In a democracy, constitutions can be drafted, revised or replaced by the people as they wish, but when such a sovereign nation is disintegrated through a constitution (or by some other means), it can hardly be reintegrated into unity. Sri Lanka is today being threatened by one of the worst existential crises it has ever encountered since independence in 1948. According to one predominant point of view, there appears to be a constitutional conspiracy backed by geopolitics-driven foreign forces to undermine its unitary status. Many legal and constitutional experts, some of them politicians, convincingly argue that the 20th Amendment (20A) is designed to clear the way for the implementation of a fully fledged federal constitution unsuitable for Sri Lanka camouflaged under a self-contradictory aekeeya/orumittha label, against the will of the overwhelming majority of the politically savvy Sri Lankan citizens. The 19th Amendment (19A) seems to be a live constitutional landmine.
Sarath Kalugamage, convener of a civil interest group named ‘Ratata Hetak’, alleges that the 19A has effectively robbed the people of their sovereignty through the inclusion of an article in terms of which the president cannot dissolve parliament before the lapse of four and a half years, because such a stipulation makes it impossible for a malfunctioning, corrupt legislature like the one under the Yahapalanaya to be brought to an end, enabling the people to elect a new parliament as per their inalienable right. It has been queried by responsible citizens how a piece of legislation (i.e., that which obstructs the Executive President’s power to dissolve parliament during the first four and-a-half years of its term if the need arises) which should have been passed by a 2/3rds majority in parliament and in addition should have been approved by the people at a general referendum, got into the statute book. Already there is a call for the annulment of 19A by a future government. It is now patently clear that, constitutional or unconstitutional, only the election of a new parliament will save the Sri Lankan nation and its democracy from anarchy.
"The President dissolved parliament and appointed a new prime minister on October 26, 2018 in accordance with powers vested in him by the Constitution, though now the sudden dismissal of the dysfunctional yahapalana government is being challenged by the sacked Prime Minister and his allies"
Maithripala Sirisena is still the Executive President of the country, where constitutionally, sovereignty resides in the people. He was elected in January 2015 by the people of the country (though this was not under ideal conditions owing to brazen foreign involvement) to exercise that sovereignty on their behalf. The President can’t relinquish his official prerogatives, much less his official responsibilities, under any circumstances. He dissolved parliament and appointed a new PM on October 26, 2018 in accordance with powers vested in him by the Constitution, though now the sudden dismissal of the dysfunctional yahapalana government is being challenged by the sacked Prime Minister and his allies. The news about Mahinda Rajapaksa (MR) having formed a government at the invitation of the president generated a wave of public euphoria across the country: firecrackers were set off in celebration not only in the south but also in the north.
Having said that, personally, I remain somewhat skeptical (though less than before) about the sincerity of President Sirisena’s latest volte-face in his relations with his erstwhile leader and close associate MR. It is my sincere hope, nevertheless, that the turn of events will finally be in the best interest of the country. No Sri Lankan would have been more delighted than me by a proper rapprochement between the two of them. I was among the earliest who urged such an MR-Maithri burying of the hatchet for the greater good of the country, but I never hoped for this kind of ‘reconciliation’ that seems to have been forced by Sirisena’s own currently vulnerable circumstances! To recall the past, what Maithripala did by his controversial election eve statement in August 2015 that he won’t make MR Prime Minister even if he won a majority of seats (which was a certainty according to opinion polls at the time) put paid to the kind of hope for genuine reconciliation that I, with so many other ordinary citizens, entertained: because his words so severely demoralized the pro-MR voters that a substantial number of them didn’t cast their vote in their frustration.
"Already there is a call for the annulment of 19A by a future government"
"20A drafted by anti-national separatist sympathizers is proving to be a noose flung around unitary Sri Lanka"
A third time Maithripala let MR down was when, more recently, he prevented Ranil Wickremesinghe from being defeated by a no confidence motion that he (Sirisena) himself was instrumental in bringing against him. The suspicion rankles in my mind (as it could in others’) whether President Sirisena is again leading MR (with his three times proven naivety) up the garden path, for his usual way is not to spill the beans before time. However, the cogency of the reasons he adduces for his action (e.g., suspected UNP complicity in an alleged plot to assassinate him, crucial policy differences between Ranil’s UNP and Maithripala’s SLFP rump, personality clashes, obvious popular disapproval of their uneasy alliance, the role that Ranil has played in the Central Bank bond scam, etc) seems to be a guarantee against backtracking at this stage.
On the other hand, however, the current circumstances suggest that this time MR cannot be thought to be acting out of his inherent naivety with regard to character-reading his associates (an accompaniment of his generous nature). Four years of Yahapalanaya has wrecked the country’s economy and has completely stalled the robust countrywide development programmes that had started during the previous MR regime that was toppled at the beginning of 2015. Starting during the period of Yahapalanaya (2015-18) the LKR has fallen from Rs.131 to the US$ at the end of 2014 to Rs.180 at present; the poorest of the poor were persecuted by increased taxation; many valuable national assets were sold or earmarked for sale; local industrialists were heavily taxed while foreign investors were given tax concessions; the agrarian sector was deliberately discouraged or neglected; the country’s independence was pointlessly surrendered to paid bureaucrats serving the interests of the so-called international community which are clearly inimical to the well-being of our Motherland. A recrudescence of common crimes has been in evidence, so has mega scale corruption in the highest places in government. Separatist sentiments began being fanned in the north.
In this background, the camouflaged 20A drafted by anti-national separatist sympathizers is proving to be a noose flung around the neck of unitary Sri Lanka. Its intended passage (presumably the same way that unconstitutional articles were smuggled into19A at the committee stage) would have been tantamount to the release of the trapdoor under the prisoner’s feet. This danger – the strongest reason behind the president’s decision and MR’s acquiescence) – will not disappear until fresh parliamentary elections are held and a new government formed that answers to the aspirations of all Sri Lankans, not those of foreign powers who are only following their own selfish national interests.
"During Yahapalanaya (2015-18) the LKR has fallen from Rs.131 against US$ at the end of 2014 to Rs.180 at present"
So, the dissolution of parliament is the need of the hour. But this is not an easy prospect. For one thing, a significant number of the incumbent members of parliament (I am calling them ‘incumbent’ because the presidential dissolution of parliament has been judicially suspended until December 5) are not likely to favour this idea for two reasons, not necessarily equally applicable to all of them. There are two groups of these individuals: those who want the parliament elected in August 2015 to continue until the end of its original term for the express purpose of taking an irreversible step towards the separatist goal that terrorism could not reach militarily, by further tinkering with the 1978 Constitution in the form of 20A; and they have NGO, foreign and some local support; the other group comprises those who are worried about their attractive pension rights which they must forfeit when parliament is dissolved before five years are completed. Besides, as the president who headed the Yahapalanaya himself admitted recently, under it some MPs willingly became purchasable at astronomical prices. What better argument than this for supporting the idea of dissolving parliament at this juncture?