29 September, 2020

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Four Parameters Of A Political Solution At This Time 

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

The country being on the verge of imminent division due to envisaged constitutional reform was one of the main justifications of the backdoor seizure of power of October 26 by members of the hitherto opposition who are now members of the government. The threat they alleged came from the constitutional reform process. This is a process that has been continuing since the former government got elected in 2015, though it is now at a standstill due the political crisis. The key elements of this constitutional reform process, which was envisaged to culminate in a new constitution, have been to change the executive presidential system, obtain a new electoral system to replace the current one which is based on proportional representation, and to ensure a more effective devolution of power as a solution to the grievances of the ethnic minorities in general and to the Tamil people in particular.

The attempt to utilize the ethnic conflict, which resulted in three decades of armed insurrection and civil war, to fan fear and hatred amongst the communities, is one of the most unfortunate and crude features of the present political debate. International Trade minister Bandula Gunawardena has exemplified this longstanding approach to national politics. He is reported to have appealed to President Maithripala Sirisena who is commander-in-chief of the armed forces to preserve national security as the country is under threat of being divided at the present time. Even though the war is over nearly ten years, and the LTTE no more exists as a military presence, he is reported to have justified Prime Minister Rajapaksa’s acceptance of the prime minister’s position under controversial circumstances as being to prevent the constitutional reform process going ahead and causing the country to disintegrate.

On the Sunday when the International Trade minister was making his extremely parochial speech in a place of religious worship, I was with students of the University of Ruhunu in the Southern Province. If the fifty students and two faculty members of the university were in any way representative of the Sri Lankan people, and its younger generation, then the present political crisis has led people to gain a keener appreciation of what is rational and internationally accepted. They were participants in a three day workshop on dealing with the country’s divided past and facing the future together. The workshop included issues of accountability and constitutional reform that could address the roots of the conflict. The fact that this discussion could take place in heartland of ancient Sinhalese nationalism speaks for the sanity and rationality of the younger generation despite the crude attempts made to generate fear and hatred of the other.

Appreciating President 

Since that fateful October 26, when President Maithripala Sirisena sacked Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and plunged the polity into crisis, Sri Lanka has not had a stable government. At the present time the Court of Appeal has suspended the functioning of the prime minister and his ministers and deputy ministers who have suffered two successive no-confidence motions against them in parliament and still did not wish to gracefully step down. Despite the absence of a fully fledged government, there has been a remarkable degree of stability and sobriety in society, so much so that people are beginning to say that it is better to have a government without all these ministers than to have them back as a burden to both the people and to the government treasury.

At least part of the credit for the stability that the country currently enjoys, and the spirit of freedom that continues to prevail in the form of a plethora of people’s protests and symbolic actions, needs to rest with President Sirisena who is commander-in-chief of the armed forces. He has ensured that the security forces and police act within the law as protectors of those who protest and not as oppressors who quell those who protest against their masters. The president’s negative points in terms of his lack of political judgment and the wavering stances he takes on many issue must not detract from the light touch with which two governments under him have so far dealt with those who oppose the government. Along with his erstwhile partner as Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, President Sirisena was also a force for good in supporting national reconciliation initiatives that have seen land being returned by the military to the people, the Tamil version of the national anthem being sung on Independence Day and the setting up of the Office of Missing Persons.

Some of the president’s actions seem to be based on the advice that his powers as president are virtually unlimited. Despite this incorrect and undemocratic advice, he has respected the role of the military and not deployed it for purposes of civilian control. Although the judiciary not too long ago curtailed his ambition to be president for an additional year, he accepted that verdict and now in the face of the judiciary denying him the power to dissolve parliament short of four and a half years, he has said that he will respect its decisions even though he may not agree with them. He has been part of government initiatives over the past three years that have visibly strengthened the role of independent institutions, including the judiciary. On the whole therefore President Sirisena’s contribution to transforming the country in the past three years needs to be appreciated.

Another Term 

President Sirisena has another year to go before his term ends. As president he continues to wield tremendous power, not least because he is commander-in-chief of the armed forces and minister in charge of both the military and police. He is continuing to refuse to re-appoint as Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe even though the majority of parliamentarians have said that is what they want, and are going to show that majority again when parliament meets next. It appears that the president is being driven into a corner by those who support him and by those who oppose him. There is even speculation that in these circumstances the president may be impeached. If such a situation is to arise the president’s reaction with the powers at his disposal is unpredictable as has been many of his other decisions.

