15 October, 2019

Blog

The Presidential Election: Into Anarchy Or Out of Anarchy? 

By Laksiri Fernando –

Dr. Laksiri Fernando

In politics there are no absolute truths, rights or wrongs. All relative. Politics is about choices and alternatives. It is also the art of the possible. The best policy for the people is to work through the given alternatives and keep vigilant about deviations from accepted norms, principles, and treasured values. The major hurdle for Sri Lanka at present is the forthcoming presidential election (hopefully) to be held in November or early December. Jumping into further anarchy, or out of anarchy is the key challenge? 

Sri Lanka has evolved into a reasonable democratic system where people have the opportunity to elect their representatives to various bodies of governance – local, provincial and national, although the present and the past regimes have been postponing or distorting many of them. The local council system goes back to the ancient times (as Gam Sabha) while many other present day democratic norms are assimilated (sometimes distortedly) through other (Western) democratic systems. Even the provincial council system has some semblance of ancient Rata Sabhas although those were not elected bodies. These are mentioned here because the traditions and roots are important to the people, although some sections of the elite might try to discard them blatantly. 

Importance of Island-wide Presidential Election

Under the present system, people also have the opportunity, as a broad based republic, to elect their Head of State as President, organized as a single electorate. This is important. This can be considered important not only for democracy but also to unite the people as much as possible as ‘one country’ and ‘one civic nation,’ irrespective of ethnicity or religion, although the powers and functions of the President are of some controversy today. Even in Australia those who advocate for future Australian republic consider the advantages of an elected president. Uniting the country or the nation through presidential leadership might not happen in the immediately future, but the trends might evolve in that direction, whoever the next President. Sri Lanka cannot survive or thrive otherwise.  

Westminster system is what the country inherited as colonial heritage at independence. There are people who consider that system to be sacrosanct and suitable to Sri Lanka in toto. This system existed almost purely until 1972, but the First Republican Constitution then made some adjustments to make it a more popular democracy based on some socialist views. Unfortunately, it survived only for six years. When the presidential system was introduced in 1978, it was opposed as it entailed not populist but authoritarian characteristics. The LSSP, its leader N. M. Perera and other Left parties were in the forefront of that opposition. But the present LSSP or the Communist Party does not appear to oppose a popular/socialist presidential system based on the people and democracy. What NM strongly opposed was the JR constitution and UNP manipulations.   

Since 1994, almost all parties and leaders promised to abolish the presidential system but didn’t do so for one or the other reason. Power in the presidency that leaders cherished was one reason. The spread of presidential systems in the international scene was another. Views of the parties and leaders also changed due to some other experiences. After the devolution of power, presidential position was considered a necessity. In countering terrorism, the merits of the presidential system also became highly appreciated. People more or less got used to the system and appreciated it based also on the traditional ‘kingship mentality.’  

Betrayal of 2015 Political Change 

However after the 18th Amendment, there was a new impetus to abolish the presidential system. People also wanted to change the Rajapaksa regime which was a positive sign. People have and should have every right to change governments and to expect progress as they want. Political change in 2015 was a major result of this trend although it is not at all achieved. Instead of abolishing the presidential system, for example, what we have is a pathetic duality or ‘diarchy’ which in fact has created an anarchy. In constitutional terms, this is the end result of the 19th Amendment. 

However, the situation is not purely constitutional, but political. Political determination for democratic reforms was weak from the beginning of the Wickremesinghe regime. Some economic imperatives predominated politics, influenced by foreign ideologies like neo-liberalism. Instead of eradicating corruption, new forms of corruption emerged from the very beginning. Personal, ideological and social/class cleavages emerged between the President and the Prime Minister. The government appeared very foreign to the people and even to the UNP grassroots members. This why there is an internal rebellion today within the ruling UNP. Foreign agendas predominated and the national security was neglected. 

Constitutions may be interpreted legally, but cannot be understood without politics. Constitution makers, particularly in countries like Sri Lanka, create ambiguous provisions due to incompetence, by purpose or because of compromises on divergent interests. In the future, ‘artificial intelligence’ might better be used for coherent constitution making. Most of the constitutional amendments to the present Constitution are motivated by personal and narrow political agendas. The 19th Amendment is no different, and considering what people expected, it is apparently one of its worst kinds. It has created an anarchy, first manifested in the constitutional crisis of October 2018, and then eventually leading to the Easter Sunday terrorist attacks this year. This is an anarchy that some of the foreign forces apparently want in Sri Lanka. 

