By Kumar David –
Nobody now admits full paternity of 19th Amendment; everybody says “Well I may have had a bit of a hand but others mucked it up”; “Me? Who me?” and so on. Constitutional lawyers disagree about what it adds up to. Some declare the next (second) president will be powerless, ceremonial in all but name. He can have no ministries assigned to him, not even defence. His powers of appointment to key positions, even service chiefs will be circumscribed. The PM will tell him who to make ministers. He will chair the Cabinet but god knows why. His actions can be challenged in the courts – remember the 51-day comedy. The title Head of State will be his as is usual; incomprehensibly, the Head of Government title will also belong to the second president
Other constitutionalists swear the opposite. The next president they say will have much hidden power, chief among them he will pick secretaries to the ministries. The PM selects minister and the president promptly castrates them by putting in place the person who will run the show thus making ministers eunuchs. 19A, it is not unfair to say, is a right royal cock-up; the best thing it did was restoring presidential term-limits and setting up independent Commissions. Newspaper columnists savage the PM/Pres power sharing arrangement as an unworkable diarchy. Two kings parking half a posterior each on the same throne and very likely a dagger stuck in each other’s back, unless they are from the same party and are blood brothers.
Ah and there’s the rub! Even blood brothers from the same party have started feuding. After sour-grapes Sirisena’s harangue on how shabby the powers of the next president would be, Mahinda told reporters, “No ways, my brother the next president will be all powerful”. What was he fishing for, a response from Gota to the effect “No ways aiya, 19A gives you greater power than I will have”? Well Gota did not take the bait, or rather his military handlers did not permit him to say it. MR’s advisors would not have missed the signal of silence. The militarism versus corrupt-politico-populism tension in the SLPP will become more pronounced as polling day nears. (I am assuming no legal challenges debar Gota’s candidacy).
Will Gota send parliament packing in February? Vultures (also known as MPs) will cross over in droves to the winner. The next president, whoever he is may not need to dissolve in February since flocks of vultures will cluck around him; perhaps even sufficient to make the 2/3 needed to repeal 19A and bring back 18A in some form. But does MR really want an all-powerful GR? How will that dynamic play out? And if its Sajith he want Ranil as all-powerful PM? Will Mangala’s salivating game pay off? It may, since the UNP hierarchy and the Colombo 7 platoons have cut Ranil’s throat slice by slice in the last two months. But this gutter lot may squirm round and somersault tomorrow; these people are as firm and as reliable as greased eel.
And now there’s another twist to the comedy. Ranil, as per still-to-be-confirmed reports, says he wants to be the candidate and Sajith and his lot can go stick it up. If he has his way Sajith’s lot won’t split and decamp into the wilderness. If his bunch quits and puts up Sajith as a non-UNP joker candidate it will ensure Ranil’s defeat but Sajith himself, with say 300,000 votes, will trail behind Anura in fourth place. But the Ranil-Sajith theatre will remain watery till nomination day.
This is all the stuff of gossip, not the business of this column; it’s only a means to lead up to the point I want to make. The two major formations (UNP and SLPP/SLFP) are not only corrupt but also squabbling and rent by personal and family feuds. This is no accident but a consequence of crisis; no vision, no programme that they have a commitment and capacity to deliver, and in the case of Gota the thinly veiled military doppelganger of return to Rajapaksa era authoritarianism. A priority then is to nurture an alternative. I see it its first shoots in the People’s Power movement. Which the next period it will undergo its own convulsions and transformations, unavoidable in any political dynamic. Hopefully out of this will emerge a credible alternative basis of state power. The other challenge is to ensure that all who give their first-preference to Anura do not fail to cast a second preference vote to foil a Gota presidency.