28 January, 2021

Blog

Reconvene Parliament & Amend Constitution To Extend Its Tenure: Form A Multi-Party Cabinet Group

By Kumar David

Prof. Kumar David

This is the gravest national emergency of recent times. At such times countries form national administrations. Best known is Churchill’s War Cabinet which included Atlee, Beaverbrook, Anthony Eden, Earnest Bevan and some transient figures; it averaged about seven persons. All the others, that is the “normal” cabinet, continued with other tasks. Conservatives, Labour, Liberals and National did not sink policy differences (Churchill lost to Labour in a huge landslide in 1945) but all held together to win the war. True, none of our current crop of leaders has the acumen, stature or selflessness of a Churchill or an Atlee, but circumstances may compel them to cooperate since this scourge shows no sign of flattening. It would be wise for President Gota to make a start by putting together an all-party team. Not just advisors to talk shop, but a team with real powers and functions to get on with allotted jobs. Doctors, IGP and army boss are functionaries and there to the execute orders; strategic direction must come from a unified political leadership. 

Our party leaders are busy counting their electoral prospects and fantasising about the wet-dreams of Election Committee (EC) members, but if forced to work together they will gird up their loins. Actually, they are not quite as bone-useless as I sometimes cuss in irritation. Gota, Mahinda, Sajith, Ranil, Sampanthan, a Muslim and Anura, if they put their shoulders to the plough can pull as a team. If it’s premature to for a National Govt then a national leadership team (‘war-cabinet’) is what Gota needs to set up if Sri Lanka is to lick Covid-19. I don’t mean a consultative body but a “Sajith you take over this”; “Sampanthan get off your arse, go to Jaffna and take charge of that”; “AKD-JVP for mass mobilisation and education” etc. That is to take charge of Covid related stuff like Churchill’s War Cabinet did. I don’t know what to call it; Virus Combat Apex, VCA? The rest of government can go on with business as usual. Naw! Forget it, nobody is listening, just my daydreams.

But there is a looming problem; immanent constitutional deadlock. Jayawickreme, Hoole, the EC, columnists, Editors are all on my reading list, but in the end its as Omar Khayyam said.

Myself when young did eagerly frequent 

Doctor and saint, and heard great argument 

About it and about: but evermore 

Came out by the same door as in I went.

  • Some say that if a new parliament is not elected and seated by 2 June the proclamation of dissolution stands annulled and the old parliament springs back to life.
  • Others say that if a new parliament is not elected and seated by 2 June the constitution stands violated – but by whom, Gota, the EC or God Almighty? 
  • Some ask if Gota is in dereliction of duty since knowing that it is impossible to seat a new parliament by 2 June, he has not revoked his 2 March Gazette and recalled parliament?
  • Still others say that after 30 April the government had no right to spend our money. What’s going on now is theft. PBJ should be locked up, but no matter, he’s used to it.
  • A conundrum: If a new parliament can’t be seated by 2 June (or if elections cannot be held on June 20) and if Gota refuses to revoke his proclamation, then we will be in uncharted waters sailing in a ship called de facto dictatorship – President ruling without Parliament! 
  • The ultimate deadlock: What if, for whatever reason, a new parliament cannot be seated by 2 September and if Gota refuses to relent (“I have dissolved parliament; I will not reconvene it and dissolve it again later”). Then, after that, it will be Presidential absolutism without a Parliament. In the worst-case this could be perpetual!

The last two points may seem farfetched but I urge you not to push anything out of your mind.  We live in strange times and we are dealing with people who are determined not to let their grip on power slip away again (perish January 2015!). These are not simply interesting times; they are very, very interesting times as Confucius or some such chap will extrapolate.

There will always be argument and that’s what advocacy and judgement is about, but in the present instance there is more muddle and confusion than just two or three contending views. This is why seeking a determination from the Supreme Court will be an advantage. Though many may not approve of the judgement all will have to abide by it, and that will bring closure to the matter. 

‘Virus Administration’ is made worse by factions and conflicts of interest pulling this way and that. The police announced that curfew in Colombo, Gampaha, Kalutara and Puttalam would be lifted on the 27-th. The President’s Office promptly rebutted it and ordered continuation for an extra week. There has been a sharp increase in new cases since 20 April (about 400) despite a draconian lockdown and a soul-destroying curfew. Unsurprisingly the biggest increases are in districts that are locked down and curfewed! Instead of learning from countries that flattened the curve and then squashed it, our authorities use a blunderbuss approach, not targeted-testing, small-group self-quarantining, and intelligent social-distancing.    

