17 October, 2017

From Stillness To Motion And High Speed

By S. Sivathasan

S. Sivathasan

S. Sivathasan

Rallying Cry

For a polity that yearned for change in the better part of two incumbencies, the coming together of multiple formations is strikingly inspiring. The single resolve welding them together is Regime Change. It is seen as the most powerful rallying cry to fuse the discordance into purpose. Executive Presidency should be terminated is the slogan. It is not the goal nor the ideal. Nor are illusions nourished that it can dazzle the multitude or win their allegiance. The institution is under attack for the riddance of the occupier. Civilized political behavior, the world may compliment.

Nine into One

Is the above understanding a splash of the unreal? No. More down to earth many would say. If the latter be true how will the future unfold? The immediate present saw politics transiting from static to kinetic. After much reflection it happened on 24th July. What next? One can speculate. Tendencies that were disparate are now coalescing and on the verge of getting crystallized. To lend further weight, accretion of two more entities – Indian Tamil and Muslim – needs promotion. In no time the current Force of Seven needs to be seen as Force of Nine. Concurrently people would like Nine fuse into One. Like Lord Muruga displaying six faces, this single political persona will then embody nine segments. Whatever the number, what should be visible is a face of defiance. Swift progress at fusion will signify the decisive caliber of an emergent leadership.

Leading personages abandoning trivia and talking alike though differently nuanced and with varying emphasis will be a sign of serious intention. This will begin shortly it is supposed. More weighty than the spoken word is the written one. When elections are due receptivity is high. This is time to engage the voters’ mind to dwell on what is more pertinent to them and the country. The developed countries excel in doing them through the most potent mode, the Manifesto. The emergent leadership should exploit this

Strategy with a gripping manifesto.

Manifesto for Change

Stagnating economies miscalling themselves developing countries yield to inertia and fail to present a well-documented, credible course of action. In the result there is neither economic nor social advancement. In this act of default Sri Lanka stands foremost. For easy understanding the focus may be sharply narrowed. Since independence what has been the cumulative expenditure on irrigation and agriculture? In just 3 areas of paddy, sugar and milk what is the performance? In continuous self-sufficiency mode with perpetual imports have been the boast and the reality.

This is a field for aspirants to state power and for governance to go to the masses, through the medium of a Manifesto. Educating our political masters is serious patriotic business which needs to be initiated immediately and then pursued for long. When this remains undone, bashing the Tamils, pulverizing Muslims and hunting for hate symbols become the easier paths. Cutting down on Education and Health is discovered as the most facile way to boost Defence power through wasteful expenditure. To make the economic woes more burdensome, ever escalating welfare expenditure is added. For far too long has the country lost its way in this maelstrom.

Growth

Countries that take growth and development seriously, pay very high priority to education. One such is Ireland which has devoted most of its energy to education. Quite sensibly education receives the weightiest support even a quarter century after reaching an enviable position. Our situation is different where satisfying physiological needs is yet paramount. Where does Sri Lanka stand today? In the quagmire of stagnation. About spurring growth a comprehensive account need not be given here. Attention being drawn to a body of factors enhancing investment climate would suffice.

UNCTAD has codified the essentials well. The rule of law is deemed supreme by any investor. Independence of the judiciary scores very high. Trained work force and trainability are important. Knowledge of English, much above literacy is needed. Transparency is rated high. Those in authority knowing that there are countries other than Sri Lanka with  good investment climate is of advantage. Self-praise and gloat apart, how does an outsider rate SL? The report card on Failed States Index 2014 groups Sri Lanka in Alert category, ranking her below 148 countries. Conversely as 30th most fragile among 178 countries.  Can investors’ perceptions be positive? Will judgment change if highways are paved in gold or Mattala is built of platinum? Regime change can set the pace moving.

Digestible Menu

Patriotic political elements clawing their way towards authority have to create disaffection, mobilise antipathy and consolidate it in a single hand. Will it begin at Uva PC election? The unaffordable price of milk, presented in a manner to catch the common eye will damn governance from 2006 – 2014. Exchange spent on milk and sugar imports will highlight the fruitlessness of foreign employment. Instead of listless chirping about cost of living, when the price of coconut is presented as mismanagement of the plantation economy and a disregard for people’s wellbeing, it induces thoughts about change. To a similar purpose the escalating price of bread. There is no need to recount many here. Recent stages of people’s decline require highlighting and emphasis.

