20 February, 2019

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Karu Jayasuriya As People’s Candidate: An Intriguing Prospect 

By Rajan Philips

Rajan Philips

It is both ironic and insulting that the Rajapaksa camp and the UNP alliance have become identified with the two political systems contending for primacy in Sri Lanka. The Rajapaksas are identified with and are the champions of the executive presidential system. This is ironic given their so called roots in the SLFP, and it is insulting to the legacy of JR Jayewardene the acknowledged father of the presidential system in Sri Lanka. The UNP, on the other hand, is now identified with the restoration of parliamentary system, which is ironic given that JR Jayewardene crafted the executive presidency to become a permanent governing apparatus for the UNP. It is also an insult insofar as it was the UNP government between 1977 and 1994 that destroyed every aspect of the parliamentary system that had until then taken root in Sri Lanka’s political soil.  

The Rajapaksas earned their notoriety by enacting the 18th Amendment to give them unlimited terms in office, and if their plan had worked it would have given them 99-year lease over Sri Lanka. But the people thwarted the Rajapaksa plan in January 2015, and the UNP and Ranil Wickremesinghe became the dubious beneficiaries. Now they are the targets of national political ridicule over their constitutional contraption called the ‘National Government’ with a comical circularity: its sordid purpose is to create more ministers out of MPs and its crass survival depends on an enlarged cabinet. The power to make ministers out of MPs at will is not a feature of the parliamentary system, nor is it a feature of any presidential system in constitutional democracies. It is an unusual presidential power that JR Jayewardene created for himself as a mechanism for manipulating parliament. The biggest user and beneficiary of this mechanism was of course Mahinda Rajapaksa. The tragic-comic travesty now is that the incumbent President has no support in parliament, and the government in parliament is desperate to expand its cabinet size but has no support for it from the President. 

The myth of stability

The farce of forming national governments to increase the cabinet size is also the perfect fodder for the critics of the 19th Amendment. The critics always pick on the many imperfections of 19A but severely ignore the principal purpose it has served – that of rescinding the 18th Amendment and removing the President’s arbitrary power to dissolve parliament practically at any time of her or his choosing. In fact, those who are vociferous in their criticisms of 19A did not have anything critical to say about 18A. And those who shed tears for democracy because of the removal of the President’s power to dissolve parliament and hold elections – either surprisingly forget or they are unsurprisingly ignorant of JR Jayewardene’s cardinal reason for implementing the presidential system: STABILITY. And JRJ’s main evidence for political instability in Sri Lanka until 1978: too many elections, too many cross-overs and too many government turnovers! As for that small segment of pundits who are both critics of 19A as well of JRJ, we can only wish them well in sorting out their own contradictions, if not confusions. 

Not that JRJ was correct in his evidence or convincing in his argument. NM Perera contemporaneously dismissed it as a “lame contention that the present (parliamentary) system of Government makes for instability and lack of continuity scarcely bear examination.” What JRJ offered as ‘examples of instability’, NM applauded as instances that “neatly reinforce the power of democracy” and “prove that the present Parliamentary system has been tested and found not wanting.” It is the Presidential system that has been found wanting, and never more so than under the current incumbent.

Lanka’s current problem is that the same old problems have been passed over from the hands of the sublime to the hands of the ridiculous. That is how we came upon the obnoxious 18th Amendment, and after getting rid of it we are stuck with the imperfections of the 19th Amendment. And the debate between the two sides has become the proverbial tale of the pot and the kettle calling each other black. It is not only in regard to the constitution, but also in regard to acts and allegations of corruption and instances of abuse of power. When both sides have immoral equivalences, neither side can claim a high moral ground over the other. Any allegation by one side against the other provokes the retort – what about your side? End of discussion.

Moral equivalence was the notion that was made popular in America during the last phase of the Cold War by President Reagan’s UN Ambassador, Jeane Kirkpatrick, a young socialist, life-long Democrat, and a Republican hawk after her fifties. Kirkpatrick was a defender of American power overseas, arguing that there was no moral equivalence between America, the chosen land of democracy and freedom, on the one hand, and the Soviet Union, a totalitarian communist state without freedom or democracy. The Soviets responded with the argument of ‘whataboutery’ – that is, what about the state of affairs in the US? The Soviets picked on the difference between real freedoms (in the USSR) and the formal freedoms (in the US), and plights of the African Americans and the American poor.

In todays’ politics – moral equivalence and ‘whataboutery’ are arguments over corruption within countries. When the main political parties are all corrupt – ‘whataboutery’ becomes the argument of everybody. There is also no moral equivalence, false or otherwise. There are only immoral equivalences, and plenty of whataboutery, as there are now in Sri Lanka. When political choice is narrowed to choosing between immoral equivalences, the only way to positively move forward is to breakout of the logjam of immoral equivalences and limited choices, and to positively expand the people’s choices.  

