Uva will be the turning point
It is believed that Presidential Election will be held soon and Mahinda Rajapaksa will be running for a third term. As a Constitutional lawyer, could you explain the legal perspective of this matter?
There is an argument that when people pass their vote in 2010, people cast their vote for Mahinda Rajapaksa understanding that by law that is his last chance to run for President.
He was elected for the second time prior to the 18th Amendment. In Constitutional law there is a legal principle that if you bring a law, with a retrospective effect, then that law must clearly state so.
The parliament must specifically pass the law stating that the effect is retrospective. In the 18th Amendment there is no such retrospective provision. It is a Constitutional requirement that when a law is passed it has to be prospective (unless stated otherwise). This means that the law will apply only from the day it comes into operation; it cannot be retrospective.
"The biggest eyesore for this government is an independent Court of Appeal and an independent Supreme Court"
Now, when this mandate was given to Mahinda Rajapaksa, people exercised it for him for the second and last time. When he was elected, the 18th Amendment was not in operation. And therefore, any subsequent amendment to remove any restriction regarding running for presidency has to be applied to the presidents who will come in the future; not for the existing incumbent. That is the argument. The former CJ Sarath Silva also holds this kind of view.
But our issue is who will interpret it? It has to be interpreted by the Supreme Court. But as for allegations, the Supreme Court has no independence. Looking back to how the former CJ Shirani Bandaranayake was sacked, the people can see what kind of independence – or lack thereof – exists in the Supreme Courts. The biggest eyesore for this government is an independent Court of Appeal and an independent Supreme Court.
In January 2014, I presented a bill to regulate the impeachment and prevent the government from removing judges in an ad hoc manner and to restore independence and impartiality to the judiciary of the country. However, to my knowledge, in the recent past, that was the only bill that was thrown out at the time of the presentation. It did not even make it to the agenda to be debated. The government used their majority to throw out the bill before it was even discussed in the parliament. This shows how this government is so keen to stifle the independence of the judiciary.
So Mahinda Rajapaksa might come as a candidate again but it is up to the people to decide whether he should be given the leadership of the country again.
How is the formation of the Common Opposition coming along?
Rather than a Common Opposition, what we are really discussing is a common platform, just to agree on a common agenda. Too much of prominence have been given to a Common Candidate. What we have discussed so far with all the parties is a common agenda – first to win the presidential elections and then to abolish the executive presidency and bring back a system that is somewhat similar to the Westminster System.
There were candidates in the past who promised to abolish Executive Presidency but once they came to power they chose not to do so. So what guarantee do you have to say that the common candidate will definitely abolish the Executive Presidential system?
In July last year, the UNP being the main Opposition presented a Constitutional proposal. In the past the candidates spoke of bringing in a new constitution but people had no clear idea what they were going to bring. Then once they got the mandate, they adopted whatever the Constitution they had in mind. Both Sirima Bandaranaike and J.R. Jayewardene did that.
"The government's corruption has reached the highest level. In addition to that there is a family bandism. Actually corruption is a qualification to join this government. With all that, the people have no reason to tolerate this government any more"
There was no clear idea about the proposed new Constitutions then. But now, for the first time in the history, there is a very clear proposal for a new Constitution which we have given to all the political parties as well as all Mahanayakes and religious dignitaries.
In fact there is an awareness programme going all over the country about our proposal. So once we win we have no escape; we will have to adopt the proposal.
Also practically, even more than the Opposition, the members of the coalition government is thoroughly disgusted with the Executive Presidency. They continue with the system because they have no fall-back. Even with all kinds of injustices and harassments they continue because they are career politicians and have no other profession.
Do you believe that the Common Candidate should be from the UNP?
The question is whoever the common candidate is – from whichever party - if we have to go for a presidential election, out of the votes given to the opposition candidate, who can harness the most votes. We are definite that the UNP candidate – even if that person comes as a Common Candidate with the support of the minority parties – will harness the most votes and 90 per cent of the votes will be UNP votes.
How can you say that when UNP has been defeated in so many elections including the most recent PC elections?
In 2005, even with the war, the ruling party with all provincial councils under their belt and also the Executive Presidency and all that, Mahinda Rajapaksa won with a majority of 180,000 votes.
The UNP got 40 lakhs votes. That is because all the Tamil votes, about 600,000 votes which were meant to be UNP votes, was prevented by Prabhakaran after taking a ransom from this government.
Even with that Ranil Wickremesinghe got over 40 lakhs of votes. We got the same amount while fielding off Fonseka in the subsequent election.
"The question is whoever the common candidate is – from whichever party - if we have to go for a presidential election, out of the votes given to the opposition candidate, who can harness the most votes. We are definite that the UNP candidate – even if that person comes as a Common Candidate with the support of the minority parties – will harness the most votes and 90 per cent of the votes will be UNP votes"
That was soon after the war and we never expected to win because at that time people had formed an opinion that rightly or wrongly Mahinda Rajapaksa won the war.
But now, five years after winning the war, people are thoroughly disgusted and disappointed that no benefits have come to the people.
The government's corruption has reached the highest level. In addition to that there is a family bandism. Actually corruption is a qualification to join this government. With all that, the people have no reason to tolerate this government any more.
Then why did the people still vote for the UPFA at the recent Provincial Council elections?
We knew that it has to be because in Sri Lanka when the government is held by a particular party, no local council can be won by any other party. In 2001, when UNP came into power, while the Executive Presidency remained, the UNP won the PC elections even though the all the previous councils were held by the coalition.
At the local council and provincial council level people don’t want any change unless it comes to a crucial stage like in 1993 when people in down-south defeated the UNP and that was a turning point. We expect that this time the turning point will be Uva.
Now, we must also not forget that in the Western Province the government got only 45 per cent. With the 45 per cent you cannot win a Presidential Election.
So, even though the UNP has not won at the local council level, I am definite that when it comes to a crucial stage as the presidential elections, there will be a serious burst within the government itself. It is because people take decisions when it comes to a crucial point. Rightly or wrongly, that is the political culture of this country.
There is some controversy about Ranil Wickremesinghe leading the UNP. In that context, do you believe that he is the best person to lead the Common Opposition and become the Presidential Candidate?
These are common criticisms. In 1974-75, there was a strong opposition to J.R. and he was even sacked from the UNP. But in two years’ time, he faced the election and not only won but also set a record. Similarly, when Mahinda Rajapaksa contested for the first time, almost all the SLFPers were certain that he would never win. Some of his closest supporters in the government now, at that time were campaigning against him. So, these are common things that don’t mean much in the large context of presidential elections.
How is the UNP preparing for the Uva elections?
During the last so many years, even though we contested in the elections, there was no proper machinery, no proper organization capacity due to various reasons. But because we anticipated these elections at the end of 2014 or beginning of 2015, since January 2013 we started our reorganisaition of the party. We have formed branch offices, youth and women branches, organizing committees, etc. We are well-equipped to get two to three thousand people into one place. We launched our propagandas for the elections. In that sense, we are ready to face any election at any time.
We have put an additional strength in the Uva Province. All members of the parliament as well as the local councils are involved in that election. From my personal experience in Monaragla and Badulla, people are desperate with this government. And the poverty level in the Uva has increased to 22 percent from the 13 percent earlier. This clearly shows that this government has neglected the Uva Province and therefore people are frustrated.