President Donald Trump, whose nonsense about the spread of Covid-19 in the US, is now using the major disaster it has caused, to get the coming presidential election postponed, with less than 100 days left.
In Sri Lanka that has so far tackled Covid-19 effectively, saw our Elections Commission postpone the General Election by more than 3 months, and is now moving to the polls – with just three days more.
Campaigning is fast moving to the close. The rival parties and alliances are readily violating the crowd control limits on the Covid threat, and rushing with the cheap parades of promises to the voters to grab a parliamentary majority. The issue that has become the core of electoral politics is the Two-thirds Majority.
The Podujana Peramuna – Pohottuva – campaign has the Two-thirds as its demand from the voters. They want the victory that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa obtained in the Presidential Election last November, to be even bigger, to wholly manage the Parliament. Issues of a fast shrinking economy, rise of unemployment, fall of tourism and all related crises are ignored in the call for two-thirds in parliament.
With the main political rival of the Pohottuva – the UNP is so hugely divided, as the Elephant trails hanging on to the wire of the Telephone. Ranil Wickremesinghe uses courtroom judgments to bolster a hugely weakened party, and the Sajith Premadasa team is twisted with a range of unreal promises. The JVP-led alliance of the NPP, having better thinking and good people, is much further behind in the overall national politics. This gives the Rajapaksas a clear lead — but their search for Two-thirds is putting that lead into major doubt, in majoritarian politics.
The theme of the Rajapaksas is the Sinhala-Buddhist dominance, which saw the huge majority that Gotabaya Rajapaksa obtained to be president. The Sinhala-Buddhists are certainly more than two-thirds in the overall population and the electoral registers too. But, is this workable in an election based on Proportional Representation or PR?
As the campaigns draw to a close there is the need to think more of Democracy, than any of the big players in this campaign are willing to allow. The electoral process is the fabric of democracy. We have seen a shift from ‘first-past-the post (FPTP)’ to the PR system. And, we have also seen the major threats to Democracy from the two-thirds result.
The two last elections under FPTP in 1970 and 1977 saw the dangers of two-thirds power. Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike who led the United Left of the SLFP-LSSP-CP to power in 1970, used the two-thirds to extend the term of that parliament from five to seven years – with the next election coming in 1977 and not 1975. That was the two-thirds at play. The also saw the abolition of the Civil Service that did a lot for clean administration, and replaced it with the Administrative Service – which has led to the dominance of political (and even family related) appointees, with the current shift to those in present and retired uniforms to drive the government.
The 1977 election – held two years later – saw the huge victory of JRJ led UNP, getting a five-sixth majority. JRJ would have benefitted much from the earlier polls delay. That huge majority brought the new Executive Presidency, which showed the dangers of such electoral majorities. JRJ used that majority to postpone the next general election by six years! The new constitution axed the powers of parliament, giving huge dominance to the President. It saw the enabling of cross-overs in parliament, and did away with the process of by-elections.
These two results give sufficient proof of the dangers of a two-thirds result in electoral politics. The crude behaviour of MPs in parliament, the loading of allowances, luxury vehicles, and bill payments of MPs also followed the two-thirds result. Parliament was not the voice of the people, but the voice of those in power, and none other.
The issue before the voters in just four days time – is that of the Two-thirds Majority and nothing else. To refuse it, is to give more strength to Parliament and Democracy.
The Pohottuva has big talk about removing the 19th Amendment – passed by a two-thirds obtained with inner-parliamentary understanding, and not an electoral majority. The majority of those in the Pohottuva parliamentary team before dissolution, voted for it. There was only one opponent, with a few absentees. SLFP/Joint Opposition leaders and members , left party leaders and members, UNP leaders and members and the minority Tamil and Muslim party leaders and members all voted for it. Such understanding is the core value of a two-thirds parliamentary majority.
The 19A does need amendments – that will need two-thirds. But one must not forget that it was 19A that reduced the presidential term to five years from six, and importantly brought back the presidential terms of office to two – and not any number that Mahinda Rajapaksa brought in, after the victory over the Tamil Tigers, and a purchased and promoted two-thirds majority in parliament.
Do the big callers for a Two-thirds want to bring back an unlimited term presidency? Just look at many African and Latin American dictatorships – with often violent elections. Should the independence of the Judiciary and the many Commissions such as Elections, Police, Human Rights etc be removed and brought back under presidential dominance? That is what Mahinda Rajapaksa did.
These are the issues of Two-thirds politics today. We must remove faults in 19A such as the so-called National Government mockery, and give more strength to the independence of commissions, as well as the Judiciary. The need is to elect candidates, from whatever party or independent group, who will move in that direction, and not those who seek to undermine Democracy and People’s Power through a Two-thirds grab.
Let us think of electing members to parliament who will be ready to cut or slash MP’s pensions; give them official vehicles, where necessary, not not duty free luxuries; cut down their holiday payments on so-called parliamentary necessity; stop those who will use privilege to seek medical attention abroad; stop giving spouses, children, nephews and nieces employment under parliamentary privilege…. The list goes on!
Fighting the call for a Two-thirds majority is fighting for Democracy.
The fight to save and build Democracy is one that needs constant action. Let the coming election be one such big fight.