By Kumar David –
The time to influence citizens voting intentions or make futile election forecasts is past. There is one comment, however, that I must make. The JVP has shot itself in the foot and lost perhaps 100,000 votes by failing to aggressively call for a second preference for Sajith. Disillusioned UNPers, who were mulling a 1-for-Anura 2-for-Sajith formula, now confused by the JVP are reverting to the UNP in Gothabila panic.
What tasks does Lanka face after the elections? One challenge is to resist attempts to bring back the executive presidency (EP) by the winner, or to roll back limitations imposed by 19A. Have no doubt both candidates would like to be free of constraints such as imposed by the division of powers. There is a healthy division of power in the US between the executive, legislative and judicial and though there is friction from time to time the arrangement functions well. Any attempt by one branch to overstep are rebuffed. The US Constitution has endured and the arrangement is stable; Sri Lanka’s is neither.
Our experience with EP has been deplorable. JR was not a president but a Bonaparte who rode over parliament; his party had a huge majority which enabled him to treat it like an assortment of vassals. He interfered with the judiciary and during his tenure the rule of law degenerated. Premadasa and Chandrika were worse as executive presidents than they could have been as prime ministers who functioned within civilised constitutional norms. The nadir was Mahinda’s two terms remembered for unchecked corruption, gross violation of human rights, interference with the judiciary, arbitrary abuse of power, and finally an attempt to perpetuate power as president for life by the lifting term limits. To the extent that 8 January 2015 removed Mahinda and the enactment of 19A reversed this irregularity and introduced other limitations on the EP, it is an outstanding achievement.
Whoever is elected will attempt to reverse this. Neither manifesto contains a pledge to entirely abolish the executive presidency and revert to a ceremonial Head of State. Both are written as though the president is be a monarch whose manifesto will run without constraint. There is no mention of going further along the road that 19A inaugurated; both manifestos are pronouncements of men who wish to rule. As the pressures of office and conflicts with opponents grow during the term of office, both will attempt to enhance power and to override the people. A task the people of Lanka will face in the next period is to confront and defeat such attempts and to constrain the clout of whoever becomes the new president.
There are several measures that can be taken. First, in the next election we can opt for MPs who will stand up to authoritarianism and resist encroachment of parliament’s powers. We need a more democratic constitution but the new incumbent will use his victory shine to try and get a parliament of yes-men to help him enact a less democratic one. Second, professionals must do their bit; lawyers and law societies have to resist attempts to encroach on the independence of their profession and of the judiciary. Third, political parties outside government can mobilise themselves and the people. Fourth the media must help propagate the slogan “Don’t enhance authoritarian powers!” Finally, the people must gird themselves to defend democracy instead of deluding themselves with festivities; they must not abdicate rights or be seduced by the gloss of a newly minted president. That’s a list of five good things to do.
There are some internal dynamics in our favour. If Gota repeals term-limits he is paving the way for Mahinda to ride again. Do he and his military-business cabal want to go home in just 5 years? Sajith has served notice that he will fire Ranil as PM. His backers have shredded Ranil as a crappy impediment round Great-Sajith’s neck – for example Sarath de Alwis in a fawning piece “A Centrist Social Compact”, Colombo Telegraph 3/11. In doing this are Sajith and his toads shooting themselves in the foot by showing their hand too soon? Or is Mangala’s greed obtruding? Or, and this is most likely, are they plain stupid? By playing Judas with the compromise that won him UNP nomination just weeks ago, has he not turned himself into another back-stabbing aapaya? I have noticed cooling towards Sajith in sections of the UNP and among Ranil loyalists. If Sajith wins but is a eunuch inside the UNP, it will part castrate aspirations of autocracy. Good!