17 September, 2019

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The Biggest Change Comes Through Elections

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

President Maithripala Sirisena has announced his intention to seek the passage of the 20th Amendment to the constitution as a priority. The reforms envisage an electoral system in which the majority of parliamentary seats will be obtained on the first-past-the post system, while keeping to an overall proportional outcome. The experience at elections held under the present proportional system with a preferential voting option has been a negative one. It has been marked by heavy expenditures by candidates who have to contest much larger district-sized electorates and has also led to in-fighting by candidates within the same political party for the preferential votes that will get them elected.

The promise of a change in the electoral system was one of the key promises in the election manifesto of President Sirisena during the presidential election campaign. In terms of constitutional reforms, it was alongside the promises to reduce the direct powers of the presidency on the one hand, and to establish a non-partisan constitutional council to oversee non-partisan appointments being made to important institutions of the state, such as the judiciary, police, public service and elections commission. The government has received much commendation for having passed the 19th Amendment within the first 100 days of President Sirisena’s election victory.

However, the passage of the 19th Amendment was not easy. There were many opinions and vested interests involved in the process of decision making. At times it seemed that the 2/3 majority needed for constitutional change would not be found. The passage of the 19th Amendment was only made possible by the cohabitation of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe who heads the present UNP government with President Sirisena who heads the SLFP opposition who were able to persuade their respective party members to give their support to the constitutional amendment. This same political configuration exists today and gives the hope that it can be utilized to provide a similar successful outcome in the case of the 20th Amendment.

Maithripala 19 05 2015Unfortunately, with the passage of time the spirit of rivalry between the two main political parties in the country has increased, and not decreased, which makes the passage of the 20th Amendment less likely. The UNP is concerned that the 20th Amendment will be used to delay the speedy dissolution of Parliament which was part of the President’s election manifesto. It is in the interests of the opposition to continue with the present parliamentary configuration for as long as possible, and till April 2016 when the term of the present parliament lapses. This is on account of both their fear that they will not be a part of Parliament again, and their hope that the present government becomes less popular with the passage of time. Their interest lies in having the general elections later rather than sooner.

Slowing Down 

The election manifesto of the alliance of political parties that supported the candidacy of President Maithripala Sirisena highlighted a 100 day plan after which Parliament would be dissolved and fresh elections would be called. After the passage of 150 days since the election of President Sirisena the government formed by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe appears to be running out of steam. The imbalance between a ruling party with a mere 43 seats in a Parliament of 225 members in which the largest opposition party has 126 seats has begun to take its toll. The engine of the government, it is clear, is too small, and cannot pull the load any more especially when the terrain is getting uphill.

The problem faced by the government was evident in the fiasco over the appointment of the Constitutional Council which was to be set up under the 19th Amendment. This body will be the most prestigious and important institution of state, vested with the power to select those who would ensure that other institutions of state, such as the judiciary, police, public service and elections commission are non-partisan and would maintain the independence of those key institutions. According to the 19th Amendment the appointments to the Constitutional Council would be primarily the responsibility of the President, Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition with the leaders of the smaller parties also having an input.

A fortnight ago it seemed that the appointments to the Constitutional Council were on track, with the names of those who were to be members announced. However, the choice of the President, Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition has not been ratified by Parliament. As a result there is a deadlock where it concerns appointments to key state institutions. An example is the Bribery Commission which has been in the news over the past several months as it has received a plethora of complaints against members of the former government who are now in the opposition. One of the Bribery Commissioners has resigned but cannot be replaced because the Constitutional Council is not yet constituted. Therefore the Bribery Commission too remains without a Commissioner and unable to take up new cases.

Positive Change 

The lacuna that has beset governance is not limited to institutions of state. It also has implications for government policy. The government which has a ruling party of only 43 members in a parliament of 225 cannot pass legislation in parliament unless the much larger opposition in parliament agrees. The parliamentary opposition has little or no incentive to cooperate with the government as is interest lies in weakening the ruling party and showing it to be ineffective. This has a negative impact on all areas of governance, not least the economy. The economic dividend that was expected after the replacement of the former government has yet to materialize.

The present stalemate in governance has mobilized sections of civil society to issue a call for the immediate dissolution of parliament. They noted that “there is a rising perception of crisis and instability, which cannot be allowed to take root. The economy cannot afford this lack of political direction for much longer, and as importantly, the hope and aspiration created by the change of government in January demands both clarity in promises being kept and further progress in reforms, especially with regard to devolution and power-sharing. The time is ripe therefore for fresh parliamentary elections which would allow the people of Sri Lanka to have their say on reforms already enacted and to mandate the direction of the government for the next five years.”

