A referendum is becoming the catchword of politics and calls before the Supreme Court on the 20A.
With the new Rajapaksa and Pohottuva craving a return to the JR Jayewardene rule of non-democratic authority, it is good to recall the reality of the first, and so far only, referendum in Sri Lanka, way back in 1982. It was the move by JRJ to extend the life of the parliament elected in 1977 for another six years. To get the people’s vote to keep the people out.
It was the JRJ move to prevent a general election, when several by-elections held showed the government was losing support, and JRJ’s UNP would not get a huge majority in the next parliament. With the main opposition leader Sirimavo Bandaranaike deprived of her civic rights, JRJ wanted to ensure his continuity in power with a parliamentary majority.
The referendum came with a constitutional change for the purpose, and the country moved to the Lamp vs Pot, where the ruling UNP carried on a hugely corrupt campaign. The votes of the key opposition leaders, Hector Kobbekaduwa of the SLFP and Pieter Keuneman of the CP were cast before they came to vote.
The largely pro-SLFP and Sirimavo electorates of Attanagalla Dompe were hugely won by the Lamp, shedding no light on corrupt JRJ politics. That Lamp vs Pot politics was such a fraud that the then Elections Commissioner, Chandananda de Silva gave his report on the referendum only four years later.
Most petitioners against the 20A now before the Supreme Court have asked for a referendum on the new amendments to the constitution. Can we be certain that any referendum, if held, will be conducted by the present Elections Commission, which gave us the cleanest general election in the history of our parliamentary politics?
Let’s not forget that the ruling politics of today is one of restoring the politics and governance of JRJ. Would those who now relish the two-thirds majority in parliament allow the voters of this country to bring in any changes to their power-play in corrupt politics?
The Pohottuva is now presenting various amendments to the 20A, which the Attorney General says will be taken up at the Committee Stage of the parliamentary debate on it. The Supreme Court had to direct that copies of such proposed amendments must be given to the petitioners.
Isn’t it strange that a government that refused to consider and Cabinet Sub-Committee suggested amendments to 20A, that has no known drafter, and is now accepted as the President’s own document, has even bothered to bring any amendments to what the President claims ownership and authority?
The petitioners and the public will certainly place their confidence and trust in the Supreme Court. There is an important legal opinion that no changes to the main substance and goal of an original Bill placed before the House, could be changed at the committee stage of a debate. How then will any major changes be brought to this hugely anti-democratic 20A?
Just look at this. The 20A as it is, seeks to give power to the President to dissolve parliament after one year from the parliamentary election that elects the parliament. The new amendment gives such power two-and half years since the election. What is hugely ignored or forgotten is that the parliament was elected by the people. The 225 members, whatever party they may belong to or independent, were elected by the people – for a period of five years. How can any power be given to reduce or curtail this people’s mandate, when half the term for election is completed?
Let’s look at the other aspect of this. The new or current MPs are seeking new accommodation, there is one who even wants an umbrella at public cost. They enjoy so much of the benefits of so-called electoral – largely JRJ – parliamentary privilege, which includes a pension after one term in Parliament. Will they not plead with the Executive President to allow them to complete their five year term of benefits, comforts and conveniences, without dissolving parliament…and what will the President demand from them?
“Support me, vote for my proposals, and remain in the House. If not, you lose everything you now enjoy, and that includes your family and close friends, too”, would be the call of a president, waving a power of dissolution of parliament.
A referendum would certainly be an interesting and useful move to curb the ever widening power of the Executive Presidency of JRJ being brought through the 20A, with or without Committee Stage amendments. Why not ask for another important amendment. One that will allow Parliament – the House of Elected Members of Parliament – to pass a resolution to reduce the term of office of an incumbent president?
Are the people and even the courts, or legal pundits who serve the needs of anti-democracy, to forget that the mandate given to all 225 MPs, whatever their politics or games, was far in excess of what the President received?
It is best to keep such realities, and look at the mockery of Democracy and Presidential Power that Donald Trump is showing today. Is this to be the goal of our own democracy, with support for dual citizenship with hugely American leanings of today and yesterday.
This country needs more than a Committee Stage democracy, that can lead to the Democratic Chaos of the Pohottuva. A lotus bud of Executive Dominance.