Rumour has it that the GMOA (a political party two-timing as a learned society) has a grip on the President by the short and curlies while other advisors and common-sense pull in different directions. In the prevailing atmosphere of no public discourse, authorities are treating the public like mushrooms (‘keep them in the dark and feed them shit’) hence the reservoir of confidence that has lasted forty-five days is melting. The longer curfew, partial curfew, lockdown and the psychology of lockdown stay, the harder it will be to get things up and running again. The economy is in dire straits with factories, garment makers and export-oriented industries closed.  External finances are crippled but for the crutches handed out by the IMF and China. “It is not, nor it cannot come to good”. (In modern English: ‘It is not, nor can it come to good’). 

I am certainly no expert but there is a huge amount of information from the world’s top experts out there on the web. The big sticker item is “flattening the curve”; that is, strive to slow down transmission, build up slowly, limit to a lower peak. The x-axis in illustrations on the web is number of days since the first case. If you get your protective measures right in about 30 days it is possible to reach a plateau, and then it begins to fall. Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, New Zealand, Australia, China and Japan have crossed over into this happy nirvana.

Of course, there have to be controls and supervision. The measures frequently and aggressively recommended are (i) Personal: hygiene and safety measures, (ii) Community: social distancing and curbing large gatherings, (iii) Environmental: frequent cleaning of surfaces, spraying, (iv) State: targeted follow up of contacts. The approach behind this thinking is different from the blunderbuss approach adopted by Gota and his control corps.  At the same time the diametrically opposite point of view, the neo-liberal approach of hoping to build herd immunity (in US), has also failed; the correct median is between lockdown and neoliberalism. A good source of information for laymen is the US National Institute of Health’s website.

The way forward is to open wide public discussions instead of the prevailing secretiveness, and to reconvene parliament, reach an all-party consensus and make a broadly accepted (to secure the 2/3) amendment to the constitution. Why do I envisage an amendment? It has nothing to do with Gota’s craving to repeal 19A and enact changes to grasp a full-powered executive presidency. No, no, perish that thought; nothing could be further from my mind. The fear in my mind is that it is possible that the virus will be still around for a while, making it infeasible to hold a democratic election even as late as mid-August. Then how to convene a new parliament by 2 September?

If for right and proper reasons a general election cannot be conducted at the latest by mid-August (after giving time for new nominations, house to house canvassing, meetings and propaganda) then it will have to be held after 2 September. This is ultra-vires, unless the constitution is amended to permit an extension just this one time for a few months. To get this done parliament has to be recalled, near all-party consensus reached and an amendment enacted. I wish to repeat; to do this the March 2 Gazette has to be revoked by the president, parliament has to be recalled and it must legally amend the constitution. After that the EC can be given a clean green light on how to proceed. 

Since it is sensible to be prepared for a worst-case scenario it is wise to recall parliament and make initial preparations for a constitutional amendment as indicated above. This can be done in the background. Legislation to meet public health needs and release monies from the Consolidated Fund will be in the foreground. However, it is my view that this is not enough to deal with a crisis that is likely to drag on for a long time and get very complicated. This is why I am calling for a multi-party inner-cabinet or VCA with division of duties along stipulated lines. Health, police and military activities on coronavirus related matters should be implemented under the direction of the VCA.   

There is anxiety that Gota would like to rule alone without hindrance from political opposition, parliament or courts; an undeclared dictatorship of sorts. Forming a multi-party virus combat summit at Cabinet level will go some way to alleviating this fear. It will also be conducive to easing ethnic polarisation because Tamil and Muslim leaders will have a role to play in VCA. 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Latest comments

  • 6
    4

    Whatever the political configuration I can’t think of an alternative arrangement for ‘virus administration’ than the existing set-up: health workers assisted by tri forces and police. Sajith, Ranil, Sampanthan , Hakim and Anura can form a committee among themselves and submit their ‘recommendations’ on lock-up and lock-down.
    .
    I asked a few three wheeler drivers and street vendors whether they want the old Parliament reconvened, they all said NO.