A people’s candidate

Put another way, when no political party can nominate a presidential candidate with clean hands and honest intentions, isn’t it time for the people to clean out the whole bunch? It is that simple as an idea, and it is that difficult to execute. But it is neither inevitable nor impossible. Political change cannot be brought about by chanting prayers, chasing planets, or breaking coconuts. Nor does Sri Lanka need a violent revolution. Simple elections are good enough to effect big enough changes. That has been the experience from 1931 to 2015, even though the outcomes have been mostly mixed and often short-lived. 

Who would have thought that in January 2015, an obscure common opposition candidate would the get the better of a governing juggernaut that too had stolen the national limelight after starting in obscurity and was hell bent on taking out Lanka on a 99-year lease? The people made it happen in January 2015. They can make it happen again. But they need a candidate who can best represent the most of what they want. The country needs a people’s candidate as opposed to party and family candidates.

The idea of a people’s candidate sits well with the recent initiative for people’s constitution – following the consensus reached by 46 people’s organizations at a meeting in Colombo convened by the Punarudaya Movement on Saturday, 19 January 2018, to launch a ‘Movement for Making a People’s Constitution’ based on a “grand alliance” of people’s organizations. The gathering of 46 organizations and the launching of a broader movement for a ‘people’s constitution’, demonstrates two political facts. 

One, the dissatisfaction with the existing constitutional system and the desire to overhaul it might be more deep seated and widespread than what most constitutional experts and political commentators might be willing to concede. And, two, the new movement demonstrates the determination to take the task of constitution making out of the hands of politicians in parliament and hand it over to a genuinely participatory constituent assembly.

The real question is what will the Punarudaya Movement and others associated with it do to advance their project in this year of elections, 2019? It should be obvious to them that what happens in the upcoming presidential, parliamentary, not to mention provincial elections, will undoubtedly have serious implications for the constitutional project. The project itself is an extension of the single-issue movement for abolishing the executive presidency launched by the late Sobitha Thero in 2014. The project is also the result of the people’s frustration with what has transpired after the January 2015 election victory that was a direct outcome of Sobitha Thero’s movement. 

It is incumbent on everyone who did the political legwork in 2015 to make sure that the expectations of 2015 are not further stalled or totally reversed by the upcoming elections in 2019 and 2020. We can expect only stalling and backpedaling from the candidacy and the presidency of Ranil Wickremesinghe. Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s mission is to reverse the verdict of January 2015 and take the country back to the 18th Amendment and unlimited presidential powers and terms for the Rajapaksas. Maithripala Sirisena has made so many false starts in his first term no one is going to trust him for another term. 

Speaker Karu Jayasuriya began the New Year (2019) determined to abolish the executive presidency. There is no time left for him to accomplish that task before the next presidential election. But he presents an intriguing prospect as a people’s (not the UNP’s) candidate in the next presidential election, one who might even win the election on the promise to end the presidency and fulfill that promise. Unlike Sirisena!                 

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Latest comments

  • 7
    3

    It is hard to believe that when a person is elected as President at the end of this year is going to make himself unemployed by abolishing the Presidential Election in SL.
    We need the NEW constitution now so that we do NOT have to have Presidential Election.
    It is the best way that SL should take to solving the country’s problems.
    It’s not the time to have Provincial Council Elections.
    We do not want to waste the Tax payers money by electing the corrupt politicians in the Provincial Election .
    If the SLFP/UNP or SLPP are truly interested in Country’s progress THEY should help in passing the 20th Amendment to our CONSTITUTION at the earliest.

    • 2
      0

      Rajan, It is time for the younger generation and honest people to take over. Since there are no viable female candidates, my vote is for the JVP Presidential Candidate, preferably Sunil Handunetti who Chairs Cope and exposed the Bondscam by Ranil and his mafia systematically, so that and in order to clean up the corrupt Cesspit called the Parliament of Sri Lanka,
      Rajan, it is time for the younger generation to take over. The current generation of corrupt politicians, one and all, are living longer due to developments in health care and are blocking the younger generation has turned the parliament into a Cesspit of corruption No mere doddering dodos! It is time for Karu to be retired.

      No one over the age or 60 should be allowed to

  • 13
    2

    Karu J is the most suitable candidate to be President in 2020and give life to the changes in the constitution abolishing the executive presidency and retire when the job is done within a limited period.

  • 4
    6

    There is nothing ‘intriguing’ in the Karu Jayasuriya prospect. It is doomed.

    UNPers must have cow dung in their brains to call up an 80 year old who has no national profile to match anybody presented by the other side, and expect to win the country’s presidency.