In the 20th century, particularly in Europe the Communists and later the Fascists made the street the theatre for moving politically. To grip attention and then capture their allegiance, they found meaning in well-crafted posters appearing in white and red, eye catching banners and stirring slogans. In Germany the Fascists showed their mission and verve and the people entrusted the machinery of state to them. In Sri Lanka the writer is able to see that Mein Kampf has been read and reread. If the discernment be correct, the worst is yet to unfold. Avoiding the worst is a huge responsibility before the emergent leadership and it needs to brace up to it losing no time whatsoever. To present an alternative of unity and strength, to test the waters and for correctives, NWP and other Provinces offered opportunities. All were let slip and almost an year was lost. Now UVA cannot be missed to present a full-fledged alternative Front.

Outsmarting

The elections of March 1960 demolished all illusions of the Left capturing electoral victory or state power. The sweeping victory of Srimavo in July 1960 destroyed hopes of power sharing as well. With a no nonsense Prime Minister, strikes too became difficult. The splintered left of 3 formations came together in August 1963 and formed the ULF (United Left Front). With 3 portfolios Srimavo finished off the Left.

The above account is to drive home the point that Sri Lankan politicians, smart in themselves, set out to   outsmart the adversary and are in turn outsmarted by the other when the latter is armed with power. As remarkable is the knack of both to get the scent of danger even when there is only a whiff of it. This scene is getting enacted before our eyes now.

On July 24th the Force of Seven came together at Colombo Town Hall with Rev. Sobitha Thero in the chair. Two days later it was reported that Shirani Bandaranayake, former Chief Justice was selected as the consensus candidate to run for Presidency. On July 30th a news item said that the President had appointed a former Chief Justice to draft a Constitution Amendment Bill to abolish the Executive Presidency. Indeed a smart scenting of danger from a reading of the writing on the wall. It’s an effort at taking the wind off the sails ahead of a gathering storm and to thwart the enemy. Perhaps there is some misreading. To the writer the target of the Force of Seven is the occupier of the chair and not the chair.

There appears to be some more outsmarting attempt by the President in the choice of the draftsman. He seems to tell the country that while the opposition has selected an impeached Chief Justice, he has chosen an unimpeachable Chief Justice.

High Speed

The leadership has also the compulsion of break-neck speed. Force of Seven to become Force of Nine in no time. Nine into One immediately thereafter. Single candidate for Presidency, Consensual nominee as Prime Minister, name for the party together with acronym and flag are the remaining essentials. Then it is poised to set about its patriotic mission and to issue its clarion call rephrasing the stirring words of the Communist Manifesto.

“The People’s Leadership disdains to conceal its views and aims. It openly declares that its ends can be attained only by the decisive overthrow of family rule. Let the incumbent regime tremble before the people’s upsurge”.

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Latest comments

  • 2
    0

    Mr. Sivathasan,

    Eliminating the Executive Presidency after the next presidential elections cannot be the slogan to remove MR and his government from power. MR can accomplish this objective in toto or partially by curtailing some of its features through a cunning stage play on paper, using the two third majority he already enjoys! He has the grand opportunity and the power to play a clever cat and mouse game, within days if he wants to. The opposition will be left high and dry, if this likely scenario unfolds. Nothing is beyond MR and his coterie.

    This President’s, his government’s and their combined mis-governance MUST be made the ISSUE. This will resonate with the people, who are cursing the government with every breath. MR cannot explain away or white wash this reality, if the opposition mounts an effective campaign to highlight what has become the burden of each strata of society. Every strata has specific and shared concerns of a grave nature. These should be identified and highlighted. If done right and the existing public opinion galvanised and mobilised into an anti-incumbent vote, this rotten government can be toppled.

    The fact that what is wrong is not with the executive presidency, but its bad design within a bad constitution, should be recognised. MR has added to the woes of a bad constitution through his own manipulations. We need an Executive Presidency, within a well balanced and designed new constitution, with strong checks ,balances and independent institutions. The fact that when mice, rats and mongooses are elected and appointed to high office, no constitution, however well designed will serve its purpose should be understood. The latter has been the foundational problem in Sri Lanka.

