By Kumar David –
The column today is about two separate matters. First, something futuristic but this country can never in a hundred years take a step forward unless there is a mechanism to remove from office outright scoundrels in public life. The second important topic is that right now this nation and its people must make it clear to future investors, global or domestic in the Port City (PC) that intolerable promises, if enacted, will be repealed. Let there be no crocodile tears as in the case of Argentina that Sri Lanka will be going back on its obligations since no country is bound by unconscionable promises that damage national interest. Let all be warned.
I will keep both sections short. I have learned that then, there is a chance people will read what one writes. The 2000 and 3000 word harangues in newspapers and websites are invariably not read to the end. I know from reader’s comments that they have given up in boredom halfway. If Shakespeare thought “brevity is the soul of wit and tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes” who are we to reckon that we can do better?
Right to Recall
I am well aware that implementation of the Right to Recall (R2R) is complicated. R2R is a procedure by which people can recall a person they have elected, for example a MP, for abuse of power or corruption. I also grant that in a proportional representation system where the unit of election is a whole district, unlike in constituency type electorates, it is difficult to identify who can participate in a recall referendum. A way has to found round these difficulties otherwise a country can never enjoy electoral democracy while at the same time turning out of office rascals, scoundrels and opportunists if elected to parliament or provincial councils.
I quote at length from Wikipedia. “A recall election (also called a recall referendum, recall petition or representative recall) is a procedure by which, in certain polities, voters can remove an elected official from office through a direct vote before that official’s term has ended. Recalls, which are initiated when sufficient voters sign a petition, have a history dating back to the constitution in ancient Athenian democracy and feature in several current constitutions. In indirect or representative democracy, people’s representatives are elected and rule for a specific period of time. However, where the facility to recall exists, if any representative who comes to be perceived as not properly discharging responsibilities can be called back at request of a specific proportion of voters”.
A Constitution Amendment Bill to recall MPs and MLAs was introduced in the Lok Sabha by C. K. Chandrappan (1935-2012), Kerala State Secretary of the Communist Party and Lok Sabha member, in 1974. Atal Bihari Vajpayee (not Prime Minister at the time) supported the bill but it did not pass. Since then, recall has been implemented at Municipal level in Madhya Pradesh, Chhatisgarh, Bihar, Jharkhand and Rajasthan. And R2R legislation has been enacted and is on the statute book in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Haryana, Maharashtra and Himachal Pradesh for levels below parliament and state legislatures.
The reason legislation in the US and India has been confined below national and state, apart from the greed and resistance of the representatives themselves is complexity of execution. A president can be removed by impeachment and a prime minister by a vote of no confidence but that’s outside the direct intervention of the electors. What is imperative is a mechanism for voters to rid themselves of people they have elected if later he/she turns out to be a blackguard. An unfortunate necessity in any nation that habitually elects blackguards.
There are variations in R2R legislation formats between the US and India and between different Indian states. These details are of little significance for us now since the first priority is to popularise the concept and win mass acceptance. That should be easy, people will without hesitation endorse the concept but they will want to know more about implementation details. I am only kicking off the idea and asking others, more intelligent and knowledgeable to follow up. What is important at the moment is extensive public discussion. No civil society or political organisation will right now have the gumption to flag it but this will change because it has to. The political entities that may have the courage to invoke some debate are the NPP and the JVP but they too will not touch it till the existing system rots a lot more. For now I am only planting a seed.
Port City and Scoundrel Protection Acts must be repealed
The immediate task is to mount public protest campaigns and demonstrations to prevent passage of the Port City Bill (PCB) and the resolution before Parliament to grant scoundrels associated with the Paksas and human rights violators impunity (Scoundrel Protection Resolution, SPR). Civil society, religious dignitaries, non-government political parties, student and women’s movements, citizens of all races and faiths, diaspora groups of all ethnicities and the people must campaign to throw back both. That’s the priority and it may be doable. However since a majority of SLPP, SLFP, and pro-Paksa perfidious Tamil parties and the Muslim turncoats who voted for 20A cannot be expected to suddenly sprout a conscience, there is a possibility that PCB and SPR will be passed. (What on earth is the LSSP doing? Tissa is angry that economic policy has failed to ameliorate the hardships of the poorest; but the Dead-Left has kept mum on PCB and SPR).
