Article 70 (1) of the new Constitution: is it a powder keg? Living with minority governments till

17 March 2015 07:15 pm - 2     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Constitutions are our creations; we select architects as well as contractors



 

"The Constitution in the making (2015), desires to perpetrate feeble  governments in perpetuity. Somebody,  somewhere, does not want Ranil or Maithripala or Mahinda to give a strong  leadership with a stronger government in office"





Lying innocuously nestled, as a stand-alone provision, is a freshly designed Article 70(1) of the coming constitution that eliminates the right to dissolve Parliament and hold fresh elections on a government out-voted repeatedly in Parliament on bills and budgets presented time and again. Short Point: You live with a failed Parliament for 1650 days (4 years and 6 months, to be precise). Hard Times are ahead - if a government has no working majority. Yet, the same Parliament is compelled to continue regardless.

 A stack of poisonous hemlock is deposited in the proposed constitution that will send shivers down parliamentary street when fireworks begins on a local Guy Fawkes Night.On the road to Parliament a saffron revolution will be enacted to overthrow a troubled regime into a dustbin, at a future date. That is not democracy Ranil Wickremesinghe encourages or J.R.Jayewardene tolerated.

This is an insidious attempt to make small parties the kingmakers and push rebel MPs to the forefront and to accept them out of compulsion to keep the Parliament ticking. Is it to prepare a defeated government for a booting or searching another for a battering?  Or [does it] prevent the country from enjoying a strong and stable government and to watch governments defeated by parliamentarians indefinitely on votes infinite?

Who has done it? Are they clandestine friends of terrorism or architects of splitting the country by making a government inoperative or discreetly dislike the present leadership and desire to paint it stupid? Maybe, it is in a three-in-one melody box!Ranil Wickremesinghe or Malik Samarawickreme does not deserve to suffer indignities by virtue of a proposal they are called upon to father. It’s not their handiwork, for sure. There are niggers in the pack!

The constitution by amendment of Article 70(1) joins hands in making crossovers constitutionally valid by implication at voting time and offer a dead government a whiff of oxygen. By gad sir, otherwise how does a minority government prolong its life span to 54 long months unless a majority of parliamentarians defy their party whips to keep alive an artificially-dead man gasping for breath in a respirator?

Any person that understands any language can comprehend the enormity of the problem.
In readable English the proposed article recites thus:

“ Article 70 of the Constitution is hereby amended by the repeal of paragraph (1) of that Article, and the substitution thereof of the following:
 (1) The President may by proclamation, summon, prorogue and dissolve Parliament:  

  Provided that the President shall not dissolve Parliament until the expiration of a period of not less than four years and six months from the date appointed for its first meeting, unless Parliament requests the President to do so by a resolution passed by not less than two thirds of the whole number of the members, (including those not present) voting in its favour”.

The call is specific. An absolute 2/3rd majority is the minimum - notwithstanding the number present or absent. God forbid, on today’s count it is 150 members. Try going fishing for that number – corruption will rise like a tsunami tide. Does it not encourage an MP to cross party lines, vote for a dissolution against a weak government, and be re-elected under another party label or cross parties, hang firm, holding high office during the life of a Parliament in one or more parties and make a living of a lifetime?

Two vital provisions in Article 70 (1) of 1978 J.R.Jayewardene Constitution carried the required safeguards that now stand to be repealed. Firstly, even during the prohibited period of dissolution, namely one year [mind you,not 54 months] in a six-year term after a general election, Parliament cannot be dissolved for one year.Wisdom required him to install an easy way out of it and he did it too.The President nevertheless could if a majority of members by one vote made a demand to disband Parliament-so it was.Parliament was instantly dissolved if it was the wish of a simple majority [Article70 (1)(a)]. Secondly, if the budget [Appropriation Bill] is defeated once and if required, is given a second chance: but no more than twice, makes dissolution an imperative condition [Article 70(1)(d)]. Naturally without budgetary provisions a government cannot function on thin air.Expectation is otherwise nowadays when living is on a credit card where the state picks and pays invoices and passes it as charity.

