- There is better democratic ambience now
- RTI, 19A, OMP are positive steps
- But, corruption and frauds continue unabated
- JVP and National Movement for Social Justice are now together
- it is easier to secure presidency through offering cash inducements today
Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) MP Vijitha Herath who presented the 20th Amendment to the Constitution speaks about it and his party’s future political agenda.
Q You have presented the 20th Amendment. The government’s support is crucial to ensure its passage through Parliament. How certain are you of getting it?
We have received positive responses from individual MPs of different parties. There is no official confirmation of support by their respective parties. We need the support of both, the government and the opposition to enact it. We intend to hold official talks with all the parties in this regard. The government is yet to take up a position in this case. It all depends on political developments in the country.
We believe the UNP will also support our move. It stood for it at the 2015 elections. The UNP also passed a resolution to this effect at its previous convention. Again, there is a proposal before Constitutional Assembly to abolish this
Q According to you political understanding, what do you assume as the government’s stance?
Of course, the government comprises of two main forces - the UNP and the SLFP. There is no way for President Maithripala Sirisena to oppose this. He promised to scrap executive presidency. We believe he will extend his support. The UNP has taken a policy decision to abolish it though they are the ones who introduced it in 1978. On that basis, we believe the UNP will also support our move. It stood for it at the 2015 elections. The UNP also passed a resolution to this effect at its previous convention. Again, there is a proposal before Constitutional Assembly to abolish this.
Q The government is to present its draft of the new Constitution soon. Despite that, what is the reason for your party to undertake this task to amend the Constitution?
The government’s move is a long term project. As things strand at the moment, it is unlikely to become a reality even. As for the Constitution being drafted by the government at the moment, it is expected to deal with not only executive presidency but also other aspects such as human rights, the national question etc. It is subjected to debate. As for abolition of executive presidency, it is something acceptable to almost all. At least, we try to get the executive presidency abolished in the event that a totally new Constitution is unlikely under the current political circumstances.
As for the Constitution being drafted by the government at the moment, it is expected to deal with not only executive presidency but also other aspects such as human rights, the national question etc. It is subjected to debate
Q Yet, there is an allegation that the JVP is carrying out a political project in the interests of the UNP in the government. What is your response?
The JVP does not work according to the dictates of any party. We have been opposed to executive presidency right from its inception in 1978. We have taken action against it in numerous ways- protest campaigns, strategies worked out at presidential elections etc.On the other hand, in the event of abolition of executive presidency, it will be more advantageous to Mahinda Rajapaksa than to the UNP. Now, Mr. Rajapaksa cannot seek presidency for the third time. In case the 20th Amendment is enacted, he get the chance to become the Prime Minister with more powers.
Q Actually, your party campaigned for the abolition of executive presidency. But, this is an exercise not to scrap it totally but to prune its power further only. Alongside, the criterion for the election of President is proposed to be changed. Why did you decide to keep presidency with reduced power rather than abolishing it in its entirety?
We would love to abolish executive presidency as a whole. For it, a new Constitution has to be introduced. Now, we are trying to bring an amendment to the existing Constitution. There will be a presidency. Yet, it is not executive presidency. The appointment of Ministers, Ministry Secretaries, and their removal from office are the sole discretion of the President today. Under the proposed presidency, all these powers will be taken away to be vested with Parliament. In that sense, the President’s power will be reduced drastically. He will only have the sole discretion in exercising his power over the provincial councils. In case any provincial council declares independence, the President can dissolve it. We will not intend to take that power away from the President.
Q The President is supposed to be elected by a simple majority of Parliament under the 20th Amendment. Then, the person elected as the President will be duty bound to carry out the policies of his party. So, that party can manoeuvre the President finally according to its whims and fancies. What is your view?
We have safeguards for it. The person who intends to be the President should obtain a simple majority in Parliament. It is difficult for a single party to get the simple majority or 113 seats in today’s Parliament. Then, the party is compelled to get the support of the Opposition. Then, it is compelled to field someone who can get the support from across the political divide of the House.
Secondly, the person elected as the President should relinquish all his party affiliations including membership. President Sirisena contested as the common candidate. Later, he took over the leadership of SLFP. If the 20th Amendment is enacted, it will be impossible.
