By HL Seneviratne –
I do not think I have any real disagreement with Professor Kumar David on the idea of a single-issue election. For no fault of his own, but solely due to inadequacies in my expression, he seems to have construed my term “multi-issue” to mean the entire gamut of social, political and economic challenges that confront us, to be addressed in one stroke. When I wrote the brief comment I did, it was furthest from my intentions underestimate the primacy of the Executive Presidency (EP) as the source of our national woes, or to defend or hope for its continuity. I share the view that the EP, and the abandonment of the Westminster model in general, is a large-scale constitutional blunder. What I meant was to express my anxieties about the success of the single election strategy, precisely because I want it to succeed. If Professor David other perceptive citizens are optimistic about it, it should by all means be pursued as vigorously as possible. I said as much in my previous comment when I emphasized the need for a broad and inclusive coalition, so that the idea gets every vote it can possibly get. The idea also has the merit of being a concrete proposal in an environment where the problem is talked about, probably sincerely, with no attempt at any practical step towards a solution.
It’s too early to imagine the aftermath of a single issue victory. But I am taking the liberty of touching on it because that’s part of my concern when I used the term “multi issue”. In any case, irrespective of whether the single issue idea succeeds or not at this time, the malaise afflicting the country cannot be exorcized until the moral foundations of governance are restored, which in turn necessitates the crafting of a new constitution. The utmost care needs to be exercised in that task. Since the abolition of the Soulbury constitution, constitution making in Sri Lanka has been based not on the national interest but on consideration of petty partisan advantage. The 1972 and 1978 constitutions were motivated not by reasons of the national interest, but political expediency. Good constitutions take time and are based on expert opinion as much as open public discussion. The impulsive changing of the constitution in Sri Lanka contrasts with the stability and sanctity of the constitution of India. The new constitution should enshrine, among other guarantees, democratic freedoms, secularism, separation of powers, and checks and balances against the abuse of power. It is way too early to talk about details at this stage, but one thing that is clear is that no devolution is necessary outside the North and the East. Devolution to the Sinhala majority provinces would be a waste of public money, and a legalization of provincial thuggery. For the Sinhala majority provinces, the old Kachcheri and DRO system coupled with the old system of local government would work, as they did so well under the Soulbury constitution. This is important, because, to no one’s surprise, the Sinhala right wing has just started a campaign demanding the abolition of the 13th Amendment. It certainly should be abolished, for all provinces except the North and the East, which deserve more. Anyone heard of “13th Amendment Plus”?