    They simply don’t have an aleternative that goes beyond electorate level because Ranil has killed off leadership talent by corruptly hanging on to the job since 1994 by stacking the party’s executive with boot lickers like Karu J and Hashim.

    So the UNP hangars on and other vested interests can keep throwing names, but the die is cast. The UNP is dead.

    • 2
      1

      Ravi Karunka
      ‘UNPers must have cow dung in their brains to call up an 80 year old who has no national profile to match anybody presented by the other side, and expect to win the country’s presidency.’
      Without this tiring harangue, just say that you are a Gota sucker.

  • 7
    2

    I declare that the ONLY person fit to be in the government is Karu. I say that every other individual, MR and Bros and sons, RW, GLP, Weerawansa, Lokuge, Dinesh, and 99.9 % of them must be voted out or booted out, if this nation is to get just one more chance. Even Harsha, Sajith, Eran must be out. Karu is the ONLY person capable as he has shown himself to be a worthy leader against this bunch of corrupt hooligans. Karu was Chairman of one of the blue-chip private companies, the Mayor of Colombo and a officer of the Ceylon army. There has never been contreversies like all we read now about this “lot” re. Karu.

    • 2
      1

      I don’t know much about Karu and his abilities to meet the challenges faced by Buddhist Sinhala Fundamentalism. Though majority of Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims are well educated to understand what is right and what is wrong but they are under the influence the so called religious fundamentalist believes. For example they do not try to differentiate between fake and true. For example, We believe God is a super power and sp he should know everything in the world. Is it possible for a human being to destroy god? Then how come a man will destroy God and a man can protect god from destruction. When our politicians say they are the one who can protect Lord Buddha or Lord Allah or Lord Siva most of the people including well educated people believe that and happy to support him in massacring innocent babies, women, old and young.
      People of the most of the third world nations political leadership are good at cheating the people by creating artificial fear among people. The western world politicians do similar fear mongering technique to attack Muslim nations, African Nations and communist countries.
      As far as our nation is concerned Buddhist Sinhala Fundamentalism is the real threat. Unless the people understand the truth there is no hope for future.

  • 4
    1

    We need somebody younger than this, surely:
    .
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karu_Jayasuriya
    .
    That Karu handled the October to December 2019 crisis brought on by Sirisena is true enough. That the constitution has to be replaced is also true, but how many have studied the way in which we select the President if there has been sufficient discussion of the system we use. It is described here:
    .
    http://aceproject.org/ace-en/topics/es/ese/ese01/ese01c
    .
    Is it not the duty of the Elections Commission to educate the public?
    .
    This is how it worked in London in 2016 when nobody got 50% in the first round. That is the only place that has a system similar to ours, but voters have to Of course turnout was only 45.3%; we usually have 80%, don’t we?
    .
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/2016_London_mayoral_election
    .
    I want an honest non-racist candidate to win, so people like Nagananda Kodituwakku and the Social Equality Party are likely to get my FIRST and SECOND Preferences. It will be in the interest of the UNP as well to educate the public on how the system works.

    • 0
      0

      Sinhala man
      UNP now depends on en bloc voting of all minorities (people who regard themselves as minorities). Political power in a country must be in the hands of the majority of that country so long as there are sections who regard themselves as distinct from the majority. This requirement does not exist if the minority leaders allow their people to mix {politically) with the majority. I remember the days when Muslims were nearly 50-50 devided between UNP and SLFP. This greatly helped their upliftment in commerce and education. From the day they were polarised anti Muslim sentiment began rising.

      Soma

  • 0
    0

    Sinhala man
    UNP now depends on en bloc voting of all minorities (people who regard themselves as minorities). Political power in a country must be in the hands of the majority of that country so long as there are sections who regard themselves as distinct from the majority. This requirement does not exist if the minority leaders allow their people to mix {politically) with the majority. I remember the days when Muslims were nearly 50-50 devided between UNP and SLFP. This greatly helped their upliftment in commerce and education. From the day they were polarised anti Muslim sentiment began rising.

    Soma

  • 0
    0

    Clutching at straws as these fellows did in 2015 that brought utter chaos we face today. STABILITY that the country needed was destroyed in the hope that a constitution that would weaken the state could be brought in. Luckily of course at least the bigger destabilising project of constitution making to un-make Sri Lanka has stalled thanks to concerted efforts by defenders of the nation ably supported by the October “revolution” of President Sirisena.

  • 0
    2

    Mr. Wimal Weerawansa for a change said one thing right: to blast the Srilankan Parliament. It is an institution very unsuitable and inappropriate for the Srilankns. The money that is spent to maintain this dumb institution if instead got equally distributed among the poor people of this country, they sure would enjoy a high standard of living. The hospitals are short of stocks of medicines having run out of funds, while the thieves and plunderers are nicely pampered inside the House of Parliament. When can we expect the dumb voters to wake up?

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