Who would have thought that our Parliamentarians would have to stress and strain, pull and push so much to get an Amendment passed! True it is an important piece of legislation and one which would change the flavour and tone of politics and governance in the country beyond recognition (That is, compared to how things have happened over the past 37 years). This gives legitimacy to long deliberation including petitioning the Supreme Court and incorporating decisions obtained.
The back and forth in this instance, however, has very little to do with commitment to getting it right. The energy on the contrary can be sourced mostly to parochial party interests.
The entire process has been marked by this. First the party leaders agreed to a text. What was submitted as a draft was a text amended by the UNP to suit its interests. People went to court to register objections and obtain relief.
The Supreme Court determined that certain pieces would require affirmation through referenda. Accordingly the Legal Draughtsman amended the draft. What was submitted to Parliament thereafter was a document that had been edited further, again to serve party interests.
The SLFP has used electoral reform as a leverage to further the party’s interests. Since the UNP is a minority government it needed the SLFP to see the 19th (Of whatever version) through. One cannot blame the SLFP for throwing sand in the UNP’s wheel of fortune. That’s politics. If the UNP, without a mandate to brag about, wants the entire pie, it had to expect some resistance, especially since the ‘enabler’ in this instance, President Sirisena, had in his ‘largesse’ deferred it all to the Parliament.
The latest version, however, was a vast improvement on the March draft and statements which essentially advocated reform that did not change anything were clearly ill-willed. The advocates and opponents in and out of Parliament have demonstrated clearly that this society lacked the discipline, wisdom and good-heartedness to set things right.
We had the JVP vociferously supporting the original version (i.e. the UNP-friendly one). The JVP now supports the amended version with no comment on the ‘amendments’. Either that party had not read the first draft or was not interested in reading, period.
The same can be said of those who objected. If it was one thing then it was something later. Objection is easy, offering answers, tough. The ‘tough’ are left untouched. That’s the political culture in which this important piece of legislation is debated in, sadly.
All this brings us to J.R. Jayewardene and the 1978 Constitution. It was made to last. The UNP with its two-thirds weight until 1982, extended first to 1983 by the 1978 Constitution and later until 1989 by the anti-democratic referendum of 1982, used the majority to pass party-friendly amendments. Since then there have been two amendments, the anomaly that is the 17th and the Mahinda-friendly 18th, the former thanks to a change configuration of political forces and the latter on the shoulders of unprecedented sway wrought by defeating the LTTE.
But quite apart from the numbers problem, one has to wonder if J.R. Jayewardene factored in one of those intangibles, which only those who have deep understanding of the human condition and the mind of the political animal can perceive. Such knowledge can be used and abused. JR abused it. ‘The knowledge’ here is simply the fact that politicians and political parties don’t give a damn about people.
The challenge was to defeat JR. It took 37 years, but he was, finally.