The premier speaking at the 17th Dudley Senanayake memorial lecture reveals that the constitutional assembly will have to take some important decisions in the near future
“Many suggest that we return to the Soulbury Constitution”
- Prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Thursday indicated that
Sri Lanka may usher in a new system of governance as per the new constitution as circumstances don’t allow the country to return to a West Minister system which existed until the 1970s. Prime Minister Wickremesinghe made these comments at the Dudley Senanayake memorial lecture organized by Dudley Senanayake Foundation together with Friedrich Naumann Stiftung Fur die Freiheit at Temple Trees. The premier said the constitutional assembly will have to take some important decisions in the near future.
“Many suggest that we return to the Soulbury Constitution, but it may be difficult to return to this system of governance which existed until early 1970s. I say this because the parties have committed themselves to the maximum devolution of power unlike those days where the Government agents represented the state at the village level. However, today, there is a provincial council system. One has to consider the relationship between the periphery and the provincial councils. How do we share power between them? These are important issues. In a devolved government the first thing to be considered is the relationship between the central executive and the provincial executive,” Wickremesinghe said.
“Areas under discussion are the executive presidency and how to increase the power of Parliament, so that it could control the government. How to steer a government that is under the control of Parliament?. There are some parties who want the executive presidency to be abolished and others who want it retained. There are some others who want to return to a system based on Soulbury Constitution,” he added.
"Around the past ten years we have seen the strengthening of the presidency"
“Around the past ten years we have seen the strengthening of the presidency. We saw the strengthening of the presidency, expect during the time I was the Prime Minister under President Kumaranatunga. Since 2005 the presidency has been strengthened at the expense of Parliament. The House actually suffered. As a result the country fell into a deep debt. The debt the country has to repay has exceeded Rs 4 trillion. We found the chief justice being removed without going through an impeachment process. There was no resolution to remove the Chief Justice. We saw Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka being put in jail. We thought then that we should do away with the Executive presidency. That brought many forces together and a constitutional assembly was subsequently appointed. Before doing that the 19 amendment was brought in and some powers of the executive presidency were removed. We will have to see whether there should be a Parliament controlled government and what are the powers which an executive president should hold, whether the Prime Minister is directly elected or should we go for the US style where the party which obtains a majority of seats in Parliament gets to appoint the premier, or the Prime Minister is appointed through a confidence vote. Then we have to think of the electoral system. Are we to adopt the New Zealand system where 60% percent of the seats are elected under first past the post system and the rest are named under the electoral lists? These are the issues we have to discuss and decide upon.
"I say this because the parties have committed themselves to the maximum devolution of power unlike those days where the Government agents represented the state at the village level"
Six sub committees of the constitutional assembly have submitted their reports Thereafter an interim report will be presented to the assembly and, after a debate, a final decision will be taken,” Wickremesinghe further said.
The Premier paid a glowing tribute to his predecessor the late Senanayake and recalled how he got to know the late leader in the 1950s when he was just a student. “During the time of Late Dudley Senanayake there was a different model of government. The late President Jayewardene proposed the introduction of an executive presidency in the 1960s, but Senanayake opposed it. Senanayake maintained that the existing system was best for Sri Lanka. Senanayake resigned from the UNP earlier in the 1950s and late Sir John Kotelawala became the leader of the UNP. He returned to politics later and led the UNP to victory in 1960 and in 1964 during which Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s government was defeated in Parliament when she tried to introduce a press council bill. Senanayake led the UNP to victory in 1965. Then came the Kalutara resolution where UNP accepted democratic socialism as a style of government,” he recalled
Pix by: Kushan Pathiraja
“We don’t want a repeat of 1953”
- State Minister of Defense Ruwan Wijewardene
State Minister of Defense Ruwan Wijewardene, in his speech, compared the times of Premier Senanayake-who took full responsibility for the unfortunate incidents in the 1950s-with the period when the previous regime existed when he payed tribute to the late leader. He said the following in his speech. He also lauded the current premier as well.
“First and foremost on behalf of the Dudley Senanayake Foundation I would like to extend my heartfelt gratitude to the Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe for accepting our invitation to be the guest speaker at this event. Sir, we are truly humbled by your presence, inspired by your words and I can’t think of a more fitting person to invite to deliver the keynote speech in memory of the late Dudley Senanayake. I say this cause I believe that you share the same principles and values as the Late Prime Minister. No matter what obstacles and pressures that you have faced and experienced, you haven’t let that experience compromise your principles in any way.
Your style of governance is much aligned to that of President J.R. Jayewardene. However your liberal values and democratic ideals are quite similar to that of Dudley Senanayake. But the similarities aren’t only restricted to values and ideals, but stretch to certain decisions and action you have taken throughout your career.
Senanayake was a man of principles. He was not hungry for power, nor did he allow ambition to drive him. He had a genuine love for his country and his people. Take for example the crossover of Deputy Prime Minister C.P. De Silva to the opposition in 1964. It led to the toppling of Bandaranayake’s SLFP government which resulted in an election that saw the UNP win with a comfortable majority.
Senanayake promptly offered the post of Prime Minister to C.P De Silva for he believed that it was solely due to C.Ps defection to the UNP that resulted in their win at the elections. Seldom do you find a politician who would offer his opportunity- to serve in the highest post of the land- to another, especially after a win. In a similar fashion, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, as the Leader of the United National Party took a step back and supported the then General secretary of the SLFP Maithripala Sirisena to come forward as the common candidate for the Presidential Elections in 2015.