    It is time we diagnose the multiple causes of the disease and treat them right, rather than facetiously dealing with the superficial symptoms with the wrong medicines as the current group of seven you have identified is attempting to do.

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

    • 2
      1

      .
      Just imagine if Gota becomes the President, with all these execution powers?
      If that happens….. VP will be laughing more from his grave.

      :-)

    • 0
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      Dr.NR,

      The core of my article and the burden of your para 2 are same. I have also emphasised organising and leading by a monolithic Group of 9, fused into one.

    • 1
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      Dr.Narendran

      Who is going to bring those changes in Sri Lanka. Haven’t you noticed about the Opposition leader who has not spoken a word against Mahinda Rajapaksa for a long time. Sampanthan and Sumanthiran do not speak a word nowadays about the sufferings of the Tamils and the army occupation of the Tamil areas. Do you agree that the Tamils in Sri Lanka will become a forgotten race. The Tamils are not concerned about the presidency style of governance or otherwise. But the TNA leader and his assistant are very conscious about it and that is why they attended the meeting held in Colombo to get rid of the Presidency but they completely forgot about the sufferings of the Tamils in the North. Their lands grabbed and not resettled. There is no happiness or smile on the face of those Tamils in the North. They are mentally retarded and suffer from many illnesses. I wonder as to what is going to become of them, the Tamils in Sri Lanka.

    • 0
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      Dr Rajasingham Narendran
      I am a great fan of your script but on this occasion I have to differ with your position. The problem IS with the Executive Presidency which confers extraordinary powers on a single individual who is constitutionally above the law. This means that there can be no effective checks and balances against this institution, were the incumbent to go rogue, as his current majesty has done. You also say >>The fact that when mice, rats and mongooses are elected and appointed to high office, no constitution, however well designed will serve its purpose should be understood<< which kind of contradicts your stated position, because it is the constitution that defines those checks and balances.

      The sad reality is that in developing countries such as ours, democracy is self-defeating, because votes can be bought easily for pork, and elected reps shamelessly cross over for pork of considerably greater value.

      I haven't read any written declaration of the Force of 7 as Mr Sivathasan calls it (and I'd greatly appreciate a manifesto being put out shortly), but I think it is worth placing our support behind the cause…. having someone like Shirani B to be the "Presidential candidate for a reason and a season" sounds good as (aside from her shameful role in signing off on the 18th Amendment – which she will do well to distance herself from), she will have the credibility and hopefully gravitas to carry her point across, not to mention that she belongs to the only ethno-religious category that seems to matter in our dear land. As part of the platform, of course (to your point) the clarion call should be to highlight the moral turpitude, nepotism and corruption that has become so darned commonplace today as being the main consequence of the EP system that has allowed this shameful situation to eventuate. They should also use the MR manipulative responses to push his own design of the 'no EP' manifesto as evidence that even he has realised the truth of the common position of this Force of 7.

      I can well imagine the impact on the electorate of heavyweights such as AKD, CBK, KJ even RW supplemented nicely by cameo performances from senior SLFP-ers who will undoubtedly have effective evidence of the misdeeds of the regime by virtue of their proximity, although they will all have to eat a bit of humble pie in hanging their collective heads at playing bad poilitcs on the electorate for the six decades since independence.

      The greatest positive that might come about from this is hopefully a more nationalistic view in managing the fortunes of our country, where incumbents in office act as stewards rather than lords who believe they have some special gift to rule for life, when life is good to them.

      I'm sure I'm dreaming though!

      • 1
        0

        Ben,

        “The problem IS with the Executive Presidency which confers extraordinary powers on a single individual who is constitutionally above the law” –

        In MR’s case powers is not only in the hands the president, it is also extended to his EXTENDED family and cronies.

