By Kusal Perera –
Its a mad rush in Colombo these days to find out how Rajapaksa could be defeated at the next presidential polls, he would offer. In the South, there is the “Common Candidate” in Sobitha thero, still insisting he could be the winning horse. There is new hope in the UNP after the Uva PC elections. Ranil is seriously into the game, while opposition groups in Colombo have no confidence he could defeat Rajapaksa. Meanwhile, the JVP having accepted they on their own can not field a candidate and with Sobitha thero below promise, have opted to go on a negative path. Even before Uva PC elections. They were toying with the idea of a boycott, if President Rajapaksa comes forward as the UPFA candidate. A news plant to that effect in Sinhala media is perhaps to test the ground.
Meanwhile the question whether Rajapaksa could contest a third time under the 18 Amendment is being questioned and debated by Colombo middle class fringe groups. After Uva PC elections, the UNP is more interested in headline gossip than the 18 Amendment. UNP stalwarts are now talking of running the race to win and not just to participate. Perhaps some are even counting cabinet ministers in their next government. Ranil is hard on his heel, trying to win more than his due, from Sinhala South. Attanayake‘s statement about discussing the BBS programme was no foot in the mouth statement, but one in step with Ranil’s strategy. Such is the confusion in opposition ranks, wanting to see the end of the Rajapaksa regime.
Reports of old Left leaders in the government trying to persuade President Rajapaksa to avoid a snap presidential poll and advising him to work towards winning back lost credibility, has not convinced Rajapaksa. The old “Left” is said to have told Rajapaksa, even if he gains around 63% of the Sinhala Buddhist votes in 09 districts, which is 05% more than what UPFA polled in Moneragala this time, the possibility of winning on the first count seems difficult. Yet, if President Rajapaksa could find a very auspicious date and time for him in first week of January, EC Deshapriya is all ready to go with the gazette notification for an election. That for now is how the situation is evolving and that may pave the way for a presidential election in 2015 January.
Despite all the shopping for the best the anti Rajapaksa campaigners could have, there remains one single question that needs many answers. Yes, a regime change at the next elections is most welcome and that needs no debating. But that change can not be and should not be a change in names and faces. Change of faces had always been the electoral slogan since Jayewardene created the Executive Presidency. It was qualified with the slogan, “abolish the Executive Presidency” after Premadasa ascended that chair. This time round, such singular demands, even if achieved will not get anywhere near in solving the complex tragedy this country is now going through.
The common and the popular cry to abolish the Executive Presidency with a loud campaign on “mega corruption” as justification for the abolition of presidency is only about a symptom. JVP leader Anura Kumara‘s criticism and rhetoric that highlights mega corruption pinning responsibility on the Rajapaksa family only adds colour to the most conspicuous. The UNP is also happy adding their bit on corruption promising their rule will be without corruption(???). The question is, whether corruption is the only problem in this country that needs an answer and whether abolishing of the Executive Presidency would solve it ?
Corruption will not come to an end with a mere change of government, even without an Executive Presidency. Corruption would not end by reverting to a parliament that in the past proved a total failure in governing Ceylon and thereafter Sri Lanka. We have through bicameral and unicameral parliaments accumulated more than a mountain heap of corrupt and mediocre politicians and terribly undemocratic political parties and alliances leading to ethnic conflict, poverty and crumbling of the democratic system of governance. With a failed system this country needs very serious and far reaching Constitutional reforms for democratic living in a civilised society.
TNA parliamentarian and EPRLF leader Suresh Premachandra who sat with me after the Uva PC elections for an interview given to “Ravaya” was quite forthright, saying Sri Lanka’s situation post 2009 May, is far worse than what was before. The Sri Lankan government he said, will not be able to go on believing China and Russia will bail it out for ever. Tamil national issue is more deeply entrenched in international politics he explained, than when the LTTE was a military factor. That is one major national issue, this coming election will not be able to leave aside, for the Sinhala Buddhists to decide politics in this island. That is one major issue, abolishing of the Executive Presidency will not provide an answer.
Certainly, heavily polarised after the war and living in de facto separation, Sinhala South is gasping for breath in a society living without conscience. While the Sinhala society will have to leave this de facto bifurcation and work towards democratic unity, it has also to find answers to its atomised and selfish society that now lacks any moral and ethical living. It has to find stable answers for a terribly lopsided economy that is plundered without limits, has left rural society at the mercy of cheap migrant labour, drug peddling and politicised local thuggery. It has to re invent a society that would abide by law, respect humanity and establish a trusted judiciary with impartial law enforcement.
Its a creaking society that has all ills and conflicts seeping deep down into its belly. They have left a numbed Sinhala society in screaming silence and in a cataract of collective blindness. Look how this society have been reacting or rather not reacting to brutal and savage violation of law by the judiciary, legal fraternity and law enforcement agency with very strong political influence and total lack of civility and social values.
- Custodial killings – easily well over a double hundred “supposed criminals” have been killed while in police custody. The script played out in such killings have always been the same. Magistrates have had no qualms accepting the same story over and over again. And the police get away killing people, they label as “criminals”. No lawyer, nor any lawyers forum has ever contested custodial killings in Sri Lanka. The society is deaf, dumb and blind, does not want to intervene in any way.
