20 May, 2022

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Protesters Stand Tall, Parliament Falls Short, President Stays Unseen & Unheard

By Rajan Philips

Rajan Philips

The three Ps in Sri Lankan politics are each in a different pod. The protesters are standing tall as protest keeps spreading. Parliament is more divided than united in its responses to the protest. The SLPP government MPs, including the 41 independents, are still playing pathetic survival games. After days of dithering, the JVP stormed its way back into reckoning with an impressive three-day march last week from Beruwala to Colombo. But the JVP is unable to take its momentum from the streets to stir up parliament into any cohesive responsive. The SJB bestirred itself to present a bold and clear-cut constitutional amendment bill that would change the mode of election and the powers of the Executive President. Alas, it was immediately distracted by a competing 21A bill drafted by Wijeydasa Rajapaksha, a national list MP and one of many constitutional clowns in the country.

As for the third ‘P’, the President, he is neither seen nor heard. He made a fool of himself on Monday when he ill-advisedly appointed a cabinet of inexperienced nobodies. Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa allegedly boycotted the appointment because the President rebuffed the PM’s request to keep recycling senior SLPP MPs as Ministers. Even the Mahanayaka Theras would seem to have had enough of the ongoing presidential antics. “The new cabinet which was appointed recently will not help resolve the present economic and political crisis,” the Theras said in a statement in which they also threatened to “issue a Sangha Convention” if the President and Parliament did not get their act together soon enough for the sake of the country.

There have been talks among political watchers about the endgame for the current standoff between the protesters and the President. Quite a few observers saw an endgame in which the protesters get tired and go home, while the President stays put in power despite the calls for him to go home. After three weeks there are few signs of the standoff ending anytime soon. The President is staying put but is getting weaker and irrelevant with every passing day. The President and the Prime Minister would also seem to be working at cross-purposes to save their respective hides. The Daily Mirror described the family tiff with its headline on Thursday (April 21): “Tug of war breaks out between GR and MR.”

Whether they are working in tandem or at cross-purposes, the President and the Prime Minister are long past – not only their usefulness but also their effectiveness. The President, the Prime Minister and whoever is running the government with them have tried every trick to appease the protesters and hold on to power, but nothing is working. They are incapable of imposing anything punitive on the protesters, and there is nothing that they can do that will satisfy the protesters except their resignations. They are contributing nothing to either the talks at the IMF or the tasks at home. Neither of them nor anyone else on their political entourage has any credibility with the IMF. In Washington, at the IMF, it was left to India’s Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman to make special pleading on behalf of Sri Lanka for urgent financial assistance.

Sack of Potatoes

The real tragedy is that parliament has singularly failed to rise to the occasion by its failure to reach a consequential level of consensus among its MPs. For all practical effect and purpose, MPs are behaving as though they are, to recall a famous description in a different context, “formed by the simple addition of homonymous magnitudes, much as potatoes in a sack form a sack of potatoes.” You can understand why the collectively more intelligent protesters are calling for the sacking of the collectively moronic sack of 225 potatoes!

What seems to have been lost last week, in the midst of games that MPs started playing when parliament reconvened after the New Year and Easter holidays, is the central message of the protest movement calling for the resignation of the President and the Prime Minister. It has been suggested that the SJB’s draft 21st Constitutional Amendment Bill, inasmuch as it calls for the ‘abolition’ of the Executive Presidency (EP), subsumes the protesters demand for the resignation of Gotabaya Rajapaksa as President. Without getting into semantics, it is fair to suggest the two (resignation and abolition) could have been kept separate as a matter of parliamentary tactic.

The SJB could have pursued as parallel measures both a No Confidence Motion (NCM) against the President under Article 42 of the Constitution, as suggested by Nihal Jayawickrama, and the 21A bill as has now been proposed. An NCM will have to go through immediately and will likely attract sufficient number of MPs for its passage by a simple majority. Regardless of what effect it has on the President, an NCM will immediately bring parliament into alignment with the protest movement. Without it, parliament will become irrelevant and the prospect of containing protest energies within constitutional possibilities will be seriously impaired if not irreparably damaged. There could be more replications of Rambukkana, and things can get out of control very quickly.

