UNP constitutional proposals vs. the Rajapakse constitutional amendment

Ranil-and-Karu

Photo courtesy Colombo Telegraph

Both the ruling Rajapakse Administration and the opposition United National Party are busy with their own versions of constitutional reform. The UNP with making constitutional reform proposals for dialogue and discussion, while the Government, was busy using its two third majority to rush through yet another constitutional amendment, this one reducing even further the very limited and truncated devolution of political power existing under the current 13th amendment to the Constitution.

The UNP proposals are a basis for a broader coalition

The UNP recently unveiled a set of proposals or rather a framework for constitutional reform and over the past weekend witnessed the Leader of the Opposition, Ranil Wickramasinghe personally under his own hand, writing to the papers explaining and explaining the rationale and thinking behind the UNP’s constitutional reforms process. It should be recognized that after a long time, the UNP has come out with a document and process that has significant political smarts behind it. Firstly Opposition Leader Ranil Wickramasinghe has been clear that the proposals are merely a discussion document, a statement or principles and a framework for dialogue and consultation with the people, rather than a hard and fast policy statement of the UNP. It cannot even escape the average citizen the difference between the UNP’s proposed public consultation over constitutional reform and the Government’s “urgent bill” hatched in secret approach to constitutional amendment.

Secondly the UNP document cleverly avoids dealing with the issues of devolution and post war reconciliation leaving this open for consultation, thereby depriving the extreme nationalist elements in the Government of a political stick with which to beat the opposition. However the most advantageous political move on the part of the UNP was to clearly demonstrate its willingness and openness to serious reform of or the abolition of the executive presidency. In so doing, the UNP and Ranil Wickramasinghe opens up the space and opportunity for a broader front and minimum common platform that brings together a much wider section of political forces, than that which previously existed. If the UNP had not offered the abolition of the executive presidency, then the UNP offer to the Sri Lankan public was just a straightforward, replace Mahinda with Ranil proposition, one that seemingly had insufficient currency within the country. It is also a choice between Mahinda and Ranil. Instead by offering to abolish the presidency, the argument is that even if Mahinda is not too bad, support the opposition for governance reforms, since our system badly needs it, an argument that certainly has greater appeal than the previous implied offer of replacing Mahinda with Ranil. Also a system of shared executive power, whether through a Council of State or a Westminster system or even with an executive prime minister, enables the accommodation of a wider variety of political actors and national leadership aspirants, all of whom would need to coalesce around a single challenger to the present incumbent of the presidency.

UPFA Government’s cracks begins to show 

The Rajapakse regime seemed unassailable in 2009 and 2010, having won the war in mid 2009, it pushed aside all opposition and in the nature of a juggernaut executing a political blitzkrieg brushed aside all political opposition wining the elections of 2010. However, three years past the election, in what would be mid way in a normal six year term, the gloss is off the regime and the cracks are beginning to show.

The impeachment of Chief Justice Bandaranaike alienated the professional middle class, including even Sinhala nationalist elements of society and created some public doubt about whether the ruling Rajapakses’ were defenders of ethnic Sinhala interests or merely defending their own political interests.

There is also a strong perception in society about an erosion of law and order and a significant increase in corruption. There is also a general feeling of a government struggling to govern effectively, whether conducting examinations, providing health care services or providing higher education or other services, there is disquiet in Sinhala society regarding governance issues.

The recent increase in religious intolerance and the rise in anti-Muslim and also now anti Christian attacks, associated with extremist organizations, who seemingly have the support of the government, has  led to the Muslim political parties, all currently in government expressing fear and anxiety, while many Sinhalese have expressed their feelings and views that the government has taken a wrong turn by associating itself with organizations and agendas that does not really  reflect true Buddhism, which is tolerant and inclusive.

In the contest of this level of low level societal violence, moving unilaterally on stripping further the limited devolution of powers granted the 13th amendment poses some risks for the government. The SLMC may well not vote with the government and its break in ranks would be a serious crack in the UPFA armor. Even if the SLMC can be bullied and cajoled into supporting the government, it is likely a battle they win to possibly lose the war. They are alienating some friends while making no new ones through the exercise. The only people thrilled about the government’s proposed 19th amendment are the ultra nationalist JHU and NFF; both firmly entrenched within the government. While it alienates and will weaken the support of the SLMC and the old left, namely CP, LSSP, NSSP towards the government.

