22 February, 2020

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Imbroglio Not Political Or Constitutional But Systemic

By Rajeewa Jayaweera

Rajeewa Jayaweera

News 1st, on November 05, in their program Face the Nation, aired a live debate titled ‘Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister & Constitution’ lasting nearly two hours. The four panelists expressed some divergent views.

The panelists were Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, Executive Director of Center for Policy Alternatives, Ms. Tamara Kunanayakam, former Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations European Office, Mr. Jehan Perera, Executive Director of National Peace Council and Mr. Maithri Gunaratne, General Secretary of the United National Freedom Front and Attorney-at-Law.

The moderator Shamer Rasooldeen opened the debate stating, “Good Governance never depends on laws but qualities of those who govern.” He added, “the most important element of governance is the method of choosing your leaders.”

Saravanamuttu, in his opening remarks, stated, “what we see is a systemic crisis in that, the inability to get a framework of governance that is robust and resilient enough to see us through to chart our course.” He cautioned of the dangers of not resolving the issue in a civilized fashion leading to its spillage into the streets resulting in a dysfunctional system. He spoke of the need to recoup losses and come up with a system by which, the value of constitutionalism and parliamentary democracy is realized through debate and discussion not only by letter but also in practice. He opined, “selecting the Prime Minister was not the matter for a single person but Parliament, and it has to be the person who commands a majority in the House. He insisted, “if you go and sack the Prime Minister and appoint someone else in his place, surely the first order of things is a vote of confidence in that person by parliament.” Saravanamuttu concluded, “the delay permits the new PM to garner more favorable votes while weakening the former Prime Minister.”

Expressing views on the continued recognition of former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe (RW) by the international community, Kunanayakam highlighted the absence of two vital factors in the entire debate, i.e. the People and the Nation, besides the external interventions in an internal political matter. She opined, despite much talk of an ‘anti-democratic coup, unconstitutional act,’ etc. RW had determined the discourse. By locking himself up inside Temple Trees, meeting foreign envoys and not going to the people, he had succeeded in taking the matter out of the hands of the people and placing it in the hands of the international community. She highlighted two options available to RW namely the legal option contained in Article 125 in the Constitution of the Republic and the Political option of taking the issue to the people by calling for a general election and asking the people what they wanted. Both options have been ignored, and the focus was on the date of reconvening parliament which was not raised in 2015 when RW was appointed Prime Minister with only 46 UNP Parliamentarians. She further stated LG elections result was an expression by the people of their dissatisfaction on several major issues such as Central Bank bond scam which first took place two months after RW’s appointment involving enormous losses of the savings of ordinary poor people and the intrusive UNHRC Resolution on an internal matter. Kunanayakam expressed the need to look at the current crisis not in isolation but as a systemic crisis.  

Perera representing a civil rights movement opined, what had happened was unhealthy for the country as a significant change had taken place without the people’s knowledge. The violation of the democratic process when it unfolded caught all by surprise, and it happened outside the public domain. He considered the replacement of RW with MR rather than the prorogation of parliament as the greater of the two evils. He opined the issue was being discussed in offices, homes, and trains but not in the right political assembly, the Parliament as it should, and answers found. He also disagreed with President Sirisena’s claim of being pushed against the wall and reminded of options available to the Head of State to overcome such challenges. Perera emphatically stated RW as of now commanded a majority in the parliament, and he recognized him as the Prime Minister.

Expressing his satisfaction over the removal of former Prime Minister, Gunaratne stated, while the process of removal had some ethical issues, constitutional provision was available for the replacement. He opined, 19A did contain provisions for a national government, in the event of a single party being unable to command a majority of the votes. In the case of a single party having 113 members, a PM and cabinet of 30 ministers are appointed, and such a PM cannot be removed. However, a national government had been formed whereby parliament decided on the number of ministers. After three and half years in office, UPFA, one of the constituent parties of the national government (other being UNFF) decided to withdraw resulting in the dissolution of the cabinet of ministers but not the government. He further stated, he hoped MR had learned a lesson from his defeat in January 2015 and would not repeat old mistakes. Gunaratne concluded saying, due to difficulties of working with RW, President Sirisena had little choice but to offer the premiership to MR after both Karu Jayasuriya and Sajith Premadasa had declined earlier offers.  