"No one has come forward to take responsibility for the death of Roshan Chanaka, Thajudeen, LasanthaWicramatunge and Eknaligoda and countless others"
The civil disobedience against the UNP Government in 1953 saw an escalation of violence, sabotage and destruction of government infrastructure across the island. The clashes that erupted between the police and demonstrators resulted in 10 casualties. The very next day Dudley Senanayake resigned as Prime Minister. As Prime Minister he saw it as his duty to take responsibility for their deaths. He couldn’t bear the fact that 10 valuable lives were lost under his tenure.
Fast forward to 2013, to the town of Rathupaswela. Residents of the area demonstrated against a factory they believed was contaminating their ground water supply. The then government sent in the army to quell the demonstrators and as a result 3 young persons died of gunshot injuries. Till this day no one from the previous regime has come forward to take responsibility for the loss of those innocent lives. Similarly no one has come forward to take responsibility for the death of Roshan Chanaka, Thajudeen, LasanthaWicramatunge and Eknaligoda and countless others who went missing during the time of the conflict.
From 2013 we come to the present times where we are experiencing a very similar environment to that of the Hartal in 1953, with civil disobedience, trade union action and demonstrations becoming a daily occurrence. They have caused much hardship to the general public. Doctors are striking for reasons that aren’t related to their profession while an upsurge of dengue hospitalizes more than 100,000 patients and leaves 300 dead. Students who take advantage of the free education that is provided to them by the state- through taxes paid by you and I- are demonstrating against private universities and blocking roads and challenging the police. The trade unions are threatening to disrupt work in their respective field.
All this has caused inconvenience and placed a huge burden on the public, so much so that some are questioning whether ‘yahapalnaya’ works? Critics have gone further and state that democracy doesn’t suit a country like Sri Lanka. They say they wish to see the previous regime back in power, clearly not thinking things through. But this is the sentiment of many. It’s time for tough action. Obviously we don’t want a repeat of 1953, but tougher action within a legal framework must be taken against elements that are determined to create social unrest for their political gain.
"They say they wish to see the previous regime back in power, clearly not thinking things through. But this is the sentiment of many. It’s time for tough action"
Israel I believe, has a good method when dealing with trade unions. while trade unions in Israel are very powerful, however by law, they are bound to give notice to the state 14 days prior to the commencement of a strike. This gives the state two weeks to negotiate and redress the issues of the unions.
Ladies and gentlemen What I have mentioned before are but a few examples of Dudley Senanayake’s character that we can all learn from. It weren’t power and prestige he was seeking, but how well he can use the power of his office to serve his country and his fellow man. Abraham Lincoln once said and I quote “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power”. Dudley Senanayake never misused his office for his personal benefit. Even when his health was failing, he insisted that his doctors fees and travel expenses be paid by his personal funds and not by the funds allocated to the Prime Ministers office by the state. He never surrounded himself with armed guards and back-up vehicles, rather he preferred to drive on his own. This is the conduct of an outstanding statesman that present day politicians should aspire to.
I believe we shouldn’t measure the character of a leader by the power he or she retains, or by the number of years they remain in power, but by the principles they live by and by their actions. Dwight D Eisenhower once said, “ The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it’s on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office.” he said in his speech.
“Dudley was a remarkable orator”
- D M Swaminathan Chairman Dudley Senanayake memorial Trust
Minister D.M Swaminathan too began by stating that there are similarities between the late Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake and the current Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe. But he said that there was only one difference and that was Senanayake was an old Thomian while Premier Wickremesinghe is an old Royalist. Swaminathan made these comments in a lighter vein.
Paying a glowing tribute to Senanayake, he said the late Prime Minister was a member of BAR after completion of his studies but that was before taking up politics. “He was a remarkable orator and had a character of his own compared to the others in Parliament at that time like the late Colvin R De Silva, Dr N M Perera and S W R D Bandaranaike. Premier Senanayake was once stopped by a traffic constable and he congratulated this constable for upholding the law. This is why he scored more than other politicians during his time.
"Premier Senanayake was once stopped by a traffic constable and he congratulated this constable for upholding the law"
While mentioning that Senanayake was an eligible bachelor, Swaminathan went on to relate a story as to how the late leader got about looking for a suitable bride at the Ratwatte Walauwa in Balangoda. “While the Senanayakes were having Watalappan for dessert, after dinner, the parents asked Senanayake’s opinion of the young lady they came to meet. Then Senanayake replied to his parents saying “hari shook, hari shook” (very good very good when translated to English). Then his mother wanted to reconfirm Senanayake’s opinion on the bride as she wanted to make sure that her son will soon bring the young lady to to their home. She posed the question and Senanayake again gave the identical reply. Senanayake’s mother was happy. Then Senanayake said ‘no amma I referred to the watalapan when I said “hari shook hari shook”. There would have been a UNP SLFP joint government if late Senanayake married that young lady from the Ratwatte Walvuwa,” Swaminathan said in a lighter vein.
"The parents asked Senanayake’s opinion of the young lady they came to meet. Then Senanayake replied to his parents saying “hari shook, hari shook”