    Soma

    • 2
      0

      somass

      You disappoint me (us).
      You led us to believe you are in the top range of racists. It now appears you are just another school bully, another local thug, a kapang karaya,. ….. it’s a shame.

      Top racists usually are motivated by an perverted ideology and a sense of paranoia. Your racism is void of any ideology however it is based only on paranoia. What a shame you are motivated only by your desire to carry the b***s of people whom you think powerful.

      You may have lot of chances to deal with Coronavirus buy not Rana-Viruses.

    • 3
      0

      somass

      You disappoint me (us).
      You led us to believe you are in the top range of racists. It now appears you are just another school bully, another local thug, a kapang karaya,. ….. it’s a shame.

      Top racists usually are motivated by an perverted ideology and a sense of paranoia. Your racism is void of any ideology however it is based only on paranoia. What a shame you are motivated only by your desire to carry the b***s of people whom you think powerful.

      You may have lot of chances to deal with Coronavirus but not Rana-Viruses.

  • 3
    3

    Good……..
    /
    Reconvene Parliament……
    \
    Amend Constitution
    1. To restore full executive president.
    2. Re arrange seats to represent the people’s mandate given on November election.
    3. Extend Its Tenure for another 5 years.
    4. Form A Multi-Party Cabinet Group.

    • 3
      1

      And…….
      Most impotently……
      \
      While we are at it……………
      Lets lift the term limit on president.

  • 2
    1

    NV
    How could you ever call me a racist when I am the only Sinhalese in this forum who supports a separate Homeland for Tamils (all Tamil speaking people irrespective of their religion, caste or the date of arrival scattered across the island).

    Soma

    • 1
      0

      somass

      “……………………….. when I am the only Sinhalese in this forum who supports a separate Homeland for Tamils “

      Have you ever expected a tsunami until it struck the island in 2004?
      Have you ever expected Coronavirus striking this island and its Ranaviruses?
      Have you ever expected the obliteration of LTTE before its was destroyed by VP and Hindia?

      Things could unexpectedly happen or won’t happen, therefore don’t wish for anything that you will come to regret.

      “How could you ever call me a racist”

      You are a cheap racist without class, style, or an ideology.
      Basically you are trying to keep up with your fellow racists, and being part of the Sinhala/Buddhist fascist fraternity, a circle of aging school bullies, you couldn’t even organise a proper riot, ………………. leave alone genocide and final solution.

      Do you think Dr Gota DSc, Single handed Kamal, Christopher Shavendra Silva Columbus, Ranaviruses, …. are capable of containing Coronaviruses in the next two to five years?

      Why do the Jaffna based security forces give Kamal Single Handed general a Red Carpet welcome every time he visits the camp? Don’t you think it makes him a cheap “jester”?

      Take care.
      We don’t want to run out of cheap racists.

      • 0
        1

        Native, I know why you are enraged at me.
        Because, while offering the Homeland option,46 I plead with the Tamils to take the other option: right to live anywhere as equal citizens which knowing their mentality you fear that they might actually accept and give up the Homeland option.
        My problem is all the Tamil racist rats on CT are following you like Pied Piper.

        Soma

  • 3
    1

    President Gotabhaya Rajapakshe has told that he is not in a position to convene the Parliament which is already dissolved. I can’t understand why this Professor cannot understand that simple message and try to show that he is a ‘Pundith’ who can advise the President what to do.

  • 0
    0

    Yes, there can be no doubt about the gravity of the situation. What is incredible is that the Rajapaksas are so nonchalant about it.
    .
    When the curfew is lifted, heaven help us. Let’s hope it will not be as terrible as I fear it will be. This strategy makes sense only if a vaccine is found to induce herd immunity at the end of the day.
    .
    Crowded Colombo will obviously be the worst off. See for yourself how fast it is spreading in the Maldives, where the capital, Male is one of the most crowded places on the planet:
    .
    https://raajje.mv/en

  • 1
    0

    Multi-party cabinet group?
    That is no problem for GR. He can have SLPP, LSSP, CP, MEP, Pavitru Hela Urumaya and several more on it, and even the SLFP if you insist.

Leave A Comment

Comments should not exceed 200 words. Embedding external links and writing in capital letters are discouraged. Commenting is automatically disabled after 7 days and approval may take up to 24 hours. Please read our Comments Policy for further details. Your email address will not be published.