To say the least, 19A was a poorly thought out piece of legislation designed hastily to satisfy ill-defined objectives. Whereas it may have worked in a situation where the President and Prime Minister are from the same political party and work as a team, it had no solutions to situations when they fell out and were unable to work together. It leads to situations as we are faced today.

In our fickle society, many who remained silent on January 9, 2015, are today screaming at the top of their voices calling for an immediate vote of confidence to prove the new Prime Minister’s majority support in Parliament despite there being little difference in what happened on the two occasions. 

Saravanamuttu’s identification of the impasse as a systemic crisis, also endorsed by Kunanayakam perhaps best explains the current situation and the vagaries of Sri Lankan politics.  

A few examples would suffice to highlight systemic failures that continue to be ignored by our self-serving politicians who are aided by thousands of servile and self-serving supporters.

As per Article 3 of the Constitution, sovereignty is in the people and is inalienable. The manner to exercise and enjoy these powers (of government, fundamental rights and franchise) is defined in Article 4, 4a (Parliament) and 4b (Executive). Accordingly, Legislators and the Executive (President) are but temporary custodians of people’s sovereignty. 

Since independence, elected temporary custodians have abused people’s sovereignty except during run-up to elections. Unlike in western democracies, our politicians, both in government and opposition mostly ignore public opinion.  

Politicians from both sides of the political divide giving no heed to public opinion or mood and carrying on regardless is indeed a systemic problem. Some issues eventually manifest into problems of Himalayan proportion as currently seen.   

Both the current constitution and the much-hyped draft constitution proposals, a project headed by RW have some glaring omissions. If addressed, it could result in resolving some of the country’s systemic problems of governance.  

Introduction of constitutionally mandated election dates for all elections would eliminate electoral gerrymandering in practices for decades. 

Political crossovers lead to much instability and leave room for corrupt practices, but no interest is shown to prohibit the practice and to make any MP wishing to crossover having to return to his/her voters for a fresh mandate. 

Governments cannot go to the people for every significant decision. Therefore, the most suitable system is to allow people to exercise their franchise and express their will more often than once in five or six years to elect the temporary custodians of their sovereignty by holding elections for 50% of MPs during mid-term similar to the American electoral system for Congress (both Houses). It will also act as a mid-term test for the government in place. Besides, it will encourage the government in place to produce results within a shorter period. The citizenry will be the beneficiaries.  

Sri Lanka’s politicians are too corrupt and not sufficiently mature for people’s sovereignty to be entrusted for five years and left alone. Even those not corrupt get corrupted in next to no time. Therefore, people require an opportunity to recall their vote given to respective MPs by way of a petition signed by a set percentage of registered voters in the constituency, a practice found in some countries. Besides, term limits not only for Presidents but Parliamentarians and Provincial Councilors as well would prevent politics from becoming a lifetime occupation.

The need is felt for constitutional provision for a citizen-driven referendum initiative on any issue by submission of a petition signed by at least 33% of registered national voters and a Yes vote of 50% + 1 for implementation. In a country as ours with legislators available for sale, it is a necessary mechanism to address issues arising from a parliament disconnected with its masters, the People. 

The primary purpose of a National List was to enable the entry into politics of professionals of the likes of Lakshman Kadirgamar. It now only serves as a backdoor entrance for candidates rejected by voters and is best abolished.  

Constitutionalism can flourish only when the Constitution safeguards and protects the sovereignty of the people and not interests of temporary custodians.  

Regardless of the outcome on November 14, weak governance is guaranteed due to the lack of a comfortable majority in parliament for either of two main political parties without being dependent on minority parties. An immediate general election for a decision from the people would be the way out of current impass.  

Thereafter, will lessons learned from this imbroglio pave the way for badly needed systemic changes?             

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Latest comments

  • 0
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    It’s TIME for all the Political Parties that will be held in January 2019, to publish their plans of action if they are to be elected. Plans on
    –how to bring National Reconciliation and Unity
    — how to stop Bribery and corruption
    —how to get speedy justice for the victims ( Journalists sportsman and MPs)
    —many more

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    Madam Kunanayakam, You highlighted the absence of two vital factors in the entire debate, i.e. the People and the Nation! What a convenient way to bypass a Prime Minister!
    .
    Madam, Even if I agree to travel along your path, just pointing out the absence of two factors in the debate, namely the People and the Nation, remonstrated deception. You conveniently omit a more salient and all encompassing factor, the Parliament, the august Body of People’s Representatives serving both the People and the Nation, more ideally!
    .
    I have better things to do than to keep countering your ‘I know better’ postures!

