By Rajan Hoole –
The current six year term of elected office is simply too long and is the source of many evils. Those coming into power have revolutionary pretensions and inevitably want another six years to implement their programmes. But in fact every presidency became ineffective in about three years. By the time the PTA was passed in 1979, Jayewardene’s presidency was noted mainly for corruption and bludgeon. At the end of his second term in 1988, he was entreating the Indian Government to keep him in power. Premadasa’s presidency too became ineffective in less than three years and was crippled by the impeachment crisis.
Chandrika Kumaratunge’s presidency came to a standstill in about three years in 1997. Beyond that time, the liabilities she incurred outweighed the credit. Political measures to win over the Tamil people were held in abeyance. Thereafter it became a matter of waiting for the Deputy Defence Minister to finish the war in the name of “war for peace”, and by the end of 1999, the Army wanted to go home.
Experience thus suggests that four years would be an optimum period for a government. The first-past-the-post system at elections was abandoned in favour of proportional representation because it was seen to lead to instability through huge swings at every election. But proportional representation brought with it two huge disadvantages. Three to more than ten constituencies were combined to form electoral districts and this entailed contestants requiring huge resources. It
destroyed constituency democracy, since contestants were chosen not by the local branch of the party, but by party bosses. Instead of thugs of contestants at constituency level, it became party thugs unleashed at district level, with the DIG obliged to compromise. A court hearing a petition would be faced with annulling the poll in an entire district and perhaps for that reason it has not happened as used to happen often in constituencies.
If moreover, elections are held every four years, the huge swings experienced in 1956, 1970 and 1977 would be less likely. Those coming into power would also be more alive to the prospect of losing it and would find it in their interest to keep law enforcement free of party politics. This process would be strengthened by federalism.
An argument in favour of the presidential system is that Jayewardene was able to push through the Provincial Councils Bill and legislation to ease the plight of stateless plantation labour, because of his whip-hand over his MPs. But these pieces of legislation came not for the best of reasons but because of a contingency – the civil war – brought about by the very same president’s uncircumscribed power. The argument for a powerful presidency is thus flawed. But this does not rule out institutions with members owing allegiance to a wider diversity than obtains in a small electoral constituency or district. Reforms need time to take effect, but given the present state of degradation, how much can outsiders do to help Sri Lanka?
*To be continued..
*From Rajan Hoole‘s “Sri Lanka: Arrogance of Power – Myth, Decadence and Murder”. Thanks to Rajan for giving us permission to republish. To read earlier parts click here