By Upali Wickramasinghe –
It was nearly a year ago that Prof. Kumar David made public the proposal to put forward a common candidate by the opposition at the next Presidential Election. He identified the possible candidate as Maduluwawe Sobitha Hamuduruwo. The good Hamuduruwo, on many subsequent occasions indicated that he will venture into the candidacy, subject to the parliamentary opposition being unable to field a suitable common candidate.
This announcement by Prof Kumar was followed by the news papers identifying some of the people backing and supporting this proposal. Of those identified were Dr.Jayampathy Wickrmaratne a lawyer of repute, another well known lawyer Mr.J.C.Weliamuna and Academician Dr.Nimal Ranjith Devasiri of the University of Colombo to mention a few.
I also happened to read a column by Dr.Wickramaratne on the same subject.
I am entitled to my view as a citizen. My reaction to the proposal was not appreciative at all. To my layman’s view it appeared unethical and not liable to be successful.
Their road map require that there will be one candidate challenging the incumbent president (who by inference will work to get the Executive Presidency to continue) and that the whole of the opposition will back this candidate – the so called Common Candidate.(CC). The CC will present a manifesto with one item – abolish the Executive Presidency and go home. He will be replaced by a non Executive President with the powers held by the Executive President being transferred to a Prime Minister.
I am not a lawyer, but a simple citizen. I am using my right to examine these set of proposals critically, as it will adversely affect me and mine in the future.
In addition I find that there are many a serious loop holes in these proposals. Loop holes to my understanding which had not been raised so far by others and not attended to by the proponents.
1. One year ago when this proposal was propounded, Hamuduruwo had a vast army of colleagues to canvas for him – The Buddhist clergy. It is now doubtful whether the clergy can convince the majority of the voters to vote with Hamuduruwo considering the happenings of the recent past. There is much criticism of the public face of the Buddhist clergy, which had developed in the recent past. This started with the JHU coming to the Parliament.
2. This concept had been discussed only among a limited group of people during the last one year since Prof David went public. I have not seen any action being taken to make the public aware of the problems of the Executive Presidency and the necessity to abolish it and to present their solution to the public, a fundamental requirement.
The voter in the past had been carried away by the call of the race, caste and religion. During the past 64+ years of independence, no political party, no politician, even the clergy attempted to wean the people from such backward sentiments. In fact such sentiments were encouraged.
3. The coterie of people who back this proposal are not figures that the voting public will identify themselves with. In contrast the incumbent President is known to the people and at least a good proportion of them will identify themselves with the current President.
4. The happenings during the past one year indicate that a consensus among the opposition is near impossible. Leaders of many parties are positioning themselves to be identified as the common candidate. In addition there are a few out side the political spectrum are also living with such wishful thinking.
5. What happens if the common candidate once elected is forced to go back on his promise? Clergies of all religions have exhibited a tendency towards acquiring political power. In addition there are groups of influential civilians who hanker power to be vested in the theocracy.
6. The next stage, actually the concurrent stage, is to hand over the executive powers to the “incoming” Prime Minister. Just because the President dissociated himself from Executive powers will the Prime Minister not misuse those powers. During the period 1972-77, though the Prime Minister who enjoyed the executive powers did not misuse the powers vested in her, some of her Ministers and MPs did so. Based on some of the accusations that were made, they should have been prosecuted. This country has no such history. Each politician scratch the other politician’s back and the people have grin grumble and bear up.
7. Just because the President gave away the Executive Powers vested in him, what prevents the Prime Minister from using these powers and get legislation implemented which are anti-people? What checks and balances are being proposed ?
8. The Executive Presidency is meshed up with the Proportional Representation, which had been the point of incubation of corruption and all the other points of bane for the public. How does the proposed changes in the EP affect the people and what steps are being proposed to ensure good governance. The position that the constitution is to be rewritten is not a workable solution.
9. The public Administration in this country had been made the plaything of the Administrator in power. One example is the Secretary to the Ministry of Finance and Planning. The damage to the economy is immense.
The proposal on offer include no palliative to such problems.
10. Next question that arise is in drafting a new constitution. Have the proponents of this proposal drafted an alternative constitution, if so why are they keeping it away from the public. The public has a right to know the contents of if such a draft exist.