International dimensions

Another powerful ally the Rajapakse regime will alienate completely by its unilateral guttering of the 13th amendment is the people and government of India. Unusually for the Indian foreign policy establishment they face genuine grassroots popular political pressure regarding the Sri Lankan issue. India was instrumental in ensuring that the recent CMAG meeting in London went smoothly and laid the groundwork for a smooth and successful CHOGM. Having bailed Sri Lanka out of the difficulties it was facing through the Canadian challenge on its human rights and post war reconciliation limitations, the Rajapakse regime responds with a slap in India’s face. There are limits to how far and for how long such policies can be adopted with impunity.

  • http://brainoil.wordpress.com sharanga

    The last section of this article shows just why UNP is not in power. They are a spineless bunch. When you make law, you don’t first consider what would other countries think about it. You write down what you want and try to get it passed. Of course you will have to compromise. But you don’t start the work after already having compromised.

    It has always been clear, throughout human history that those who have power would almost always abuse it. The greater the power, the greater the abuse. The only solution is to limit power. But there isn’t a single libertarian in the parliament, and the UNP has never really been a party that cared a lot about people’s rights. The UNP comes up with this new constitution only because they are powerless. It sucks to be powerless when power is not restricted. Hence, the UNP is not sincere. The only way this new constitution would come to life is if the UNP came into power, and yet it was absolutely necessary to adopt this constitution for them to just remain in power. Those two things are very very unlikely.

    • http://yahoo. Upali Wickramasinghe

      These proposals do not deal with the essentials.Only what it will cost for the UNP to be back in power. It does not deal with good financial governance. There should be Public Official who control the finances, not by politicians as it is now.He should be able to say so far nothing more until the Parliament approves.Since 1977 the heads of State had abused their priviledges and we are in this mess.The DST is the person presently empowered to control finances.
      2. All investments should be subject to thorough scrutiny.The country should never get into the mess that we are with Norochcholai.For this purpose there should a separate body to assess all major investments.
      3.Sale of State Owned Enterprises should be after a wide discussion, with parliamentary approval.This had not been the practise so far.
      4.A sold SOE should be continuously be under Parliament scrutiny.In case the buyer is unable to cope with his work, the SOE should be nationalized. After all it was put up with tax payers money.Of the 125 odd SOEs sold not even five are functioning.
      5.Essential SOE should not be sold eg The sale of the Distilleries Corporation, which was a bottomless well for state finances was sold.See what it had led to.The Govt cannot pay the public sector salaries.
      6.No SOE should be sold for scrap. eg Fertliser manufacturing factory.This had led directly to the health problems among farmers in the NCP.
      7. In all SOEs the Board of Management should have members of the staff representing different specialities with the Chairman and the MD from outside.The outside Directors should be educated people. There should be no tailors, pimps, drunkards, karawadu sellers, cigarette salesmen,etc etc in the Board.
      8.The Directors of the SOE should be removed on retirement, inefficiency corruption etc but not when political parties taking over power in the Centre change.,

  • http://- Justin

    The Indo Lanka Accord(ILA) of 1987, was an agreement between three parties, namely; India, Sri Lanka(SL) and Tamil Liberation Movements(TLM).

    India was the guarantor for the implementation of ILA. Under IPKF, the first elections for the merged Provincial Council of North-East was held and Chief Minister Varatharajaperumal was appointed.

    SL on its part, was to hold a referendum in the East, within one year, ratifying its merger with the North.

    The TLM, refering to the past dishonesty and breach of agreements by the Sinhalese collectively with the Tamils, raised serious doubts and reservations about violation or abandonment of the provisions of ILA, by the Sinhalese, to make ILA a “toothless dog” for Tamils.

    Rajiv Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India, assured the TLM, TULF and the political leaders of Tamil Nadu, that in such an eventuality, India would support and create Tamil Eelam according to the democratic Tamil Mandate of 1977.

    Since 1987, SL has unilaterally violated the ILA at least 3 times. They are;

    1. Asking IPKF to leave prematurely,
    2. Failing to hold a referendum in the East before
    1988.
    3. De-merging North-East without a referendum.

    Therefore, India is obliged to carry out the promise given by its Prime Minister Rajiv Ghandi.

    • Off the Cuff

      Dear Justin,

      You stated that “The Indo Lanka Accord(ILA) of 1987, was an agreement between three parties, namely; India, Sri Lanka(SL) and Tamil Liberation Movements(TLM)”

      The ILA carries the signatures of JR Jayawardene and Rajiv Gandhi ONLY. Where has this imaginary THIRD signatory placed the signature?
      Signed in invisible ink?

