The Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) is to announce their stance on whether they would support the common opposition candidate Maithripala Sirisena at the upcoming presidential elections today. In an interview with the Dailymirror yesterday, former cabinet minister Patali Champika Ranawaka explained the grounds for their decision
Pic by Waruna wanniarachchi
The executive presidency needs to be reformed and the unrestricted and authoritarian powers bestowed upon the executive president need to be changed. Creating ministerial posts as he wishes, taking over ministries for himself, appointing General Secretaries for ministries and Chairpersons for committees and organisations according to his whims and fancies without considering their qualifications
Has the JHU decided on whether to support the common candidate Maithripala Sirisena?
We will announce our decision on Tuesday. As a Party, we need to make our principles clear. We are of the view that there need to be three major political reforms within a short period of time – either three months or 100 days.
Firstly, the executive presidency needs to be reformed and the unrestricted and authoritarian powers bestowed upon the executive president need to be changed. Creating ministerial posts as he wishes, taking over ministries for himself, appointing General Secretaries for ministries and Chairpersons for committees and organisations according to his whims and fancies without considering their qualifications, presidential immunity from the law, appointing Supreme Court and Appeal Court judges, the power to dissolve parliament after one year without the consent of the parliament are some of the excessive powers that need to be removed or changed.
Furthermore, the President should be the figure responsible for the people’s unity and national security and should be selected by the people of the country.
There should be a political and legal alliance between the Prime Minster chosen by the parliament and the President. During the past four years we saw that the President was acting irresponsibly toward the voters and the Cabinet. It has been proven by past incidents that under the executive presidency, a minute section of the country has the power to even go above the parliament and the Cabinet.
One example is the casino issue. In 2011, the parliament passed a Bill to move the five casinos in Colombo to an outstation area restricted to casinos. This Bill should have been implemented from January 1, 2012. However, the President in his capacity as the Finance Minister did not implement the Bill which was approved by parliament. This illustrated that the casino moguls in the country have the power to even act above a parliamentary Bill.
Another such instance was the pictorial warnings for cigarette packs. Even though the parliament unanimously approved a Bill to cover 80 per cent of the cigarette pack with a pictorial warning, the implementation of this Bill was stopped through the judiciary. So there is a strong suspicion that a political hand was at work to stop this Bill from being implemented because the Supreme Court Judges are appointed by the President. Even though the parliament is supposed to be the supreme body which brings laws to the sovereign people, there are many other examples where the President and business tycoons have undermined the power of the parliament.
Even with regard to the two mega casino projects, the Cabinet decision to take out the casino component of the proposed integrated resorts was ove-rruled. The same thing happened with the issue of Chronic Kidney Disease (CKDU). Even after the World Health Organisation revealed that chemical fertilisers in the water and soil was a primary cause for CKDU in Rajarata and the WHO and the Health Ministry recommended that 6 brands of agro chemicals should be banned, this recommendation was not put in place and no controls were placed on these agrochemical importers. This showed the might of those who import agrochemicals, weedicides and pesticides. There are no proper tender procedures followed even for million dollar deals such as the importing of coal. This shows that mega businessmen are backed by the executive presidency. Another issue is the immunity given to narcotics dealers. These criminals who destroy the lives of children are pardoned by the President.
Another thing we need to consider is the economic situation in the country. The debt service component in the country is higher than the revenue of the country. So now Sri Lanka is a bankrupt country which is run by loans. The mega deal projects don’t bring in an income to the country. There is no accountability on who is approving these deals and there is no mechanism for checks and balances. The people of the country are the ones who pay for the debt incurred by the country. Also, some of the political decisions are taken on the sole wish of the President. Therefore, the executive presidency is having a negative impact on the society, judiciary and the economy of the country and the people have to suffer due to these executive powers and the executive decisions of the President. This is why we need to strip the excessive executive powers of the President.
You mentioned three political reforms. Apart from changing the executive presidency, what are the other political reforms that the JHU suggests?
We need to establish three independent constitutional commissions – an audit commission, a commission to investigate and curb fraud, bribery and corruption and an independent election commission. These commissions need constitutional powers. These commissions need to be powerful, just and independent.
Another is reforms to the election system. We have experienced both the proportional representative election system and the electorate system. What we need is a mix of both these systems. We need a system that would represent minority views and would help create a strong opposition. These are the JHU’s priorities for a constitutional reform. This should be done in a way that does not harm the unity of the country. Furthermore, we are not ready to discuss any other constitutional issues such as the provincial council system.
How can these reforms be implemented?
Well, we cannot trust the current President to implement these reforms. He had the opportunity to do so in 2010 when he had the parliament’s two-thirds majority. However, he did not revolutionize the Constitution. The only thing he did was to bring in the 18th Amendment so that he could contest for a third term. This he did for his own benefit and not for the benefit of the country. Now we have lost confidence and faith in him.
Now if the Opposition is to make these reforms, they need to form a National Government with all the political parties united. A constitutional reform should take place within a short period of time with the agreement of all political parties. Then a General Election can be held to form a government. This is our proposed political principles and stance.
Have you discussed about the JHU’s stance with the common candidate Mr. Sirisena? What was his response?
Yes, we have held discussions with him and we have received his written response. We have informed about this to the United National Party as well.
The UNP signed a MoU with Mr. Sirisena. What are your views about the points highlighted in this MoU?
There are certain points that need to be discussed at length. The MoU proposes that the executive presidency should be abolished completely and a parliamentary system should be established. These are matters that need to be considered later. While we do have certain differences in views on certain points, in general we can agree to most of their principles and we are open to discuss a constitutional reform.
Are there differences in opinion within the JHU on whether to support the common candidate? From what I understand, Ven. Rathana Thera’s Pivithuru Hetak organisation seems to be in favour of the common candidate.
Well, Pivithuru Hetak organisation headed by Ven. Rathana Thera is an apolitical organisation. They have drafted a set of proposals to amend the Constitution. We are in favour of this concept but there are certain disagreements on certain details in this set of proposals. However, the JHU’s stance as a party will be a collective decision. Our concern is not whether to defeat President Rajapakasa or to defeat Mr. Sirisena. Our concern is to establish a system of democracy, good governance and justice which is free of corruption.
What have you got to say about the decision of the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) to support the government?
They are a nonpolitical organisation but they have taken a political stance. We don’t think the same way as they do and what they do is not our concern.
At any rate this is not a Buddhist government and the challenges we have pointed out are not only concerns of the Buddhists; they concern all the citizens of this country.
Some people are of the view that the Ranil - Chandrika alliance is asking for trouble and things would go back to the way they were before 2005. What is your opinion on this?
The same concern was raised when Mahinda Rajapaksa contested in 2005 and some said that Mahinda would become a puppet of the former president Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunge. However, after he won, that did not happen.
The other issue is Ranil Wickremesignhe becoming Prime Minster. This will happen with the parliamentary majority. So he cannot form a government by himself. It will be an allied government. So if he is ready to reform the constitution within these 100 days, there won’t be an issue with him becoming the Prime Minister.
When the Prime Minister is from the UNP and the president is from the SLFP, it will be balanced and all other parties will be represented. It will be a united government and even President Rajapaksa should be a part of it. So nobody needs to be afraid that this would be a UNP-led government. Ranil Wickremesinghe can of course contest for the general election and come into parliament with the people’s vote.