President should relinquish all his party affiliations including membership. President Sirisena contested as the common candidate. Later, he took over the leadership of SLFP. If the 20th Amendment is enacted, it will be impossible
Q As you said, no party has the simple majority in the present Parliament. But, there is a possibility of one party getting more than a simple majority at future elections. Then, that party will get the chance to elect the President single-handedly rather than making a bilateral approach. What is your view?
That may be possible. But, the President to be elected has no too much of power concentrated in his hands. He is no longer the Head of State. He is not even a member of the Cabinet. He can exercise some power over the provincial councils in this case. He can appoint the provincial governors or dissolve provincial councils if they declare independence from the central government.
Q In our political culture, it is an open secret that the MPs can be lured through the offer of cash inducements. Though it is not proven as such, it has become an open secret. Then, there is possibility of money being disposed to win over the MPs to elect the President. How do you intend addressing this concern?
Actually, it is easier to secure presidency through offering cash inducements today. When a Chinese company offered a multi- million cash inducement to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, it amounted to the virtual acquisition of the entire country. The President, proposed under our system, has no such power to handle the economic affairs of the country. What is the use of winning over such a President with a little power? Only if the President is all powerful, it is worth in that sense to dispose money to install someone handpicked as the President.
Q You cannot belittle proposed presidency in that manner. It is a post worth enough in terms of prestige and dignity. It is something more than a ceremonial presidency. What is your view?
There is nothing much for the President to do. In India, Abdul Kalam served his presidency as a dignified person respected by all across the political divide.
Q Even in India, the consent of Lok Sabha MPs alone does not suffice to elect the President. You have simplified the criterion for the election of President here even more than in India. Why is it?
In India, there are both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. We have only one. The President, under the proposed system, will have no power to control the Finance Ministry at all. He cannot hold ministerial posts. It is a transitional system. It is no longer the executive presidency. Alongside, it is not ceremonial presidency either. It is something in-between.
When we rule the country, this is not the type of constitution we adopt. Under a JVP government, we will have our own way of appointing the President. This is not a JVP govt. These are just reforms to the existing system
Q In the countries with communist systems, governance is centrally controlled. Your party stands for a communist system. Yet, in this case, you seem to be having a departure from central control of governance. Why is it?
You are talking about a constitution under a communist system. When we rule the country, this is not the type of constitution we adopt. Under a JVP government, we will have our own way of appointing the President. This is not a JVP government. These are just reforms to the existing system. We will have a clear departure from the present system under a communist system under our rule. In countries like China, there is central control. But, power is delegated to the bottom level. There is consultation with the bottom level. There is no arbitrary concentration of power at the centre. We believe in democratic centralization of power. That can be achieved under a JVP administration only.
Q What is the support you get from the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) for this?
The TNA has made comments in support of our stand to abolish executive presidency. The party’s position is yet to be communicated to us.
Q At the last Presidential Election, you asked people to reject the Rajapaksa administration. Also, you said you could not vouch for the quality of the incoming administration. The new government has been in power for three years now. What is your view on their performance in the overall context?
We said we could not guarantee the quality of this administration. What the JVP foresaw was exactly correct. It is proven before three years.
Q How do you compare and contrast the two governments?
There are certain changes which we recognize. We do not see everything from a negative perspective. There are some positive reforms as far as democracy is concerned. The 19th Amendment and the Right to Information Act are some of them. The establishment of the Office of Missing Persons is also a positive step. Disappearance of a person is a criminal offence now. People have a better democratic ambience now than then. But, corruption and frauds continue unabated. There is no improvement in the economic front.
There are some positive reforms as far as democracy is concerned. The 19th Amendment and the Right to Information Act are some of them. The establishment of the Office of Missing Persons is also a positive step. Disappearance of a person is a criminal offence now
Q What is the alternative from the JVP’s perspective?
JVP is the alternative!
Q The National Movement for Social Justice which is now spearheaded by Prof. Sarath Wijesuriya holds some views similar to those of the JVP. Prof. Wijesuriya said both the President and the Prime Minister could no longer be trusted. He said his organization was giving mind to a new political leadership. Is the JVP going to ally with his organization to become one entity?
Of course, it has already happened. Already, the National Professionals Organization has been formed.
Q Does it mean that the organization formed and headed by late Ven. Maduluwave Sobhitha Thera is now with the JVP under one umbrella...?
It is like this; There is no formal agreement between us and that organization. But, those intellectuals are convinced that the present system is not the way out.