30 September, 2020

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The President’s Dilemma About Dissolving Parliament

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

The demand for the dissolution of parliament is getting increasingly compelling. Civil society leaders, such as the Ven Maduluwave Sobitha, who led the movement for good governance during the presidential elections have come out strongly to insist that President Maithripala SIrisisena should use his presidential powers to dissolve parliament and hold the much anticipated general elections. Public opinion surveys and everyday conversations on the topic indicate that the general population is getting disillusioned with the present situation and agree that general elections to elect a new government with a parliamentary majority are necessary. There is recognition that the present minority government led by the UNP cannot deliver the changes that the people want for the reason that it does not command a majority in parliament. The UNP is alive to this problem and has been demanding the dissolution of parliament.

Initially in the aftermath of the presidential election it was expected that President Sirisena would dissolve parliament sometime in April in keeping with his election manifesto that laid out a 100 day plan of action which was to be completed by the end of April. However, the president has been showing a reluctance to dissolve parliament. There are likely to at least two reasons for this. The first is that prior to going to the polls, the president is keen to heal the rift in his party that has come about because of the bid by former president Mahinda Rajapaksa to obtain a position of leadership within the SLFP. Along with the rest of his party, President Sirisena realises that going in for general elections with a divided party is a recipe for defeat that can undermine his own credibility as the new leader of the SLFP. He has said there is no room for two leaders.

Second, the president is committed to delivering on the main promises he made during the presidential election campaign prior to going in for another election. There is a national consensus that the preferential voting system which leads to an unhealthy and often violent inner party competition and expenditure of vast sums of money within political parties for votes at the expense of others in the same party needs to be changed for good governance. In a recent meeting with civil society members of the “March 12 Movement” led by the election monitoring organisation PAFFREL, the president spoke of his own experiences in contesting elections under the previous electorate-based first-past-the-post system and the present district-based proportional voting system. He said that there had been a huge increase in his own election campaign expenses between 1989 and 2010 and this system needed to be reformed.

Best Opportunity 

During the discussion with the civil society members, President Sirisena showed that he was prepared to think through issues rather than look at them superficially. While welcoming and signing the document, he demonstrated clarity of thought in critiquing the March 12 resolution which laid out 8 principles on which the candidature of prospective politicians should be ascertained. He came across as a public educator in his manner of analysis. One of the conclusions of the discussion was that the massive increase in expenses during elections was a root cause of the corruption that accompanies the political careers of so many who are elected to represent the people. The president’s commitment to the passage of the 20th Amendment to the constitution is due to his belief that this is the best opportunity to put in place a system of governance that will ensure good governance in the future.

The present parliamentary and government configuration gives the president a 2/3 majority to enable constitutional change. This is due to the dependence that the minority UNP government has on him to keep it afloat and the majority SLFP opposition has due to the fact that he is president of the SLFP. The president’s role was seen when he championed the 19th Amendment and ensured that it was past with the requisite 2/3 majority in parliament although the political parties were at odds with one another on the issue of the amendment. A similar situation has arisen with the 20th Amendment with the different political parties saying different things about it. The cabinet has approved a parliament of 237 members, whereas the UNP is of the view that the figure should be 225, the SLFP insists on 255 and the ethnic minority parties call for a double vote as found is some countries that follow the mixed proportional and first-past-the-post system that the 20th Amendment envisages.

In these circumstances it can be understood that President Sirisena sees the present parliamentary configuration as one that needs to be used if the 20th Amendment is to be passed at all. He is best able to exercise his power to promote good governance when both the government and opposition are disempowered and can only ignore him at their peril. If the 20th Amendment is not passed now, it may never be. But despite President Sirisena’s clear preference for the 20th Amendment to be passed prior to the dissolution of parliament, there is one factor that might force his hand to dissolve parliament without passing the amendment. This is the question of the mounting challenge to his leadership of the SLFP being posed by former president Rajapaksa. It is this issue that can push the president to make the decision to dissolve parliament sooner rather than later.

Free-Emptive Action 

At the present time the UNP led government is disempowered because it does not have a parliamentary majority. The government faces two no-confidence motions against the prime minister and finance minister, which if passed would require the dissolution of the government and appointment of a new prime minister. Only the president stands between the no-confidence motions and their passage in parliament. At the same time the SLFP majority in parliament is also disempowered because they do not form the government. As most of them lack a vision of good governance that President Sirisena has, they are looking to him to permit them to utilise their parliamentary majority to get the better of the government.