A Mistaken Analysis  

In a recent article titled ‘The Presidential Election – Sleeping Walking Into Anarchy’ (Colombo Telegraph, 17 August 2019), Dr Nihal Jayawickrama has argued that the 19th Amendment has reduced the President into purely a Ceremonial Office and therefore ask why squander billions of rupees in an island-wide election to choose the next President? At this last moment he is proposing a constitutional amendment to thwart the presidential election and elect a new President from the existing Parliament or an Electoral College! Of course there are many elite groups who are against island-wide or even local elections although they

may talk about democracy. I wonder whether any of these people, including Jayawickrama, raised any objection when billions of rupees were robbed through bond scams under the Wickremesinghe regime.  

Jayawickrama of course has been careful to admit that the current President entertains executive powers, but claims that those interim powers would end after  President Sirisena. This is not at all the case. A President entertains political and moral power as he/she is elected by the people. People and other people’s representatives (MPs) should be vigilant however not to allow President’s to exceed them. This was the mistake before 2015. If there are other inhibitions on those powers they are determined by the lack of majority support in Parliament under a given condition, in addition to what is written. 

The Constitution still contains powers what can still be called executive powers, but reduced in many areas under the 19th Amendment, both beneficial and harmful. One of the fundamental articles of the Constitution, Article 4 (b) clearly says, 

“The Sovereignty of the People shall be exercised and enjoyed in the following manner :– …. (b) the executive power of the People, including the defence of Sri Lanka, shall be exercised by the President of the Republic elected by the People…”  

The above is not changed by the 19th Amendment. This is about the sovereignty of the people which cannot and should not be changed without a Referendum. Article 4 is linked to and flows from Article 3 of the Constitution. ‘Who cares for the sovereignty of the people’ or a Referendum might be one of the elitist arguments. Obviously, some people have different notions quite foreign to the country, to the people and to the Constitution. 

Sri Lanka cannot remain in constitutional ambiguity. The UNF government was reluctant to go before the people for a Referendum to change the presidential system. This is what has created an anarchy, and the change of which might come through the next presidential election. Jayawickrama has ridiculed both Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Sajith Premadasa in his article, without mentioning their names, for coming forward as presidential candidates. Both candidates appear to have similar determination in contrast to Ranil Wickremasinghe or Karu Jayasuriya. In ending the present anarchy however, one of them should not only win the presidency but should manage to win a majority in Parliament. 

If, and only if, Sajith Premadasa is selected as the candidate of the UNP and of the broader UNF coalition, Sri Lanka might evolve in a direction where the two major political forces (also others) could forge relative consensus on important issues in contrast to what appears as extremely divisive, manipulative, narrow and extensively foreign-aligned present regime of Wickremesinghe which has completely betrayed the aspirations of the 2015 change. If they fail, the JVP and the Left parties with the assistance of the people’s democratic forces should be ready to take the battle further. The immediate task however is to overcome the present anarchy in a democratic fashion and also changing the economic policy direction.   

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Latest comments

  • 3
    1

    can you imagine that a guy who has been secretly doing deals with the rajapksas is being touted as the unp,s presidential candidate

  • 3
    1

    The forthcoming Presidential Election is to GET OUT of an “Anarchy” and PREVENT the “Old Anarchy” coming in. That is the “Common Sense” prevailing in the country. You, “Dr” doesn’t know that? No wonder, from being afar from this country.

  • 1
    0

    Dr Laksiri.. It certainly has brought Anarchy in the UNP..

    What do you reckon mate?…Will Dr Ranil do a deal with the JVP?..

    I know the Elite who shared the Yahapalana Loot will back Dr Ranil even to do a deal Wijeweera if he was alive .
    But will the rest including the Anglicans and the Vellalas back the JVP?.

    Keselwatta Kid is going gangbusters with the UNP Dalits, after the Elite and the Anglicans not only insulted the Kid but his poor old man Keselwatta Senior as well.
    And I can understand.the Kid’s is anger specially when the insults came from a character like Galleon who represent to UNP’s Top End of the Town .