A considerable amount of work and compromise has gone into the preparation of the new electoral system. Most of the parties, including the small and ethnic minority parties have expressed their willingness to go along with it. The best that can be hoped for is that the 20th Amendment is finalized without any more delay and placed before Parliament. However, the overriding priority is for the country to have an effective government that is based on the present political realities, and not those that existed five years ago in 2010, when the present parliament was elected. The pursuit of consensus to obtain a 2/3 majority to pass the 20th Amendment must not stand in the way of elections for a new parliament. The overriding value of elections and new government leadership was seen best at the presidential election that took place on January 8 this year, which has transformed life in the country.

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Latest comments

  • 4
    1

    Well written Sir.

  • 5
    1

    This is inevitable this time.

    MY3 will make it. He is the great son of the motherland. All what the buggers failed to do with 2/3 mandate, MY3 will do within a short period of time. I listened myself to him today – I felt myself, how great Mr President is. He addresses all the aspects. Not attacking anyone actually the way Mahinda does back and forth. We need such good leaders if the nation should turn to a civlized one.

  • 0
    1

    Jehan, the UNP led by Ranil would not have proposed a system that would hurt their party and their political agenda. Enlightened self interest I think it is called. It follows that it is politics as usual in Sri Lanka with one party trying to gain advantage over the other parties.

    I for one am deeply suspicious of the 20th. Ban Ki Moon’s telephoning the President to say he is looking forward to its passing is an absurd.

    I really don’t think we can fight these foreign conspiracies, might as well give in.

  • 2
    0

    This article is excellent piece of information for people who are not in
    touch with local politics like me.

    Thank you for presenting a well balanced article.

    Hope parliament is desolved soon and a effective parliamentarians
    are selected where government can function.

  • 3
    1

    As someone mentioned in a TV debate, MY3 is a Yuga Purusha while being politician too, a difficult and task to achieve. In India Mahatma Gandhi, the great Yuga Purusha of India, managed to get independence for his country, but refused to be a politician.

    MY3, a not very well known Minister in MR cabinet, has turned out to be the right man at the right time. When we Sri Lankans had lost all hope of getting the right leader, he emerges to vanquish the old guard and take over. We and the coming generations should be grateful to him for coming forward for the task, like a knight in shining amour, risking his life.

    The question now is, having had the good fortune of getting the right man at the right time, are we going to lose this golden opportunity to put things right, because some of the old rogues are still roaming freely?

    • 1
      0

      Edwin Rodrigo

      ‘…because some of the old rogues are still roaming freely?’

      I concur. Unfortunately some of the rogues are in parliament and some are out. Ali Baba and all his thieves should be put behind bars and sooner the better. My3, Chandrika and AKD can do the needful. I cannot bank on Ranilpaksha??

  • 2
    0

    Aptly stated:”The engine of the government, it is clear, is too small, and cannot pull the load any more especially when the terrain is getting uphill”. Let us hope,”…the country (will) have an effective government that is based on the present political realities….” Bensen

  • 0
    2

    It is heartbreaking that many Colombians who were born, bred, nourished and sustained by this country are determined to destroy its unity, heritage and future. Jehan Perera joined the Sudu Nelum Movement orchestrated by Mangala Samaraweera, a son of a patriotic politician brought up in a rural corner of Sri Lanka. During the regime of Chandrika Bndaranayake, Mangala and Jehan who is from a urban, un-westernised background pionerred the campaigned against the beleaguered government security forces. The security forces were and still are commanded by sons of villagers who are humble and care first and foremost about the future and security of the country they were born into. We cannot fathom the reason as to why Jehan and Mangala persevere on this mission against its own people, destabilise this country and jeopardise its sovereignty.

  • 1
    0

    Gigurawa sounds like Malinda (when he doesn’t sound like Mahindapala).

    “It is heartbreaking that many Colombians who were born, bred, nourished and sustained by this country are determined to destroy its unity, heritage and future”, says Gigu.

    It is just as “heartbreaking” that many apparently intelligent Colombians and others from around the country are equally “determined to destroy its unity, heritage and future” by campaigning for thugs, criminals and megalomaniacs.

    Many of us also ” cannot fathom the reason as to why (they) persevere on this mission against (their) own people (who voted the criminals out), to destabilise this country and jeopardise its sovereignty.

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