The official draftsmen think otherwise too. Is there an anarchist closeted in the UNP? Surely not in House of Ranil?The prime minister is made the prime scarecrow- the target for ridicule for passing a constitution that becomes unworkable after a general election. He will look trivial in the role of the prime minister if the desired majority is unbecoming.

 With the intended legislation, no Parliament however skittle, can be dissolved till it runs 54 months of its life span of 60 months. Defeated on a piece of legislation, including the budget, the Parliament has to carry on heedlessly with a minority of members and watch the humiliation of continuous defeat that will become more problematic with the stoppage of a flow of funds for the wheels of the state to move on. Within the prohibitive 54-month rule, people are roasted in a virtual hellhole without funds for wages or works. The country will be at a troubled junction with the members of Parliament running wildly to pass/dismiss a budget in a makeshift government.It needs a 2/3 majority; unthinkable in this time and age, sufficient to dissolve Parliament.Does that sound democratic, Taoist or Trotskyite? The night of Guy Fawkes will light the skies. It will be more comfortable to sit in the Opposition and collect the pension.

Asking for dissolution is to terminate a comfortable way of life by the waters of Diyawanna for a parliamentarian knowing a 2/3 majority is a mission impossible. Who would cooperate in a project likely to spell doom to the self-interest of a parliamentarian? If so, why join a scrum: instead take a place in the front row in a line out.  Would parliamentarians vote to lose their seats in Parliament by voting in favour of reducing its life-time and face the possibility of losing at the next election under an untried constitution with an unknown electoral system?

A fledgling central government of multi-parties in the South stands impotent in passing legislation and may have to battle with an emboldened single party of the North,  the unpredictable TNA with the helping hand of India. Who will be stronger- the Centre or the periphery?

It is a long, long wait till doomsday - however weak, incompetent, corrupt and incorrigible Members of Parliament are; and, is the crying need of the people to hold an election. Not even a referendum can compel Parliament to breach Article 70 (1) with a throttled President restricted on dissolution. the Constitution is as great to a country as Sangakkara is to cricket: both at times are bowled out. What to do? Call for a review? Articles in the new constitution will take days to review but they will be ruled out.

J.R.Jayewardene’s Constitution of’78 was the work of skilled and brilliant hands of  Mark Fernando and the reliable H.W.Jayewardene who enacted the refinements of democracy. They did not pussyfoot on the virtues of democracy provided it did not infringe on their political landscapes.When it did; they were no angels.

The proposed amendment of Article 70(1) has thrown overboard the safeguards inherent in the previous Article 70 (1)(a) and (d) of the 1978 Constitution. There is a hidden agenda to outwit Ranil Wickremesinghe. He does not deserve such a fall, a second time, after Solheim took him on a blindfolded ride. There are a very few left with integrity intact- and he is one. The drafting of constitutions needs care.

The Constitution in the making (2015), desires to perpetrate feeble governments in perpetuity. Fragility is achieved by setting up through combinations, permutations, amalgamations and variations of parliamentarians and mini-cum- maxi-political parties, to form varied governments of limited duration during a five -year term.Somebody, somewhere, does not want Ranil or Maithripala or Mahinda to give a strong leadership with a stronger government in office. Are we to breed a generation of varied small-man outfits in the South as against a northern singular strongman flexing his muscles?Blame, not the North, but us in the South.Constitutions are our creations. We select the architects and hire the contractors.

Don’t legalise governments that people did not vote for or envisage as a distant mirage. Strange bedfellows mount a honeymoon couch to keep a dismissed government aloft or fix an unknown partner in style.

This is an analysis of a solitary amended Article in deep peril. Other Articles look worse at a glance but leave others to delve and pick one for fun. It is not funny anymore but frightening evermore.
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  Comments - 2

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  • N Paramesh Thursday, 19 March 2015 10:43 PM

    Dear S MahadevaWhat are those other means? And support with relevant article numbers in the constitution.

    S.Mahadeva Thursday, 19 March 2015 05:36 PM

    There are other means of dissolving of parliament;here only the president who is usually not neutral is deprived of dissolving a parliament.


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