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      Nathan
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      The more salient and all-encompassing factor as you refer, might I point out, are the People and not Prime Minister. He or She as applicable and the rest of the 224 MPs are but temporary custodians of people’s sovereignty.
      *
      For too long have we the people allowed those we elect as our temporary custodians a free ride at our expense. For example, we (those who not belong to the 225 category and their dependents) are opposed to their Duty-Free vehicle permits. Do they care or listen?

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        Rajeewa Jayaweera,
        You have overlooked the fact that I had said that a more salient and all encompassing factor is the Parliament. Never did I say, the Prime Minister.
        .
        If you have the wrong men in the House wait for your turn to put the right men in.

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    The suggestions made by the writer to improve the system are laudable and necessary. However I wish to express my reservation on two matters.
    Firstly, with regard to the crossing over of MPs, I wonder how this will work out in the current proportional system of voting. Under the current system voters first give their votes to the party and next give their preference to the candidates. Under the old system a candidate could go to to his voters in the electorate and seek fresh mandate. Is this possible under the current system?
    Secondly, with regard to the National List, there is no need to abolish this. To stop the abuse, selection of National List candidates must be entrusted to the Constitutional Council, composed of more civil society members and less politicians. The Council could draw up some strong criteria to base their selection. This will act as an insurance against crass abuse such as selecting rejected candidates, criminally tainted candidates, less educated candidates etc.

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      Mr. Cader
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      Even under the PR system, the number of votes received by each political party as well as by each candidate is available. Unless it is argued, voters would vote for a particular party and candidates contesting from another party, I do not see the problem is deducting the number of votes received by an MP wishing to cross over from the vote count of the party as well. In most instances, it will not alter the party’s status in the District. What is essential is a method to stop Crossovers or an Anti-defection bill which India has successfully implement (1985 and 2003).
      *
      On the issue of the National List, the problem with the Constitutional Council is that it is once again packed with 7 politicians and only 3 from civil society. If you recollect, Parliamentarians screamed blue murder till originally proposed CC with a majority from civil society was changed to 7/3 in favor of politicians.
      *
      I stand for the abolition of the National List on the basis it is not used for its intended purpose. It brings no professionals into Parliament. At least I can not think of any other than Lakshman Kadirgamar, only substandard politicians or those rejected by voters. Minorities, unlike in post-independence era, are now sufficiently represented in both Parliament and PCs, they need no further representatives via the National List.

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    Dude nothing personal. You seems to know the facts. The answer to your question (last line) is big NO. It will be not just naive but stupid to expect a change which never took place in 65 years or more and thousands of lessons learned. I believe you too is responsible for the imbroglio.

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    The first thing Tamara Guananayam has to do is testing on a voting audience to see how much people believe her words. As she thinks that Ranil do not have confidence of people and he should abandon the cabinet, she too should leave public forum permanently once she has tested her acceptance with the audience.
    It is so sheepish comparing a 4% man, new King, with a 25% man, Ranil, based on the LG election results. Tamara is not aware, but all other Lankaweyans do, that this 4% man is the one out seated Tamara’s 43% man in the EP election, in 2015. Tamara’s other imbecile look is Ranil or Old King or New King were not in the LG election. Then why is she comparing the party election results to these individual. Is that because, communist Tamara has no idea about elections. While, communist Tamara insisting In the South to the parties to follow LG election results, Tamara is not ready to let have that freedom in the North, where Ananthi and CV were people sought in last provincial election. Tamara thinks, if she put forward a Modaya debate for mainly Southern Modaya audiences, that is going to impress all other audiences too.
    Further anything Old King got as 43 % is with his extreme anti-Tamil hate spreading in the LG election. Tamara is a Tamil coolie, lacks not just brain to fique this out, but even sense to feel out what is going on. This 43% man stripped Tamara’s “UN permanent residence ambassador position” and kicked her out. If Tamara’s brain can understand that the person who decided Tamara is not suitable for the job is Old King, then what the heck this she is doing in their camp. All Tamara doing is showing her hate for Tamil, though trying to load it on Ranil.