It is believed most widely that President Sirisena is deeply concerned about his future once his term of office as president ends in December next year. There are many who could wish to take him to task. In this context, the parameters of a possible solution that will support the principles of freedom, human rights and inter-ethnic reconciliation become clearer. The draft constitution that the International Trade minister claimed will divide the country, envisages a reformed presidency in which presidential powers are reduced and the president will be elected by parliament as in India and not by the people. Such a position could be an accommodation to President Sirisena who is unlikely to be elected again by the national electorate as a result of his unstable political behavior over the past month, which has earned him public disapproval on all sides of the political and ethnic divides.

The other elements of the political solution, formulated on win-win considerations, would be as follows. Second, for the president to reinstate Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe as demanded by the parliamentary majority. Third, for the president to join with Prime Minister Wickremesinghe to amend the constitution to enable the strengthening of devolution of power which is a demand of the ethnic minorities, in particular the Tamil community. Fourth, to dissolve parliament at the request of parliament itself and hold fresh general elections as demanded by the former president. Such a political solution could satisfy the main interests of the three main parties to the present conflict, while keeping in mind that the problems of the ethnic minorities need to be more fully addressed without delay after the elections.

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Latest comments

  • 8
    0

    When power is vested in one man..
    He can manipulate it as he likes ..
    This is a classic example for that .
    JVP is only party stand for principle ..
    All others milk the System…
    Make money ..loot public fund ..
    Now it is clear

    • 0
      0

      Appreciate JVP, now fights for democratic, after 2 unsuccesful revolutions in 1971 & 1989 who trusted bullets than Ballots.

  • 6
    1

    Will the opportunist Sinhalese politicians listen to good advice? I doubt it.

  • 8
    1

    Jehan,
    This article is in my view the best analysis you have written that I have read. It is simple enough for everyone to understand. Please publish this in Sinhala and Tamil languages with accurate translation.

    If the parliament does not approve the new draft constitution with 2/3rd majority the Ranil government should propose dissolution of the Parliament and get the opposition to support to get 2./3rd majority and go for elections with the new draft of the constitution as one of its policies. It is then left for the people to decide whether they want a United Sri Lanka or a divided Sri Lanka with perpetual discord and conflict.

  • 6
    0

    Thanks for your valuable article. I also appreciated your thoughts being passed INDIAN channels lately. You have been analysing it considering the big picture being based on checks and balances.
    Quote
    Some of the president’s actions seem to be based on the advice that his powers as president are virtually unlimited.
    Unquote
    He knew that towards the begining of the MS-RW govt, but with the time his knowledge on the facts are seen to have been faded away. Why ?
    Like for example, he now says, RW abused also his powers as the PM of the country, but he did not say a single word against. There the hint is there that President Sirisena ‘s knowledge on the 19th Amendament to the constitution is beyond questionable. He pretends to have studied all of the paras but he has not comprehended them to the manner he can share the others, he knows the constitutional changes got passed in 2015.
    Quote
    Despite this incorrect and undemocratic advice, he has respected the role of the military and not deployed it for purposes of civilian control.
    Unquote
    I believe, had he deployed the forces or police accordingly the life went lost, Arjunas office related clashes, he could save the victim’s life. Who can give the young man a life again ? This is not to be underestimated the way President is made to do today.
    Quote
    Although the judiciary not too long ago curtailed his ambition to be president for an additional year, he accepted that verdict and now in the face of the judiciary denying him the power to dissolve parliament short of four and a half years, he has said that he will respect its decisions even though he may not agree with them.

  • 1
    2

    A crisis situation is ideal for resolving pestering problems because once an equilibrium is disturbed it take quite a long period to stabilize.

    The four parameters of a political solution looks attractive on paper and tempting at first glance but looks non realistic when looked at closely.

    Firstly what is in it for Maithiripala Srisena.

    Will he continue to be at least a nominal President for the second term?