As for the 21st Amendment Bill, it will require more homework by the SJB among parliamentarians to assemble the requisite two-thirds majority, even if the notion that a referendum also will be required is dispensed with, as has been persuasively argued by Dr. Nihal Jayawickrama and more peremptorily dismissed by Dr. Colvin R de Silva when JRJ was still President. Needless to say, the application in Sri Lanka, of the Indian constitutional doctrine of ‘basic structure’, for subjecting the removal EP to a referendum is wholly inappropriate given the political genesis of the JRJ Constitution, not to mention its clear provisions for referendums.

At the same time, intellectual fearmongering has already started that any move to alter the mode of election and powers of EP will trigger a military and/or Sinhala Buddhist backlash. This is irresponsible prophesizing in search of vainglorious self-fulfillment. The same goes for the related argument that EP and 13A are inseparable Siamese twins, which is pure nonsense. Another nonsense in this genre is the argument linking political progressivism and presidential system, apparently based on a reading of Latin American politics. Some reading, same nonsense!

The SJB will have to be concerned not so much about friendly firing from the sidelines, but finding consensus within parliament. Former army chief Sarath Fonseka is not at all keen about abolishing the presidency and is even rumored to be eyeing the position of interim Executive President. Ranil Wickremesinghe is not at all keen about sending the President and Prime Minister home, because without them he will not have political relevance or audience. He even claimed in parliament in response to Dinesh Gunawardena that it is he (RW) who got the SJB to delay the NCM against the government until the Minister of Finance reports to parliament on the IMF talks in Washington. Why?

Nonetheless, if a vote is held on 21A both Wickremesinghe and Fonseka will vote in support of the amendment. But the SJB cannot make any headway on any measure in parliament until and unless it is able to find common ground with the JVP. The same goes for the JVP and its aloofness from the SJB. The SJB needs the support of more MPs than it has to achieve anything in parliament. The JVP while it is good at punching above its parliamentary weight, its punches will not be effective unless they are for a common initiative.

The SJB and JVP acting in tandem will also force rethinking and realignment among the 41 Independents. Once shifting and realignment starts, the positive infection will spread. A good majority of potatoes will become real MPs. And parliament will come into greater alignment with protesting people. Parliament must be able to assert itself against the dysfunctional incumbent President before it is able to abolish the mode of election and the powers of EP. Up till then, the political stalemate will continue and the economic hardships will get worse.

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Latest comments

  • 9
    0

    “Alas, it was immediately distracted by a competing 21A bill drafted by Wijeydasa Rajapaksha, a national list MP and one of many constitutional clowns in the country.”
    He isn’t the only clown. There are others like Glyphosate Ratana, the fake authority on everything from solar power to fallopian tubes. This charlatan managed to wriggle into the corridors of power in the last government too. There is Channa Jayasumana, the defender of Muslim cremations. There are clowns like Sarath Weerasekara , the very flexible Muslim MP’s, Weerawansa and Gammanpila……..
    The sad thing is that these clowns are elected by the clownish voters.

    • 6
      0

      OC, as you say , Lankan politicians are clowns of every thing and not competent of anything. The way things are, the protesters may have to get rid of the government and find alternative solutions. Call it irony, people who knowingly elected these crooks may now have to get rid of them. Are they ready for it ?? As few suggest this may be an opportunity to change the system and that again can only be achieved by protesters getting rid of government. Other wise it will be changing pillow cases as we see now. Our constitution is now a play book to politicians after fiddling constantly for decades. It’s useless giving importance to constitution any more. It’s like giving the rule book to the crooks to make alterations, as they wish.

  • 7
    0

    I demand that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa crawl out from under their beds and meet the people face-to-face like real men instead of continuing to play hide-and-seek. They boast about winning the war against the LTTE but are scared to confront the unarmed citizens! Why is that?

  • 4
    3

    “The SJB and JVP acting in tandem”
    What a suggestion!
    I have some respect left for the JVP, and trust that they learned from their working in tandem with the JHU 18 years ago.
    *
    GGH could be the overwhelmingly common theme for a vast majority, but what happens after G goes home?
    Has anyone on the green have given much thought to it?

    • 5
      0

      There is no easy answers but without (not just G ) Rajapaksas leaving, what is the point of having answers.

      • 0
        0

        Are we looking for easy answers?
        Or is there a problem with thinking beyond the green?

        • 0
          0

          Students now a days, seems to be much smarter and intelligent than, their retired professors.

