‘Stand Alone’ is a term that was used a lot during the discussion on the power of the President to dissolve parliament. The issue was whether the clause preventing dissolution until Parliament completes four and a half years supersedes the surreptitiously inserted clause permitting dissolution. That insertion was pernicious as was the entire 19th Amendment, clearly introduced for partisan purposes by the chief architects, meaning representatives of the United National Party and the Tamil National Alliance (Jayampathy Wickramaratne and M.A. Sumanthiran respectively). That the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) voted for it should be noted and seen as an example of political puerility.
Well, that’s been resolved by the Supreme Court. At the end of the day, much heartache was caused to die-hard UNPers thinly disguised as born-again democrats. They are cured now and the chances are that they will retire their democratic urges until the party’s political future is next threatened.
There were positives. The notion of a ‘national government,’ in effect rather than in constitutional edict, was sorted out. The UNP plus the Sri Lanka Musilm Congress will not add up to ‘national government.’ So, although the ‘national government’ clause was inserted (against surreptitiously and against the grain of ‘good governance as well as rhetoric regarding cabinet size), the cabinet will be limited to 30. Secondly, the post of Leader of the Opposition went to the true Opposition instead of a staunch pro-government adjunct, the TNA, that is currently a tail wagging the dog as the adage goes.
There’s a third positive. It’s a positive that might jog the memories of retired leftists who’ve found lucrative positions in the NGO industry, have long since forgotten class struggle, have no qualms about being quiet on capitalism and would love people to believe that the UNP is the vanguard of the democratic revolution. Simply, Maithripala Sirisena is the first President of the country to actually speak up against neoliberalism.
His word? Well! But that’s a different matter. It’s a small positive, that’s it.
The talk now is about the Executive Presidency. That’s where the ‘stand alone’ matter comes into play. People talk about the Executive Presidency as the Mother of All Anti-Democratic Evils. Make no mistake, there’s nothing angelic about the executive presidency. On the other hand, we need to remember that it is not the only evil around. And, as evil goes, it has its redeeming features, especially with respect to what I consider the most pernicious piece of legislation to follow J.R. Jayewardene’s constitutional tinkering exercise, i.e. the 13th Amendment. The people of this country were conspicuously absent(ed) in that process. It was thrust down our throats to resolve a mis-defined ‘conflict’ and (partially, according to some, including the aggrieved) exaggerated grievances. And today, ladies and gentlemen (especially those chest-beating ‘democrats’ who came out of the woodwork recently), no one seems to really care about Provincial Councils. Six PCs are effectively non-functional. The terms of three more will expire in a few months. Not even the TNA, a party that wants more than what the 13th gave by way of devolution, doesn’t appear to mind the current state of affairs. As for the people, they have not uttered one word of concern.
Ideally, the people should have the opportunity to state their opinion of this lot in a General Election. This side of such an eventuality, it is appropriate to point out the danger of constitutional tinkering by this Parliament
That said, the 13th is still a part of the Constitution. This is where the 20th Amendment (which proposes to abolish the Executive Presidency) comes into play. The executive president is a key part of the 13th Amendment because it carries the safeguards against moves by provinces to break away.
Any move to abolish the executive presidency that does not at the same time address the impact of such an amendment to the operationalising of the 13th is erroneous and irresponsible. Patali Champika Ranawaka’s party, the Jathika Hela Urumaya has consistently reminded lawmakers and others of this danger. What Ranawaka has to say now will indicate to what extent the party (and of course he himself) has dissolved its ideology for political profit.
A related issue is the fact that it would be a travesty of justice if these 225 Members of Parliament touched this constitution. Sure, that’s part of the Job Description as per the constitution, but they’ve demonstrated beyond any shadow of doubt that they are absolutely incompetent. Only one member, Sarath Weerasekera, objected to the 19th Amendment, let us not forget, and that is as mentioned above a piece of garbage.
Moreover they had the opportunity to do away with the executive presidency (Note: Sirisena’s manifesto mentioned ‘change’ and wwnot ‘abolish’). They didn’t. Events proved that the 19th, as far as pruning presidential powers, was eyewash. The checks introduced, namely the independent institutions, constituted a monumental joke considering the composition of the Constitutional Council (politician-heavy, federalist-heavy) and in terms of the appointments they oversaw (bypassing seniority in appointing judges for example).
Today, after being stumped by the hero-turned-zero Sirisena, those who used him and turned a blind eye to his many faults, want to bulldoze his office. That’s what it boils down to. And that’s exactly the wrong reason to engage in constitutional reform. You don’t do things just because you like the immediate beneficiary or because it helps you checkmate with a political opponent. That’s the logic that has prevailed in the 40 years that passed after the Second Republican Constitution was instituted. Apart from the 17th, it was all about political expedience (leaving out the 13th because it was extracted from a weak UNP President who, like his successors didn’t have faith in the citizens of this country) and not about the larger interests of the nation.
This parliament has outlived it’s usefulness on account of incompetence, subterfuge and downright disrespect for the people. They’ve prostituted the word ‘democracy’ enough. They are not to be trusted. Today, the movers and shakers in Parliament are essentially the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and the TNA, the former a shameless lackey of the UNP and the latter operating as though the UNP is its lackey. Both parties have terrorist pasts: the JVP in 1971 and in 1988//89 and the TNA as the mouthpiece of the LTTE. They are batting here with the UNP, which while in power unleashed terror and ‘disappeared’ some 60,000 Thajudeens, Ekneligodas and Lasanthas. The SLFP has it’s own violent history (1971). All these parties have shamed themselves to the point that they really don’t deserve the right to use the word ‘democracy’.
Ideally, the people should have the opportunity to state their opinion of this lot in a General Election. This side of such an eventuality, it is appropriate to point out the danger of constitutional tinkering by this Parliament. The 20th, as proposed, is a mischievous and dangerous document which can only make sense if the 13th Amendment is repealed simultaneously.
The UNP, fighting shy of holding even PC elections, ought to salivate at the prospect of not having to face the people before a General or Presidential Election, but this is not about the political tastes of a particular party. It is about sovereignty and territorial integrity. It is also about the blood and lost body parts of all those who fought against separatist terrorists. That memory must also be factored in.
If true representational democracy, territorial integrity and sovereignty are babies, then you can make a case for calling the executive presidency ‘bathwater’ but let’s not forget that the baby will be at risk of all kinds of infections if you throw THAT bathwater out whilst keeping the toilet wash that is the 13th Amendment.