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    Old King promised to UNSC that he will take care of accountability and responsibility in Colombo. But Tamara is talking about Ranil signing Resolution 30/1. The Shame of Tamara is, Old King fired Tamara out of UN position because Tamara could not defend the Old Royals’ 150,000 murder, the war criminal action, in UNHRC. She is such a worthless talker because before she starts to talk about Ranil signing resolution 30/1, why did she leave behind that case open in UNHRC without she properly managing it, before she leave UN? Tamara thinks her bluffy mouth will knock everyone down and they won’t be able to standup after that.

    Tamara’s narrow perspective knows only the constitution talking about election, but not EP’s limitation to dismiss a PM. A PM comes from the people for 4 1/2 years. When people have approved him for 4 1/2 years, the constitution cannot allow EP to fire him/her. A 4% man cannot claim LG election victory and undo an earlier people’s decision. Tamara is talking about Ranil’s CB looting. Tamara is neither talking about the Biriyani and arrack delivered LG election nor about the 500 million per head donkey trading. What moral right Tamara has to talk about election if she is not ready to talk about the widely reported failed donkey trading? Further Tamara must accept the (SLFP & Slap Party) leaders’ decision that they are calling election because they failed to prove (even by Donley Trading) the majority. That is the SLFP ministers’ explanation. Tamara has no ground to overwrite this and place her own. When SLFP & Slap party who claimed they had the majority and attempted to capture the parliament is backing off saying that they don’t have it, then by all logic the power should have been returned to UNP without contest. A 4% man in LG cannot make any further decision for people.

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    Out of the 225, only about 50 are this batch’s first time parliamentarian. Other rests are the one voted for 18A and then voted for the 19A too. Then how the Tamara’s call for new election is explaining people elected reps’ mentality? What these elected reps are going to do is to vote for the 18A with the Old King. So now what is the magic Tamara is planning to show between the 18A Old Royals policies and 19A Ranil’s policy? Aren’t those both are accepted by the same reps? So for what the heck you need a new election to bring the same reps who once more going to vote for 18A.
    There is will be no case against Ranil on CB looting in governments formed by Old Royals. Can Tamara take courage to challenge this sentence? There are many changes on Old Royals in FCID and special courts files. The constitution is specifically debarring criminals to contest in election. How then Tamara is asking to allow a government of Old King, on whom numerus changes on the court, but there is no charge on Ranil even by the PCoI appointed by New King on Ranil, on the CB looting. On his PCoI presentation, New King said on TV that Ranil is free from any involvement in that looting. Then from where Tamara is selecting this accusation to establish her personal importance? The problem is Tamara’s puny head cannot understand that it is the part of the Law and order of the country investigate the criminals and eliminated them from election, but innocents’ civilians would vote for them if the constitution is not baring them.
    The Constitution is talking about NCM, election and referendum. Tamara is selecting & talking about the election in the constitution, not the other two. Tamara is talking only about election because on the case of NCM, we all know Ranil defeated them in the parliament already.

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    Further Tamara thinks minorities will defeat Old Royals in referendum so she selecting election to advocate as most justified means on deciding this imbroglio. If the New King had gone with a referendum to ask the people whom they want as PM “Is it Ranil or Old King”, then New king is neither violating the constitution nor spending 500 million on election. 4% New King did not ask the people with a referendum if they like an election. But New King has only sought the advice of communists like Tamara to tell him what is good for the people and Tamara class have advised New King the election is better. But the truth is the unified Ceylonese doesn’t want Old King as Prime Minister. What Tamara wants here is she wants to uphold Sinhala Buddhist wish and to have rejected minority concern, through a parliamentary election. Further Tamara knows well, like Sirimavo’s Standardization, the Lankawe Parliamentary election is the most manipulated election process in the world to isolate and defat minorities, built on the foundation of Don Stephen Disentrancing Tamils. So Tamara wants to put a good use of it. So Tamara is blind folding everybody and advocating for election not referendum, but others understands the Nariya game Tamara is playing. Election is only to change the government, but referendum is to obtain the people’s opinion. The imbecile Tamara doesn’t know the difference between them. Let’s ask a question from Tamara, because Ranil got 25% and Old King got 45% and she wants to have Ranil replaced with Old King. Will she come out with another person to replace New King whom only got 4%, but refusing to leave? Let’s allow Tamara escape this time, but will Tamara agree if UNP forms the government after the election and Old Royals lose, then the New King resign on Jan 6th?

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