As politicians who seek power most of the SLFP parliamentarians are concerned primarily about retaining or improving their positions of power and not good governance of which President Sirisena has become the foremost champion from within the political sphere. The SLFP knows that it is the president who stands between them and the no-confidence motions they have tabled in parliament against the prime minister and finance minister. They are aggrieved that he is not taking their side and ousting the UNP government. This is why both former president Rajapaksa and his supporters have been openly defiant of the president’s directive that SLFP members should not take part in the political rallies being organised to ensure the return of the former president into active politics on behalf of the SLFP and in a position of leadership.

However, President Sirisena has reiterated that he will not provide the former president with nominations from the SLFP to contest future elections and more especially that he will not countenance the former president as the SLFP’s prime ministerial candidate. He has also made it clear to his party members that they will have to choose between supporting the SLFP or the former president. At the present time the former president does not have his own political party or a grassroots party machinery to support him outside of the SLFP. An early dissolution of parliament will prevent former president Rajapaksa from obtaining either the time or space to set up a new party machine with the capacity to mobilise voters in sufficient numbers to become a winning force. This may be the choice the president is forced to make even though his heart and the practice of statesmanship lies with effort to ensure the passage of the 20th Amendment.

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Latest comments

  • 8
    0

    What is important is to have a new parliament as early as possible. There is not enough time to have an electoral reform with sufficient discussion with all stake holders and the public. Unlike in the case of 19A, there is lot of opposition for 20A from the minor parties including those that represent the minority ethnic groups. So why cannot the two major parties decide on suitable clean candidates for the next elections and go ahead to hold the election on the old basis, form a national or coalition government after the elections and then go in for properly discussed electoral reforms?

    Sengodan. M

    • 2
      0

      Sengodan.M – Cannot Agree with your comment as in the first place, the leaders of the two leading parties should be clean to select suitable, clean candidates to represent the people, which is not a possibility
      without a law in place. Instead, should get all party leaders to agree in principle that 20A will be taken as the 1st legislation to be tabled
      in the next parliament and the President should have a hold on it to
      happen as he is already there as President for the period ahead and go ahead with the election, as time is running out on people’s patience
      and dissolution should happen within this week to appease public demand. Good governance sans electoral reforms is like going back to old form of governing.

      This is not all about PM Ranil and President Sirisena or former President,aspiring to be PM,and SLFP split. It is all about future democracy and good governance in Sri Lanka so that at last, there is peace and harmony among all communities in the country to move forward.

      Majority of the parliamentarians, specially the two leading parties, are against electoral reforms and what does this mean. They want corruption & nepotism and political thuggery to return. President Sirisena is wasting his time trying to pour water on ducks back.

  • 3
    3

    It is wish full thinking that Mahinda Rajapaksa can be shooed away by MY3 by not nominating him from SLFP or UPFA. The ground reality is there is grass root level work being done to eject MY3 from the SLFP and UPFA chairmanship and MR will take over the leadership of the party and the Alliance. This will happen on the day the parliament is dissolved.

    • 1
      0

      Patriot – This cannot happen as traditionally it had been always the PM
      or the President,automatically becomes the Chairman of the party unless
      he or she is removed as President of the country by 2/3 majority and for that to happen, there should be a new parliament and this is only possible after the election, not before and more over,according to the
      recently concluded 19A legislation, Its only the President who can appoint a Prime minster and we go back to square one where the President is supreme.

  • 2
    0

    A perfect analysis on the present political climate/stalemate prevail in Sri L L Lanka. Spoon is with the President and he is well aware of which way to go. But…. the few communal party henchmen who cling on to him play behind the scene drama to derail the clear path he should choose. Good sense should prevail to reach a consensus on 20A that has all party support akin to 19A. Then push through in this legislature itself. If consensus cannot be reached, waste no time but dissolve the parliament; call from fresh election where a green, blue or red party can form a single or pluralist government that present candidates who are educated, non communal and above all non corrupt. This is what the need of the hour. Over to you Mr. President.

  • 4
    1

    This is what happens when Ranil tries to be too clever.

