Thinking Out of the Box is the catchline of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. He gave this advice to the banking sector in May this year, and to the members of parliament in his opening address last month.
The need for new ways of thinking to overcome local and global challenges and revive the economy – out of the box thinking – is the declared stuff of his reasoning. The new ministerial structure was also with such thinking.
What is advocated with such emphasis for economic growth, has been wholly ignored for the progress and growth of democracy. It looks like economic growth has nothing to do with the advance of democracy. The rulers of the past, in many countries of the world, had their economic and wealth gains, with nothing to do with democracy or the sovereignty of the people. These were known as dictatorships, the power of colonialism, and Soveit and Communist power too.
Are we rapidly making a retreat to the proper Rajavasala Buddhiya – the Thinking of the Ruler Reign, a rush back to the Box of Dictatorship?
The 20th Amendment to the Constitution now made public shows a complete retreat to a non-democratic situation, and thinking that is entirely within the Executive Presidential Box.
The 19th Amendment will be no more under this Rajapaksa Regime. It has the two-thirds power for that. Two items of the 19A will be kept – the reduced five-year term of the presidency and the two term limit for a President. Two items that don’t matter for Mahinda Rajapaksa anymore. Everything else that matters, that came from out of the box thinking by Yahpalanaya in April 2015 will be no more.
The rush to the 20A is a mockery of the voters who, thanks to a divided and crooked UNP, enabled a two-thirds power to the Rajapaksas. It has nothing to do with the need to meet the economic and social needs and demands of the people, in the post Covid 19 crisis. The 20A is the re-empowering of an Executive Presidency, even more than what JR Jayewardene forced on the people in 1978.
The ‘out of the box’ thinking of the Rajapaksas is very much ‘in the box’ of ensuring family power without even a semblance of democracy. The service of Independent Commissions in key areas such as the Judiciary, Elections. Human Rights, Police, Public Service, Bribery and Corruption, Finance, and many others are no more. The Constitutional Council is disbanded to empower a Parliamentary Council that can only advise the president, The Auditor General’s independence is forgotten. Appointments to key positions of the Judiciary are in the hands of the President (and politicians!)
In a situation where the average age of MPs is reportedly in the late 60s, the 35 year age limit brought by 19A to a candidate for the presidency, has been reduced to 30 years. It is clear that the ageing Rajapaksas – from the late 60s to near 80 – have thought of their younger generation for the continuance of the Rajavasala domain.
What the 19A did was to give more power to Parliament and the Prime Minister, as elected representatives of the people, against the Executive President that was the singularly dominant power in the country. 20A will ensure the end of such recognition of the sovereignty of the people. The Prime Minister, even being an elder brother of the President, is wholly under him, who will chair the Cabinet, can hold any number of Cabinet portfolios, and can appoint any member to the Cabinet, without the approval of the PM. Sections of the media report that the PM is in a political trap, but let’s not forget that such traps are a necessity for wider family dominance over the demands of democracy.
Then comes the dual citizenry; what is seen by many as the key need of the 20A. It was the 19A that banned dual citizens from contesting elections to parliament and holding the country’s presidency. JRJ’s dictatorship had not banned this. Gotabaya Rajapaksa, after being a US citizen for nearly three decades, gave it up, to contest for the presidency. But there is another Rajapaksa dual citizen who will not give it up. The 20A is the decorative path for Basil Rajapaksa to move to Parliament, Cabinet, even Prime Minister, and who knows even the President, come the proper time!
Let’s not bother to talk of the conflicting situation that prevails when a person who has pledged to serve the US as a citizen, fight for it, be armed against countries and forces that oppose it, or strongly disagree with it, can be a representative of the sovereignty of the Sri Lankan people, and or the independent policies of this country. We are moving to the dual Citizenship Box and not thinking out of it. It is the Box of the MCC deal which the Rajapaksas and Pohottuva were loudly against … but not so much today. This is a move to the Pathfinder Box that will see its leader as the High Commissioner to India, with a Cabinet ranking. Just think a little more of the other Pathfinders in key positions of government today. What a Box of American strategy to be caught in!
We are in the midst of a duality of thinking. The duality of those talk loud about protection of Sri Lankan citizenship, and also hugely support the benefits and advantages of the US Citizenship. Are we moving to a situation when a 21st Amendment will give dual – US and Sri Lanka citizenship – to all Sri Lankan, whether Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim and Aadivaasi too?
Thinking out of the box shows us the huge dangers of the 20A. In a country that thinks a lot about rebirth, this looks very much like a move towards the rebirth of JRJ. The rebirth of the dictatorial dominance that all parties in the opposition from the SLFP to the JVP – and the older LSSP and CP and breakaways – called for removal, by abolishing the 1978 JRJ Constitution.
Such thinking, once strongly supported in the Mahinda Chinthana in several elections, is now no more. We are taken back to the Jayewardene Box of political strategy, creeping into the new Rajapaksa Box of politics and governance. The rise of the Jayewardene – Rajapaksa Presidency. The Box of Disaster for Democracy, out of which no thinking is done by the Rajavasala Kattayas of today!