11. If the constitution is to be drafted a new, it means that it has to be an cooperative effort not the deal foisted on the public in 1972 and 1978. Into the hotch potch getting into action will to draft a new constitution be politicians, members representing language/racial interests, members representing religious groups and sects, the business community, the professional classes,etc etc. Getting this hotch potch to agree to a common agenda for the betterment of the masses will require the effort of Gods Shiva, Sakkra and many more super natural beings with super natural power.
It will not be a draft for the welfare of the society at large, but a compromise to safe guard each person’s interests ditto the 1972 and 1978 constitution.
I visualize the negotiations to go on and on for years, may be until the people get exasperated, forcing the people to take the law into their hand as they did it in Argentina that also if the Sri Lankan masses can get away from their slothful existence.
12. The next point, I see as the most retrograde part of the proposal, is the via means to be adopted to implement the changed constitution.
They see it as a short and a sweet operation – Approval, by the Supreme Courts followed by the approval of the Parliament. They go back to the practise adopted in 1972 and 1978 as precedents.
No mention is made of the acceptance by the citizens as a basic requirement.
Coming from a group that is supposed to bring about democracy – this was shocking to say the least.
My only comment is that the people who drafted these proposals had not learnt a lesson from the happenings of 1971, 1983 and 1987.
It is true that both the 1972 and the 1978 constitutions were not subjected to the wishes of the electorate. That does not mean a repetition of those perverted acts is right, ethical or democratic in action. They were nothing but perversion of the parliamentary system for the benefit of a few.
The irony is that when the 1978 constitution was discussed, those in the opposition raised many objections, pointed out many failures, but were silent on the critical factor, the necessity of seeking the approval of the electorate. I do not think that it did not cross their minds. They themselves set the precedent six years ago and did not want that short coming discussed.
The draftees of the 1972 and 1978 constitutions acted as if the citizens of the country were their slaves and entitled to only the crumbs that fall off their table.
During my short life span I have read about the changes of the constitution and amendments to the constitutions being introduced in other countries. They were always subject to the acceptance by the Public – a referendum. France under Gen de Gaulle ( three times), Venezuela under Chavez (three times) Bolivia, Nicaragua, Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Burma – Myanmar subjected their proposals to referenda.
If it is democracy, let it be so in the true sense and practice of democracy, failing that we are back in an autocratic set up.
Our country had been subject to three constitutions. The Soulbury constitution, the Constitution of 1972 and the Constitution of 1978.
Of these the only constitution accepted by the people was the Soulbury constitution, may be because it was to be followed with independence, the critical factor being that it was accepted. The 1972 constitution and the 1978 constitution were there by the power of the supreme courts, the police and the military and judicious use of bribes – cars, pensions, free food, unjustified perks and free hand to brazenly rob the exchequer and the public institutions at will, all costs being borne by the masses.
I think that it is prudent to get back to the Soulbury constitution in toto, as a remedy for our problems. It also offers some palliative to the problems of the minorities.
That was the only constitution that kept the masses happy, there were checks and balances provided to safe guard the masses from excesses by the politician, the executive and the administration.
That proposal should be able to carry the opposition by consensus, if they have sense of decency still left in them.
As a layman, I feel that the following should be considered, when including amendments to the Soulbury constitution. (i) Review of the legislation by the parliament before and after the relevant bills had been passed. What happened to the Constitutional Court presided by Justice T.S.Fernado should never be permitted and there should be safe guards to prevent the executive from justifying such an act (ii) All posts high posts in the Public Service including the appointment to the Governing Boards of the State Ventures, appointment of individuals to represent the holding by the Tax Payer in Private Sector institutions, to be subject to review by the parliament, before and after the appointment (iii) Individuals, both from among the politicians exercising executive power and those in the administration to be subject to penalties if and when they have been found to have acted against the interest of the people.(iv) Benefits provided to Parliamentarians be limited to a monthly stipident, cost of operating an office, travel to and from the Parliament and may be the cost of telecommunication facilities.
Short of an answer to these, I do not think that it is ethical to expect the voter to vote with your proposal. They may end up with the status quo in another name.