At the August 5 general election, the people gave the president and his Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) a landslide victory, which together with their political allies, gives the present regime a healthy 2/3rds majority.
Prior to the general election, the president and his party made changing the constitution, more particularly the 19th Amendment to the Constitution its main campaign slogan. They called on voters to give them a 2/3rds majority to be free to make the necessary changes without having to depend on minority parties.
The people responded. The SLPP received an absolute majority, just five seats shy of the 2/3rds majority they sought. However the votes garnered by the parties in alliance with it, have provided the necessary five seats. The SLPP is therefore now able to change the constitution to its own image and likeness.
While emphasising the need to change the constitution, the SLPP however was not specific about what other changes it had in mind, besides the changes to the 19th Amendment.. It is clear the therefore, that though the masses backed the call of the president and the SLPP on the need to change or to do away with the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, members of the public had scarcely any idea of what exactly the president and his party wanted to change.
They have provided the president with an opportunity to take back to himself the presidential powers shorn by the 19th amendment which had been handed to the prime minister. These two power centres created the problems faced by the past regime.
But the 19th Amendment had a few good points as well. For example, the setting up of independent commissions overlooking the public services, judicial services and medical services, to name a few. The bodies created checks and balances needed to prevent a single individual having untrammeled power.
The Right to Information Act, also part of 19 A, also served public interest and strengthened the rights of ordinary folk.
So is the constitution going to be completely overhauled or just the 19th Amendment done away with, along with the few good features contained therein?
This we don’t know. Yet, the people have spoken and handed over great power to the president.
His handling of the COVID -19 pandemic surely played no small role in gaining the people’s confidence as did his promise to rid the country of corruption which is eating into the social fabric of the country.
With great power comes great responsibility and the political opposition too has a big responsibility. They too were repeatedly given a mandate by the people. They failed miserably and have now, so-to-say, been cast into the political wilderness. They had great power, but failed to use it responsibly. They owe it to the country and their supporters to look into themselves and take corrective measures.
Sadly, this is not happening. Party leaders are refusing to see the writing on the wall and cling to power.
Changing the constitution is important, but in this era of the coronavirus the people are faced with more immediate problems. For instance the cost of living is way beyond the reach of ordinary workers. Following the outbreak of the coronavirus, hundreds of thousands of workers have been thrown out of employment.
How do these people feed their families? According to the Chairman Inter-Company Employees Union–Wasantha Samarasinghe,over 500,000 workers lost their jobs in the aftermath of the COVID -19 crisis.
Many mercantile firms too have cut the wages of their employees by 50%.
Despite government providing loans etc. to help employers tide over present difficulties, the benefits have not percolated to the most desperately in need. It has however, helped the interests of big business.
In the agricultural sector, workers on the estates –they who bring in a large slice of our foreign exchange –on which the economy depends, still do not earn even a mere thousand rupees per day!
Members of the working class are falling deeper and deeper into debt. No one seems to be able to recognise their plight, whether it be trade unions or the government of the day.
Changing the constitution is important. But placing adequate food on the table is an absolute necessity. Otherwise we may end up like North Korea –with nuclear weapons and a starving population.
The people have placed great power in the hands of the president and his government. Can they fulfill their responsibilities?
We certainly hope so, else they too, like their predecessors before them, will be cast into the dustbins of history.