    Keselwatta Senior is the only Prez or PM for that matter, who did something for the UNP Dalits.
    And most of all he didn’t sell the Country to Foreigners like Dr Ranil did.

    One Professor Marasinghe threatened that he will go Courts if the the President break up the UNP .this time.
    And a Minister Bandara said he has the Tapes to prove it.-

    Dr Laksiri, Is this Marasinghe a Law Professor?.
    Because I didn’t hear anything from him, when the President tried to break up the UNP last time.

    This time Dr Ranil’s Legal Guardian Abraham seems to have his work cut out .

    • 2
      1

      KASmaalam K.A. Sumanasekera

      “I know the Elite who shared the Yahapalana Loot will back Dr Ranil even to do a deal Wijeweera if he was alive .”

      Do you know who shared the loot from Vanni when Gota’s goons raided VP’s Fort Knox including Mahinda’s contribution to VP in 2005 a payment in advance for his services to democracy?

      • 1
        0

        Dear Native,

        Why is your Vellala mate Sritharan from the TNA is hiding in Kotte , and pleading with Uncle Karu to protect him,while the TDI . and the Army are searching and even excavating the back of his property in Killinocchi?.

        May be that is where Pira has stashed all the Thalis and the LTTE Gold..

        • 1
          1

          KASmaalam K.A. Sumanasekera

          “May be that is where Pira has stashed all the Thalis and the LTTE Gold..”

          He appeared to have been the most zealous Tamil Nationalist among TNA MPs which means he has very close relationship with Mahinda and Gota. AS a close secret ally of Gota he would have been safekeeping some of Gota’s/Goon’s loot from VP’s Fort Knox.

          Maybe Namal Baby is trying to convert him to Sinhala/Buddhist fascism through his uncle’s contact in the army, TID, ….

  • 3
    1

    In politics there are no absolute truths, rights or wrongs. – Dr. Laksiri Fernando.
    .
    Dr. Laksiri Fernando, There are no absolute truths, rights or wrongs in our entire life, not just in politics. Truth is relative. So are rights and wrongs. Stop reinventing the wheel.
    .
    The mere opportunity to elect our representatives is no proof that we have a modern democratic system. If you want to call that democracy you are only displaying your poor understanding of what democracy is.
    .
    What we have in Sri Lanka is misrule, not Democracy.

    • 3
      0

      Nathan

      “What we have in Sri Lanka is misrule, not Democracy.”

      Yes of course it’s been a misrule since 1956, if not from 1948.
      More than misrule, the country has been converted into a fascist state, a remote controlled theocracy, definitely a kleptocracy, autocracy until 2015, soon to be securocracy, intermittently a mobocracy, …………………

    • 0
      1

      Nathan,
      Good point; this first sentence struck me as well and I would go even further to include the whole human knowledge! Also, I would like to draw attention to the thirst sentence. If Laksiri really meant what he wrote in this sentence, then his whole essay should have taken totally different theme: The impossibility of writing a perfect documents such as constitutions and/or rules of laws capable of overcoming human frailties. At this point we must remember that even the best democratic constitutions in the world didn’t come from heaven overnight; they were developed overtime by people who came to view politics as “by the people, of the people, for the people”.

      In other words, what really matters is not the document or the sentences in them; rather the honesty of not just the elected official but the nation as a whole. That is b’cos elected officials are only a small sample of total voting population.

      I don’t believe that eliminating the presidency would create a particular sense of stability within 19 A. As a matter of fact, the sense of instability is the nature of any democratic system. The reason is that the sense of instability is an inevitable product of freedom of expression of ideas. If there is any sense of instability, it is b’cos public is enjoying their new freedom won by defeating the terrifying “White Van Culture”. An extreme version of such a behavior is the chaotic situation erupted in the post-Arab Spring ME after emerging from much worse dictatorships. As Churchill once said, “Democracy is the worst form of Gvt except for all the others we have tried so far”.

  • 1
    0

    Laksiri,
    Constitution is the supreme law of the land. i disagree.

    It is only a piece of paper..

    In Sri Lanka there is something above the Constitution or any law.