- Police thuggery – people have been playing “the audience” to most acts of thuggery by policemen and officers. At the Ratnapura main bus stand when a beastly policeman kept attacking a wailing woman in broad daylight with a wooden pole, there was no collective protest by the people. They simply watched the dirty scene and went their way. Once before a policeman beat a youth till he was drowned in the sea at Bambalapitiya. This society goes its own way.
- Big crime and police – the case of DIG Vass Gunawardane accused of contract killing is no small issue. He is not the only officer who went on the mat for such crime. Such has never been an issue for public outcry to demand an independent police department free of political interference.
- Neglect of duty and violation of law – There is no public demand to have law enforced when extremist Sinhala Buddhist elements like BBS and RB storm private meetings, state institutes like ministries, break into private shops and publicly incite racial violence. There is meek submission to all such brutal negligence and lapse in law enforcement.
- Judicial inefficiency & corruption – It is said, over 80% of the inmates in prisons are remandees and not convicted (in 2011 – over 81,000). A large number of them don’t even get a trial for years. Magistrates and judges are very lavish in giving “long dates” the lawyers ask for. In the meantime magistrates and judges have also been accused of and even charge sheeted for corruption. The campaign against the impeachment of 43rd CJ led by lawyers never wanted to demand an efficient and a clean judiciary. That was not their issue.
- Crime and impunity – The Sinhala society is plagued with local government Chairmen, Mayors and Council members accused of child abuse, sexual abuse of women, rape and murder of women and extortion. They continue in office, after securing bail while investigations are rarely completed and the accused indicted. Never have their been public protests against any of these demanding removal of such thugs from office.
They say mothers understand children better and women feel more for women. But that’s never been true in our parliament. No woman MP, not even those in Opposition, have taken serious issues related to women and children with any commitment. They have not demanded special debates on serial killings of women and rape. On mothers killing children and committing suicide. On fathers raping daughters and killing their wives and children. The issue of increasing under age marriages in rural society and the predicament the juveniles are pushed into at times with a baby to milk, has never got women MPs to demand answers for. Neither the Opposition MPs nor women MPs have in the least asked for a special investigation by a committee of reputed women on any such tragic social issue the women and children are faced with.
Women MPs for sure can not be exceptional and above the rest in this degenerating society. In fact, the calibre of people, men and women, and their interventions in parliament is far below what a national legislature should have. The neo liberal economy over the past three decades with a Constitution and an electoral system together have systematically turned the parliament into a forum that would not hold itself responsible to the people. Those who were never mandated by the people to be part of this Rajapaksa government are now cabinet ministers, claiming to be elected representatives of the people. Sovereignty of the people has no validity any more though written into the Constitution.
All that goes to prove, the issue at hand for the Sinhala society is far more complex than mere “corruption” and an un-wearably large XXL Presidency. All that goes to prove, neo liberalism helps even racist regimes to rule with unbridled authority. Almost 09 such years of rule by the Rajapaksas, preceded by Chandrika‘s tenure of 09 plus years, have left this whole country crying, in want of serious reforms. They can not be reforms political party leaders and few individuals who’d want to deputise an unknown “civil society” could draft and adopt. They are reforms that would have to go through different social segments and social representations with hard talk. They need long debates and dissenting voices, for social acceptance. They need social acceptance through discourse before they go up for debate and final adoption in an elected legislature.
Such reforms will have to take time discussing four major thematic areas.
- Post war North-East – total implementation of the LLRC Recommendations immediately including demilitarisation of the two whole provinces and their administration and accepting 13 Amendment in full to pave way for more serious discussion on power sharing within a New Constitution that would have to be adopted with far reaching reforms.
- New Constitution – that abolishes Executive Presidency, include clear and unambiguous provisions to depoliticise the State and establish independent mechanisms to monitor and regulate the judiciary, public administration including the police department, elections and the media, entrench democratic and firm safeguards for all ethnic and religious minorities to avoid the fate of the minorities under previous parliaments, have clear demarcations in sharing power with a much reduced parliament and a cabinet restricted to 25 members.
- National Policy – create policy frameworks for (i) education (ii) health (iii) transport (iv) national economy (v) environment and (vi) power & energy
- Democratic politics – include strict and unambiguous Constitutional provisions that (a) give all citizens the right to information (b) make assets & liabilities declaration of all senior public servants, candidates for any public office and all elected representatives mandatory and public (c) legislate laws to hold all recognised political parties responsible to the people and mandate all such political parties and their affiliate organisations to publicly declare assets and liabilities annually and election funding to the party and all candidates from the time elections are fixed to the date of election.
These certainly need more detailed drafting for serious discussion. Yet this country now needs such far reaching reforms to turn around all State institutes to function independently and efficiently. To create new thinking for secular and plural living in a civilised society. These short notes on reforms may provide a draft framework to kick off such debate in advance on what we actually need to focus upon, with a possible election in 2015. If not in January, may be months after the Pope’s visit. Defeating Rajapaksa should not go with mere cosmetic changes.