This constitution requires amendment. No question about it. However, there are amendments and there are amendments. Then there is the issue of fulfilling amendment prerequisites. Most importantly a two-thirds vote in Parliament. It is in this context that the call for dissolution of Parliament if the draft 19th Amendment is not approved has to be discussed.
First of all there’s the all-important issue of who can dissolve Parliament. Just because something a particular member’s or party’s preference is not endorsed by others or in this case the vast majority of those in Parliament (150, no less), that particular member or party does not have the power to cry foul and dissolve Parliament.
The problem here is that the movers of this particular amendment just don’t have the numbers. They could theoretically persuade those in other parties to cross over promising nominations at a forthcoming general election, but getting several dozens to move is a tough task not least of all because victory cannot be guaranteed in the current circumstances.
As things stand the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) is adamant that electoral reforms must accompany the 19th Amendment which too needs to incorporate that party’s proposals, they add. Ironically this amendment is being moved and supported by the United National Party which is considerably weak in Parliament when considering numbers vis-à-vis the SLFP.
Naturally, the UNP feels that an election right now under the current electoral system suits its fortunes best with the SLFP in relative disarray. If party interests are what count then the SLFP cannot be blamed for demanding electoral reforms to coincide with the reform of the presidential system. After all, that was an election pledge contained in the manifesto of President Maithripala Sirisena. One pledge cannot be privileged over another unless all this is not about correcting system flaws but furthering narrow political interests.
But if, say, President Sirisena goes ahead and dissolves Parliament, what then? That would bring to an end the tenuous ‘working arrangement’ between the UNP and SLFP; ‘tenuous’ because we see Cabinet members bickering in public with name-calling and party-bashing. What hope thereafter for a post-election ‘national government’? The winner gets it all and being secure in power for a few years would hardly want to share the goodies with arch enemies, clearly.
No, whatever reform through amendment is possible, has to be attempted before Parliament is dissolved. There’s time until April 2016. One party saying ‘if you don’t like my proposal I will sulk’ is hardly indicative of political maturity. Let us not forget that of the 18 Amendments enacted thus far, 17 of them (barring the 17th) saw the deliberate abuse of two-thirds majorities to promote the interests of parties in power.
The sad part is that people really don’t expect the elected to act like statesmen and stateswomen. They see ‘senior’ politicians acting like spoilt brats crying their eyes out because others don’t want to play ball with them and shrug their shoulders: ‘what’s new?’
This is President Maithripala Sirisena’s moment to make good on election pledges. He alone can bring the UNP and SLFP together and demand both to show some semblance of political maturity and correct the horrendous flaws of the constitution. If he fails then the general public will have to conclude that his predecessors’ many and serious faults notwithstanding, they did themselves in on January 8, 2015.