    It is the Sinhala Buddhist supremacy.

    The constitution, elected President or Prime Minister are powerless.and below the Sinhala Buddhist supremacy

    Having said this, I as a realist support a Presidential system with checks and balances for a fixed 5 year two term president.

    19A should be revised and the concept of independent commissions and constitutional councils radically altered and make democracy more meaningful

  • 7
    0

    This Man Laksiri Fernando who proposed awarding honorary doctorates to Rajapaksas at the Colombo University senate has no right to challenge the eminent Dr Nihal Jayawickrama who has been an expert in that field. Anyway, who wants a guy like Sajith as the president of Sri Lanka , only idiots will want.

  • 3
    1

    Presidential system in Srilanka destroyed the unity and divided the country apart by producing dictatorship and bloodbath. It made the so called left educated individuals as Buddhist Sinhala Fundamentalists, racist and bribing as the norm. The law and order and justice and security system as the law of Mahinda Family.

  • 2
    1

    Laksiri, you say “Lanka has evolved into a reasonable democratic system where people have the opportunity to elect their representatives. In my opinion our Lankan retards has only managed in establishing family politics/ rule. You had Senanayakas, Bandas, JR/RW, now Rajapaksas and Premadasas. The reasons is Lankan voters are not just retarded but full of jealousy, resentment, hatred and immorality. You also said ” there is no absolute truths , rights or wrongs in politics”. True. But in Lankan politics ” there is no truths or rights what so ever .

  • 3
    0

    Laksri:

    *** Which world are you living in . Let me pick holes

    1) Under the present system, people also have the opportunity, as a broad based republic, to elect their Head of State as President, organized as a single electorate.

    *** We are not a united electorate. We are divided into Snhalses and Tamil electorate. Sinhalse voting to keep the dominance and Tamils voting to Break Free withuot any realistic chance.

    2) This is important. This can be considered important not only for democracy but also to unite the people as much as possible as ‘one country’ and ‘one civic nation,’ irrespective of ethnicity or religion, although the powers and functions of the President are of some controversy today.

    ** It has been the NORM for the last 71 years. Can you put your hand on heart and tell me how many attempts have there been to unite the People. We are two different people and by a cruel fate we have ended up in one country because of the British. In a Nation of .two Religions and two languages DIVIDED we Stand and UNITED We Fall.

    3) Even in Australia those who advocate for future Australian republic consider the advantages of an elected president. Uniting the country or the nation through presidential leadership might not happen in the immediately future, but the trends might evolve in that direction, whoever the next President. Sri Lanka cannot survive or thrive otherwise.

    *** There is no need to Unite Australia as you ( as an Australian Citizen) play subervient to the whites. You will never become a Prime Minister or President whenever the sysyem changes. But Sri Lanka is different. Until we devolve power we will never have peace. Dont forget it is the Federal structure which has kept Indian Union together. What we need in Sri Lanka is a Federal Government with Land and Police Powers so that the Tamils from the South can return Home to the North and avoid the carnage that we have seen for 71 years.

  • 4
    0

    Poor Laksiri Fernando, labouring under a massive inferiority complex, cannot address the substance of NJ argument without resorting to personal abuse.
    A psychologist will say he needs therapy

  • 1
    0

    Moerator

    It looks like you are overworked and under paid and as a result struggling to cope.

  • 1
    1

    Laksiri, At best what we have now is “Democrazy”. It is nothing but a SHAM. Just look for your self. The guy who was in SLFP is now in SLPP. Some were representing SLFP/SLPP/and Govt ,all three at the same time(as per their convenience). The so called SLFP shit heads who were with government (now in SLPP)were through out working against govt undermining and sabotaging. In the mean time MS/MR kept offering bribes to switch parties. People of the ilk of Veyalendran jumped ship as soon he saw money/position. Our joker president him self tried staging a constitutional coupe and bring down govt. Illegal money is offered for votes. And you call this a reasonable democratic system.

Leave A Comment

Comments should not exceed 300 words. Embedding external links and writing in capital letters are discouraged. Commenting is automatically shut off on articles after 10 days and approval may take up to 24 hours. Please read our Comments Policy for further details. Your email address will not be published.