By Harindra Dunuwille –
The rhetoric emanating from the political leaders do not inspire much hope of an early resolution to the political impasse, notwithstanding the two No confidence motions. There will be allegations and counter allegations, posturing, play acting leading to more acrimony and polarization. The island wide mass agitation has ended the mandate given 2 years ago and demands a change of guard. Delay will further exacerbate the rapidly deteriorating economic woes of the masses. It is not surprising at all that all the leaders are trying to gain some advantage, to advance their own political futures and that of their parties. A “higher intervention” that will have clout with the political leaders and that will have the ground swell support of the masses is required to intervene.
We are trapped by the constitution that dictates that it is the Parliament that can come up with a solution. The members of Parliament do not seem to be in any hurry, quite happy to play politics even in this hour of dire need. A positive step would be the repeal of the 20th amendment to the constitution and the re-introduction of the 19th with agreed amendments in the form of the 21st amendment. This is an achievable first step, a way out of the current impasse.
Once that is done and out of the way, and the Presidential wings are clipped there is the remote possibility that the President may resign. If he does, it’s well and good. But let’s take the more likely scenario, that he will not quit.
A radical and unprecedented move is called for. This where the ‘higher intervention’ becomes necessary and it could be in the form of the religious leaders, i.e. the 4 Mahanayakes, the Cardinal representing the Christian Churches, the Heads of the Islamic and Hindu Religious Organisations. They must come out strongly to prevail upon the Party leaders and the Parliamentarians, who need to make a short term sacrifice.
My suggestion is as follows:
1. That all 29 National list members are made to resign.
2. That a group of eminent persons, not more than 5, nominated by the said religious leaders will pick and recommend 20 (or less) non-political persons who are unaffiliated to any political party or organiasation and who are experts in their fields with knowledge and practical experience to be nominated to Parliament by the secretaries of the relevant political parties, who shall be appointed Ministers. Of them, one shall be picked to be the Prime Minister. There shall be no State or Deputy Ministers.
3. The balance National list slots may be filled by former National list members or outsiders as shall be recommended by this same group of eminent persons.
4. These recommendations shall be endorsed by the Religious Leaders and given effect to by all political parties represented in Parliament.
5. This 20 (or less) member Cabinet will administer the country with the guaranteed support from the present Members of Parliament for a period of one year for which duration they shall continue as members of Parliament.
6. The P.M. and Cabinet Ministers will have no political agendas or aspirations, but will serve purely as a National service, with no frills and trimmings of office. They will set a new standard of how to serve not themselves but the country and its people. One official vehicle, for official purposes only, one Security officer, no official bungalows, no personal staff in the ministries etc.
7. This administration will give the highest priority to provide the bare essentials such as food, medicine and fuel to the people, specially the ones in most need of it. It will incentivize the livelihoods of farmers, fisher folk, small businesses while resurrecting and stabilising the economy. They would be free to take unpopular decisions, which those who aspire to win political office will not.
8. In that one year, Parliament will enact a new electoral system combining the first past the post and proportional representation. There is general consensus on this already. In order to make it work, as a transitional provision, it is suggested that we go back to the 1977 electoral map that would elect 168 members and the balance will be elected on a National PR basis to make up the 225. (If a fresh delimitation is to take place, it will never see the light of day in that period of time.) It is hoped that this will lift the quality of members. A minimum educational qualification, a maximum age limit, of say 70 on the date of nomination, provision for Independent candidates to run for office and a 2 or 3 term restriction could also be considered.
Failure to break the impasse
The possibilities of such a situation is frightening. Given the mass agitation in all parts of the country and the power it is generating, something has to give. Procrastination by Parliament to act decisively will only play in to hands of the Rajapaksas, who are clinging to the hope that the agitations will run out of steam. There is also the distinct possibility of the agitation being turned into violent acts at some point of time. This may be the signal that the President, as Commander in Chief, is waiting for, to clamp down a state of emergency and likely go beyond, declaring martial law, suspending the constitution and ruling by dictate.
The masses have realised what “Peoples power” is for the first time. The lion has been awakened and it will roar. Saner counsel now, can prevent a state of anarchy.
*Harindra Dunuwille is a senior Lawyer in Kandy and has served as a M.P., and State Minister of Constitutional Affairs.