Sinhalese finally, in that order, to safeguard President’s dictatorial powers. Already he has recruited to the Parliament, murderers and lot of others who are facing court cases. Unlike Hilter, president is inundated with with his siblings and their children who may be of support to him now? However, with the passage of time those who may apparently support him, may turn out to be his enemies due to hunger for power. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Be Ware.

  • 9
    0

    Has anyone realized since elections, it is not even a month over and the questions being raised ???? Prof, it is the people who elected should have known these consequence before voting ???. (didnt GR clearly spell out that constitution is an impediment for his rule ???). Who do you think is going to resist after giving such mandate ??? Just say bye to Democrazy and welcome to virtuous and disciplined country.

  • 1
    5

    Firstly , both the U N P and S L F P didn’t kick start democracy smoothly . For them
    the functioning of Democracy had always been a gang war where , to some extent ,
    Dudley was not interested . S L F P was so broke that Banda’s loss could not be
    filled by anyone else if Sirimavo was not there ! Why was that ? That was India , that
    was Pakistan, that was Bangladesh and that was and still is , Srilanka ! Our societies
    are under the heavy influence of cultures that are driven by emotions . What we see
    in the results of recent elections is, new generation behaves the same way their peers
    did before and possibly the next generation , as history stands taller with enough
    proof ! Ranil lost , Sajith just escaped loss , J V P keeps losing ! Are these people not
    responsible for the massive 2/3 victory of the former S L F P ? Why did they lose , such
    a massive loss ? They talked to the public a language people don’t understand ! That
    means Ranil , Sajith and Anura don’t understand the politics the people are trained to
    understand ! For such people , democracy or dictatorship , nothing matters ! Rajapaksha
    understands their language and they understand Rajapaksha ! They have nothing to
    lose because they don’t believe they built anything ! Simple !

    • 1
      0

      You tell the truth and many won’t like it ! What they want is , be
      part of them with everything wrong and never seek the truth !
      Democracy upside down !

  • 5
    0

    A thin veneer camouflaging a hideous hypocritical national set up, was surely getting stripped during 2015 – 2019. The Great Dinner of 2018 was the curtain raiser for the strip-tease to be. What a tragic irony that the precursor to the event damaged the very venue, where a well scripted screen play was introduced.
    The fiasco of a coup in October ’18, was a grotesque miscarriage. Easter bombing was a minor Fire merely to give a foretaste of things to unfurl. Viewer confirmation in 2019 and reconfirmation in August 2020 are an endorsement by the Gallery that the film is true to script. To the Outer Dress Circle it is disquieting. To the percipient what is yet to be is unnerving. To the sharp witted, the film will run its course.
    Among the stars, the primus (first) will steal the show. The inter pares (among equals) ie the supporting four, stars of the same breed, will eat humble pie. So concludes the cynic a realist.
    .

  • 4
    0

    Professor Uyangoda is asking shouldn’t people resist Lankawe democracy ending. Let put the spelling somebody else used already. “Should we resist the Democrazy ending”. Then the answer is No. We should not resist its end. As Professor Uyangoda pointed out, it is not in Feb, 1948, but in 1931 the Lankawe Democrazy started. i.e. State council started the anti-minority rampages, by not including Tamils in the cabinet. After freedom, the first dominion Demcrazy government disenfranchised the Tamils. If the people in country cannot vote in the election, where is it called in world as democratic government? The 2nd Democrazy government barred the same people using their language. Another one gave lowest priority for people sitting for national exam in Tamil, First to English (Muslims), then Sinhala (Sinhala). The both, 1972 & 1978 constitution shut the door for Tamils in the constitution making process. Chitanta Government killed 150,000 Tamils and said zero casualties. (We did not include the deaths, estimated varying from 20,000 to 180,000, during JVP time because if JVP doesn’t want justice for that, it is nobody’s business.) So my point is when Lankawe had a democratic constitution and government. So if the current Democrazy government goes away, let it go. Who is losing and what? Why bother?

  • 1
    0

    The 20th Amendment in its original form, drafted by some anonymous Draftsman would most probably be passed in Parliament unless MPP OF THE RULING PARTY decide to vote with their conscience for Democracy,Rule of Law etc etc.

    If they vote for it, they would be living in the open prison of the Rajapakses.!
    If they vote against their place in History is assured.

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