    • 4
      0

      SJ,
      Both should go – EP and PM at “one and the same time” conditionally, is intertwined and inseparable!!
      Then Parliament elects within 60 days a future acting president for the balance period of this president.
      Dual citizen cannot contest or electable as EP.
      Therefore BR, being a dual citizen and not renounced his American citizenship is NOT ELIGIBLE!!
      Namal, May or may not and then the question is whether that would get traction from senior cadres as I believe that would not happen and also any Rajapaksa name including Wijeyadas’ would be poison and unacceptable??!!!

      • 1
        2

        M,
        Last time we sent MR home with little thought for what next.
        (What next rather than who next)
        It was a kind of ‘ends justifying the means’ business.
        Do we want a re-run of it in a different scenario?

        • 2
          0

          SJ,
          MR in my opinion has overstayed his ‘welcome period’ or Use by date!
          he is also the person r underlying cause for the issues and problems the country is presently facing!
          he is a Manipulator too, “trading politicians”
          There could be no negotiations as the final result would be compromised.
          On the other hand GR also should be ou f the game forthwith!!
          Too much of power concentrated in 1 person!!
          He may be rattled for the moment, but definitely not completely done with!!
          One could go into governing by councils in the interim for a year or 2, like the ones we had during the Donomoure

        • 1
          0

          sorry, interrupted,
          Like the Donoughmore Constitution for that interim admin.
          last time MR was sent home because that was illegitimate!!
          Sirisena, should have been impeached then, and half the present problem would not be there to face today!!
          We must learn from mistakes and not repeat them.
          It is a folly best, to be avoided!!

  • 2
    1

    Rajan Phillips,
    Good morning.
    Again a very well laid out and detailed piece, which is commendable.
    Good work Keep it up.
    As to the part played by the individual claiming, 13th amendment is intrinsically intertwined with the EP, that person must go back to Law school, if he has at all in the first instance attended one to be present or as I believe a comment by an individual, chanced to be in the corridors of a recognised Law school??!
    Or at the best a ’Clerk or Office Assistant to a Notary Public??!!
    That is likened to an individual, continuing to believe in Celibacy, trying to be an expert in the manipulation of the Female Fallopian tube make the female species baron???
    Such an expert he is – omnipresent (Athana, Methana!!) goes on a ‘Death Fast’ to make HIMSELF ELECTABLE at forthcoming elections by the gullible populace and “powers that be” and the equally “uneducated masses” believe him!!
    What a Fantasy Land?
    Hopefully, “the winds of change would be soon on SL”

  • 2
    0

    It is extremely important that the protest (peaceful revolution) gains momentum and spreads to all corners of Sri Lanka. The escalating inflation will help boost its popularity, which is a very positive outcome of an otherwise gloomy future. Whether executive presidents will continue is very much up to the youth who are now responsible for steering the ship when the parasites have been dispatched. I do not feel they would want such a powerful man holding the whole country’s future in his hands. Instead they might adopt a method like in Switzerland. Anyway, the main and critically important first step is for the parasites to be got rid of. Anything that follows will be vastly better than the corrupt, self-serving parasitic exploitation that characterized politics in Sri Lanka for several decades.

    • 1
      0

      LP.
      You are pushing it too far for “Switzerland like” formatting!!!
      Our emancipated legislators and “Powers that be” are not inclined to think that is ‘ATTRACTIVE’!!?
      Have some pity on the “coolies cleaning the Slippers of Ministers”, Acolytes and “Collectors of DUES” (another word for COMMISSION FOR PROJECTS), would become insurmountable to perform!!!
      That’s the real underlying reason for resisting the Federal form or ‘DEVOLUTION’ (if the former is a dirty word).
      SIZE OF THE “PIE” SHRINKS, BY THE GREATER NUMBER OF “DENOMINATORS”!!?
      Money is the Key, even for National Security!!!
      They would not hold back ‘to sell their mothers’ for that “POT OF GOLD”

  • 1
    0

    sorry, interrupted,
    Like the Donoughmore Constitution for that interim admin.
    last time MR was sent home because that was illegitimate!!
    Sirisena, should have been impeached then, and half the present problem would not be there to face today!!
    We must learn from mistakes and not repeat them.
    It is a folly best, to be avoided!!

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