  • 0
    0

    Dr. Narendran,

    Could you tell me the reason(s) why you think the Executive Presidency option is needed for Sri Lanka ? We’ve seen the drawbacks of it….Thank you

  • 1
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    Shirani Bandaranayake approved the 18th amendment, a far reaching modification of the constitution, within 24 hours.
    She also showed her loyalty to the First Family, by attending the celebration of the oath-taking of Namal Rajapakse, wearing her robes of office.
    This had never happened previously.
    She was impeached due to her non-approval of the Divineguma Bill without assent by all Provincial Councils.
    How did she now become the Consensus Candidate?

  • 0
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    MR is prepared to face anything to keep a hold on the Presidency must
    not be forgotten. IF MUGABE, with the worlds highest cost of living can
    win with 90% of the votes, why does not this writer think that this Family
    will loose any election? Can our Voters do any better with the Army (Gota)
    camped in all Districts and the DV Bill enforced all-island by Basil.
    Forget the Police (Anura) and the EC – these are to ensure the win.

    The answer is to educate the Voters dignity and democratic rights.

  • 2
    0

    The single issue is the Regime Change.

    Executive Presidency should be terminated is the slogan.

    It is neither the goal nor the ideal.

    Yes, it could be only a strategy!

    The Westminster system and the Presidential system may be at the two extremes of a continuum.

    A number of permutation and combinations may be possible.

    There are democratic countries in the world where both systems are successful and the countries prosper irrespective of the system.

    Which is better is debatable. There may be inherent weakness in both systems.

    However, bribery, corruption, nepotism, absence of rule of law and bad governance are widespread in almost all the countries of the third world irrespective of the system of governance.

    Is there a constitutional way out for the countries of the third world?

    We had amble experience with both Westminster as well as Presidential system as practiced in Sri Lanka.

    Both were defective, may be to different extent.

    The 1978 Constitution was framed hastily only to meet the needs of a political party.

    The best practices in existence in other countries were not taken into consideration.

    If the 1978 Constitution was a tragedy, it was made worse with the amendments.

    The 1978 Constitution never had a bipartisan support.

    Now come o the present time!

    The contradictions in the Executive presidential system in Sri Lanka may not have matured to a point where the fall is eminent and the abolition is an inevitable consequence.

    The intervention of Force of 7 or 9 may be premature. Every one of the 7 may have their own agenda. How to find common ground?

    There must be a common Programme with a road map, not only to fight the next Presidential Election, but to go still further,up to the next Parliamentary election and till the common objectives are achieved.

    It must a victory for all!

    • 1
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      Sri

      Pros and cons arranged with clarity.
      Presidential and Westminster, both have their merits. Which is better is certainly debatable. As a nation Sri Lanka has trashed every constitution from 1931. The next few too may meet with the same fate. It is not the words on paper but the inner spirit of the government, the opposition and the people that matters.

      Force 7 or 9 in existence already signify proliferation. Personal ambitions have to be destroyed and national agenda alone should prevail.

      Having it in half a century may not be too idealistic.

  • 0
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    Abolishing the executive presidency won’t happen immediately. Even if someone is elected with that promise, he/she is unlikely to do so once tasting power. Not even Sobitha Thero can be trusted to do so.

    What is possible is to roll back the 18th amendment under a new president, and then, he/she will be willing to abolish it when that president reaches the end of his/her second term,

    Although I fundamentally disagree with Dayan Jayatilleka on many issues, sometimes he is telling the truth. That there is no real clamor among the rural Sinhalese masses for abolition of executive presidency is probably true. And if you condense what he says often about realism, it is: “yes we Sinhalese are in fact proud racists, and we just gave you a sound beating; so you Tamils have to accept that reality and be prepared to be satisfied with any crumbs we throw.”

  • 0
    0

    I shall write on the reasons why I think the Executive Presidency should not be abolished, but redefined within a new/ revised constitution shortly, in an independent blog.

    Prof. Kumar David’s recent blog reviewing the meeting convened by Ven. Sobitha Thera provides clues to the inherent dangers in the proposed single issue political stance. The saffronisation of politics at the highest level, the failure to address the ‘Elephant’ in the room ( the so-called national question) and ignoring the other critical problems in the present constitution ( as pointed out by Dr.Udugama), cannot be ignored as lesser issues in our rush to topple the MR government. As I have pointed out several times before, expediency and opportunism should not once again dictate constitutional reform once again.

    Dr.RN

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