    If there is hardly any attractive incentive for the president to act based n the four parameters, why should he even consider?

    The Tamil question is with us for a very very long time, destabilizing the country and an early realistic solution is welcome, that will be a catalyst for nation building, but enhanced devolution may keep Rajapakse away, because it may be his trump for the next election and unless TNA preempt and neutralize his trump by supporting him by joining him in good faith.

    Such a dramatic move by TNA may be unthinkable but may open many closed doors.
    .
    Nevertheless out of the box solution may be a way out and we need a win-win package to have something in it all concerned is crucial and the civil society could play a crucial role..

  • 1
    0

    Hot news
    Petition Seeking Writ Of Mandamus Directing An Inquiry Into Maithripala Sirisena’s Mental Health
    https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/petition-seeking-writ-of-mandamus-directing-an-inquiry-into-maithripala-sirisenas-mental-health/

  • 5
    0

    Jehan, you seem to be saying good things about Sirisena, are you nuts?

  • 3
    0

    I feel sorry for Sri Lankans. Sri Lanka has had a good tradition of electing and selecting higher officers from politics into civil service examinations. Like India we have had one of best administrative, political and civil service systems. For instance, we have had a habit of electing some best brains into parliament… You name it from SWB…to Chandirika… then quality went down. MR did a lot of damage to Sri Lankan politics. Rather than following a tradition of selecting best brains in civil service, executive posts such as University CVs and other Directors.. He selected his own people without some qualifications. Air Lanka was destroyed by him.. likewise, you can name hundreds of incidents.. for fear of life threats No one spoke about it… We have good experts, academics, intellectuals, monks and some of creams in Sri Lanka.. All are marginalised by Mahinda and co..
    Civil service examinations are tough in Sri Lanka,,, SLOS, SLES, SLAS and many more..
    We have a tradition of selecting the creams of society to all high posts.. What happened now is other around.. All unqualified people are appointed and go and see Sri Lankan universities now. many fake Phd are around there.. many unqualified lecturers are appointed from back door politics.
    Coming back to this issue of president..
    where have been all advisers to president?
    are they not qualified to advise them? Are the fake advise without any knowledge, experience and skills,
    how many people work in presidential office?
    what do they do?
    they are paid by public?
    why they did alert this issue?
    so many question to ask.
    Look British PMs or US presidents
    They all have some of creams of academics and experts to advise them..
    JR, Sri ma, Premadasa all had good experts around them to advise in the interest of the country?
    Now all those qualities are gone.
    Politicians have done a greater damage to Sri Lanka.

  • 4
    0

    Your contention that members hitherto in the opposition are now in the government?
    How did you come to the conclusion? Srilanka has neither a Government nor an opposition. Srilankans are in in the sea about to drown holding on to the last straw.- supreme court. Insecurity was created by the President by sacking Ranil and appointing Mahinda as the prime minister. Not that Ranil needs to hold the ‘LALLA’
    but he should have been sacked in accordance with the law. May be it would have been easier sacking him immediately after the alleged BOND SCAM. Srisena failed
    because he was a partner it is said. Or at least turned a blind eye to the activities of Ranil as much as he was a partner in the Mahinda Government until he had the ‘last supper of hoppers’. Once again SRISENA has stretched his hands of friendship to Mahinda to cover up the sins of both.
    Your statement that he has helped the national reconciliation by returning the lands held by the army and sing the song – National Anthem in Tamil is a farce.
    National anthem has to be sung from the bottom of the heart not by mere lip movements. After releasing the lands they start colonizing the Tamil areas with Sinhalese A good ‘give and take policy’ indeed.. Ethnic problem was rather relatively ‘mild’ 70 years ago but additional problems were heaped on the Tamils slowly but steadily over the years. There after you sort out matters of not much importance and claim that you have done great things. This reminds me, when strikes are launched by trade unions demanding higher wages etc, the employees sack the President and other prominent officials of the trade unions, thus deviating them from the basic demands. They are forced to concentrate on the reinstatement of the union officials. After some time the employers reinstate the officials and claim that they have granted part of the demands and the basic demand is forgotten for another day.

