he Constitution of a country is supposed to be the bedrock of the rule of law in a given country. Unfortunately for Sri Lanka, the constitution had been tinkered with on many an occasion. The Constitution of the country - the third since independence and the second Republican Constitution - has been tinkered with and trampled underfoot by the leaders of all governing political parties all of whom have vowed to protect and defend it.
During its brief 40-year life span commencing on September 7, 1978, the Constitution of our country has been tinkered with 19 times. What is sad, is that on most occasions the Amendments brought in were not to enhance the rule of law or to provide greater freedom to the people but rather to enhance the power of the rulers. For instance, just four years after the promulgation of the 1978 Constitution, the then ruling clique barelled the 4th Amendment (Extension of term of first Parliament) through parliament, using the then ruling party’s 5/6th majority in the House, to ensure its continued majority in parliament. More recently we saw government using a variety of delaying tactics, again using selective readings from the Constitution to delay the holding of elections, this time Provincial Council elections.
As recently as April 28, 2015, in the aftermath of the presidential election, the new regime rushed in the 19th Amendment to the Constitution to annul the 18th Amendment while replacing the defunct 17th Amendment to establish the Independent Commissions and remove the Executive Presidential powers and limit the term of office of the President to five years; while the President continues to function as the Head of State, Head of the Cabinet, and Head of Security Forces.
The amendment rushed in, obviously without much attention to detail, has spawned another crisis.
Since the sitting president, sacked his Prime Minister and appointed another in his stead, our parliamentarians have been on offer to be bought and sold allegedly for large sums of money or plum political office. Today they are busy misrepresenting and misquoting particular sections of the Constitution to suit different political agendas.
The wishes of the people who voted these parliamentarians from different political parties into power are given scant concern, as politicians rush hither and thither to see how they can better themselves.
Meanwhile the country is being drawn into yet another unnecessary crisis. The 4th Amendment to the Constitution - to arbitrarily extend the life of parliament without holding elections - gave birth to the JVP uprising, leading to a bloodbath which left thousands dead. Thousands more disappeared, society as a whole was brutalized and the economy left in a shambles.
Sri Lankans coming out of a brutal near-three-decade-long war were and are still war-weary. They saw the crushing of terrorism as a chance to reconcile with one another as well as a chance to rebuild the economy and provide better opportunities for future generations. But the political crisis, leading to the decision to dissolve parliament as questions were raised on the required numbers to show a majority in parliament, smacks of political opportunism.
The formation of a caretaker government, which opponents insist is unconstitutional, has the potential to engineer unrest if not much worse. The announcement of the date for the holding of elections, the dates for the closing of nominations and the summoning of the new parliament to meet on January 17 without reference to the Elections Commissioner does not bode well for the future.
Meanwhile, the economy of the country is struggling to cope with debt repayment and a burgeoning trade imbalance. Hopes that direct foreign investment would bring in sufficient capital to overcome some of these problems are rapidly fading. The incipient tourist industry which was expected to bring in invaluable foreign exchange could face problems.
If ‘we, the people’ and our politicians do not get together and put country before self and political party needs, our country and economy will decline rapidly.