    Ranil has got his knickers in a twist (or, rather, a young man’s sarong in a twist) and it will be awesome to see how this plays out.

  • 2
    0

    Suitable clean Candidates. The corrupted politicians are still on the show. They still have their vote banks. Rejecting them will lead to split of UPFA or slfp votes.
    Then UNP might gain upper hand. My 3 will have to relax his power to them. Ranil into PM ship and governance will go somewhere. The clean candidates may not have finance for the elections and will have to rely on benefactors. They have to build up a vote bank so quickly. Even if they are elected they will have an obligation to the benefactors. Those who amazed lot of money during the last 10 yrs will be ready to spend all that money on the election because they know they can earn many fold again. If they don’t win they are at risk of investigation and not only loosing their wealth but risk ending in custody. In the sub surface tension between the west and seena the west achieved a great victory but china has planted deep rooted involvements in sl. Spending money on sl is easy for them and they have enough money for that. USA is indebted $ 1 trillion.
    Most SLans vote based on emotions and privilages not on rational thinking.
    according to the unwritten tradition ,agreement or convention now it is the turn of jejewardanas. there will be a tremendous effort to bring Rani as PM or even as President. I believe Mi3 is not from the two family geoups.he may not be there for a longer period. If UPFA get a big win it is a risk for MI3’s president position.
    Now the racial factor will play a big roll. Remember Gamunu waged a war against a ruler of fair governance and won. History can repeat after 2000 yrs. Gamonu veneratore are a powerful force in SL. In the President election minority votes played a remarkable role. It is not the same in the parliamentary election. It is not the Mahinda who wants to become PM . but those who enjoyed his rule will want to bring him up again. That is a sound force. Now in SL the communication and media tech is smart. mahinda can outsmart his opposition in this respect.with the chinese help. English medium is not going to help much there.

  • 1
    0

    The 225 member parliament was sufficient for MR to appoint the world’s largest cabinet of ministers.
    There is now no need to have more MPs.
    What is needed is a strong election department/commission, and the other commissions allowed by the 17th Amendment, to be appointed by the Constitutional Council.
    The CC should be established soon.
    But, the CC with 7 politicians and only 3 civilians may appoint only political lackeys.
    This needs to be avoided.

  • 2
    0

    By now,President M.S.would have identified those SLFP MPP who are backing MaRa.
    Even though MS is Head of State and Head of the SLFP/UPFA the MPP supporting MaRa do not seem to care.As such the best antidote is to dissolve Parliament and refuse Party nomination for these renegade MPP. There will be no way by which MaRa and these renegade MPP can capture power on a different party other than the SLFP.

    It is time for President MS to pull the carpet from under the feet of MaRa and his Gang.Perhaps,the Parliamentary adjournment debate tomorrow on the 20thA.could be used as a Barometer to gauge what needs to be done.

    I would not be surprised if Parliament is dissolved even the day after!

  • 1
    0

    President Sirisena is a bit unrealistic and unable to read the tea leaves. It is very unlikely the SLFP will agree to ANY version of 20A because it wants to delay elections for as long as possible, even up to the constitutional limit, April next year. (I will not discuss why for reasons of space, but this is now obvious).

    The President must wake up, face the facts and dissolve if he cannot get 20A enacted by, say 30 June. Sure try your best; then firmly shut the door on 20A.

  • 2
    0

    EW Golding

    (I will not discuss why for reasons of space, but this is now obvious).

    Don’t worry too much about lack of space. Get on with what you want to discuss. Aren’t we being bit lazy today, are we?

  • 0
    0

    President should not dissolve the parliament when it is not necessary. The parliament has time until 2016. IF the UNP – govt is unable to work the president should give it to a SLFP govt.

    Besides, Ranil Wickramsinghe has done nothing differently to show that he is different from Mahinda Rajapakse.

    Only thing Ranil trying to do is making Sri lanka vulnerable to Tamil block votes living overseas and to make Sri lanka a Kerala where minorities rule the majority. That is what his constitution changes are aiming for.

    Ranil and there are more there who should not be kept in politics.

  • 0
    0

    E.W.Golding.

    Perhaps,if MPP do not go the full term until April,the petty cash that they receive in the form of a Pension may not get into their pockets.

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