  • 6
    1

    We don’t know in what world Jehan is living.
    There is no solution to Sri Lanka’s political crisis without removing both Maithri and Mahinda from the scene. They must be stripped of their civic rights and jailed for treason for staging a coup, and for corruption. In Mahinda’s case, as we know, there are several more heinous crimes involving Gota as well. Thus Gota too should be debarred from running for political office. Now as for Ranil, he should be reinstated as PM to help restore normalcy and stability in the country. But he should relinquish leadership of UNP before the next parliamentary elections to pave the way for the younger generation. If the party nominates him for the next presidential election – good, otherwise he should retire from politics.

  • 0
    2

    Jehan Perera: Jayadevauyangoda says we need an armed struggle. Many MPs say there needs of a blood shed. I heard Ranil syas or had said that at least if a peace keeping comes here, I cam become the PM again. IF not my chances are over it seems (GOd Natha)

  • 2
    3

    Jehan, how can your proposed win-win be that when what you propose is exactly the same as what it was before Oct 26th, and funnily enough in that win-win you don’t mention the ethnic majority of the island, how can it be a win-win when the whole purpose of your suggestion is to please one ethnic minority? Why should the ethnic majority of the island agree to a solution which would break the country to pieces? Don’t you see the whole gamut of MS’s seemingly chaotic actions were to prevent the 20th amendment or a whole new constitution being pushed down the throat of the people in the middle of the night like the 19th was done? A win-win would be to go to an election as soon as possible and if the UNP is against that go to an election under a caretaker government.

  • 4
    0

    If we go through the history after independence, none of the political leaders (DS to Sirisena) showed a charismatic true respected leadership to stand as a national Hero. They all had opportunities to resolve the national crisis which is the Tamil Question, SWRD, Dudley had the opportunity to implement Banda-Chelva pact, Dudley-Chelva pact but they failed and no one consider them as Heros. Similarly JRJ had the opportunity to implement Indo-Lanka accord but he failed. Chandrika had the opportnity but she failed. Mahinda had the opportunity but he failed. What does this say? Sinhala politics do not like to find a solution because they need a problem to cover up their actions of misuse of power and to cheat the majority. It is not a crisis, this is the norm of Sinhala politics.Is there any Sinhalese political leader who will go into the people and I will resolve both Tamil problem and economic problem together?

  • 3
    0

    THE SO CALLED ETHNIC PROBLEM IN SRILANAKN POLITICS IS LIKE A TELE DRAMA CALLED ‘APPE SINGLA RAATA’ .Drama is running from 1948.we had so many actors such as DS,SWARD,SRIMAVO,JR,PREMADASA,CHANDIRIKA,VILLIAN MAHINDA,AND COMDIAN MY3.they always keep the SINGALA MODAYAS HAPPY with lot of communal anti TAMIL,MUSLIM,episods .AT THE END THE COUNTRY HAS GONE TO THE DOGS.TAMILS ARE BEGGING FOR REASONABLE JUSTICE WHICH IS PENDING FOR LAST 70 YEARS.

  • 2
    0

    Dr. Jehan Perera

    Reinstating Ranil W will certify the President as insane even among his supporters.

    There are some good things to be said, but it is too soon to mess with the constitution under such instability.

    There is such a thing as a right time.

    Look at Malaysia, a parliamentary system that arrests the former PM, Mr. Najib.

    The only hurry is to win votes.

  • 2
    2

    Jehan,
    “…while keeping in mind that the problems of the ethnic minorities need to be more fully addressed without delay after the elections.”
    Of course, you have to emphasize this because you get paid to do this job. Ethnic minorities (Hindu and Muslim Demalu) are scattered all over the country. Hindu Demalu live in five pockets; Yapanaya, Tirikunamale, Madakalapuwa, Uda Rata and Colomba. Muslim Demalu are everywhere. Can you please tell us the problems common to all these people that can be solved by devolving power? Simply because ‘Koti Diaspora’ and White Supremacists want Sinhalayo who shed their lives and blood to save this country from invaders are not prepared to break this country.
    ———————–
    By the way who is paying to organize these workshops?

  • 0
    0

    Thank you Jehan for the simple but robust advice. Unfortunately the horses, traders and the SLR500 millions bidders are so desperate they will pretend not to understand.

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