What if despite angry protests these two nasty proposals are passed. The Supreme Court is deliberating the constitutionality of PCB (why not SP too?). It may or may not demand that some provisions be put to a referendum, but after 20A no one is celebrating the court’s independence or high moral stature. What options are available if PCB is enacted and SPR endorsed? A declaration must be issued with the determination of Martin Luther nailing the Ninety-five Theses to the door of All Saints’ Church, Wittenberg that the next government reserves the right to reverse anything done under the PC Act. Chinese, foreign and local investors must have the riot act read out. If they act at the invitation of a morally decadent government in the teeth of the opposition of the people they have been warned!
The French Revolution was not bound by Louis XVI’s commitments nor were China and Vietnam beholden to decisions prior to October 1948 and April 1975, respectively. Argentina type ambiguity must be precluded; everybody, foreign or local, must be told clearly that anything done under the provisions of PCA will not be binding on future governments. If enacted sans a two-thirds majority and unless in addition ratified at a referendum it will be deemed unconstitutional. Furthermore, the American Ambassador, at a recent news conference, sounded a warning that the PC may be flagged by global authorities for fear of money laundering.
The weak link in building a united movement against PCB are Sajith Premadasa cum SJB which instead of expressing unconditional disapproval and demanding that the Bill be withdrawn have proposed technical amendments and pleaded with the Paksas to bring the proposed commission under parliament. This discordant note is rooted in the SJB’s class nature. The pro-business wing under the influence of Harsha de Silva, Eran Wickramaratne and I daresay Sajith himself would be satisfied with provisions to ensure that in addition to the Chinese, Western companies too could participate. From JR’s day the neo-liberal investment policies of the UNP sought to open Lanka to global markets unconstrained by domestic class concerns.
To add to this confusion SJB spokesperson Dayan Jayatilleka (official or unofficial?) has become jarring says Krishanta Prasad Cooray in Colombo Telegraph, 23 April. If DJ is serenading to his master Sajith’s dog whistle then it matters; if not don’t bother with the rest of this paragraph. If one can infer that on strategy Sajith rejects an opposition united front against the Double-Paksas, and on policy he desires retention of the Executive Presidency (EP), then both put Sajith on collision course with regime-opponents (though in line with DJ’s backing of the 52-day Mahinda Rajapaksa Prime Ministerial obscenity). SJB internal confusion on both counts is a hitch. There must exist explicit formal pronouncements on its position on EP and Sajith must state explicitly if he now regrets voting in favour 19A. Also let there be a pronouncement on whether the SJB intends to go it alone.
The labour market will be greatly affected – see Ceylon Federation of Labour General Secretary TMR Rasseedin’s statement “Colombo Port City Bill frontal attack on working people” in the Sunday Island of 18 April. But apart from this frontal assault on the working class the provisions of the Bill are so designed to cater to the interests of society’s upper classes and investors with hardly a concern for the welfare of the people at large. Even Tissa Vitarana warns “The luxury lifestyle of the few must be checked (soon) as otherwise those who are hungry may (be forced to) take to the streets”. [Parenthesis added]. While most criticism of PCB has focussed on sovereignty concerns and the undermining of parliamentary oversight it is important to understand its negative class implications. This underscores why the SBJ is pussyfooting. Eran Wickramaratne’s attack on SPR in Parliament was withering. Was it not obvious that PCB and SPR are twins born of the same womb, an executive presidency seeking authoritarian powers? How the SBJ can reconcile opposition to SPR with support for the executive presidential system is incomprehensible.
I have reached nearly 1650 words, but you will forgive me as I have touched on two important topics.