      You have a way of introducing figments of your imagination as gospel truth. You campaigned for Eelam here (http://groundviews.org/2013/06/18/twitter-qa-with-lalith-weeratunga-secretary-to-the-president-of-sri-lanka/#comment-54180) and you are campaigning for Eelam now.

      When asked to justify your claims and blames you vanished from that thread and is now popping up on this thread with your blame game.

      “Under IPKF, the first elections for the merged Provincial Council of North-East was held and Chief Minister Varatharajaperumal was appointed”

      IPKF rigged the election and Indian backed Terrorists EPRLF and ENDLF were uncontested in all 36 seats in the NORTH but there were elections for the 35 seats in the EAST.

      “SL on its part, was to hold a referendum in the East, within one year, ratifying its merger with the North”

      A Referendum while the Terrorists were still armed? You must be joking.

      LTTE refused to hand over their guns remember?
      They held on to their guns till May 2009.

      “The TLM, referring to the past dishonesty and breach of agreements by the Sinhalese collectively with the Tamils, raised serious doubts and reservations about violation or abandonment of the provisions of ILA, by the Sinhalese, to make ILA a “toothless dog” for Tamils”

      The following is from the ILA

      2.9 The emergency will be lifted in the Eastern and Nothern Provinces by Aug. 15, 1987. A cessation of hostilities will come into effect all over the island within 48 hours of signing of this agreement. All arms presently held by militant groups will be surrendered in accordance with an agreed procedure to authorities to be designated by the Government of Sri Lanka. Consequent to the cessation of hostilities and the surrender of arms by militant groups, the army and other security personnel will be confined to barracks in camps as on 25 May 1987. The process of surrendering arms and the confining of security personnel moving back to barracks shall be completed within 72 hours of the cessation of hostilities coming into effect.

      If the language is unclear to you, the above paragraph from the ILA required India to DISARM all terrorists.

      The cessation of hostilities came in to affect within 48 hours of 29 July 1987 (the day the ILA was signed).

      The SL Army was to move to barracks within 72 hours of the cessation of hostilities.

      The SL Army was to be confined to barracks AFTER the SURRENDER of ARMS by the terrorists.

      The Surrender of Arms never happened although the SL govt confined the SLA to barracks in good faith despite India breaching the very foundation of the ILA.

      Hence Sri Lanka can abrogate the whole ILA by India’s default.

      You have been blaming the Sinhalese, hiding the fact that the LTTE and the Tamil political parties except Douglas Devanada’s EPDP REJECTED the ILA.

      “Rajiv Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India, assured the TLM, TULF and the political leaders of Tamil Nadu, that in such an eventuality, India would support and create Tamil Eelam according to the democratic Tamil Mandate of 1977″

      Democratic Tamil Mandate? Did ALL the Tamils vote for that Mandate for you to name it as a “TAMIL” mandate? What percent of the 3 million Tamils of Lanka vote for that so called “Tamil Mandate”? Just over 1%, even with the backing of the LTTE terrorists guns?

      Democratic elections with the electors and the opposition subdued by LTTE guns!

      There are MORE Tamils living outside the North and East than living within it. NON of them voted for your so called Democratic “Tamil Mandate”.

      There was no such Tamil Mandate, you are hoodwinking the world.

      “Since 1987, SL has unilaterally violated the ILA at least 3 times. They are;
      1. Asking IPKF to leave prematurely,
      2. Failing to hold a referendum in the East before 1988.
      3. De-merging North-East without a referendum.
      Therefore, India is obliged to carry out the promise given by its Prime Minister Rajiv Ghandi”

      The ILA was defaulted by India within 120 hours of it coming into affect (please see above).

      India was responsible for creating the conditions for a referendum by disarming terrorists. That never happened.

      The Supreme Court held that the merger was illegal in the first place, when the JVP petitioned it against the merger.

      Finally, Eelam was declared by Chief Minister Varatharaja Perumal of the merged North and East with the Unilateral Declaration of Independence, supported by the Tamil National Army. This led to the dissolution of the NE Provincial Council and the imposition of Direct Rule by the then President Premadasa.

      The separatist Tamils of the North have by their own actions proven that they do not want a Sri Lankan identity and has forfeited the trust of the rest of the Sri Lakans.

  • http://yahoo Upali Wickramasinghe

    Indo Lanka Accord.I believe that after what Mr.D.S.senanayake and Mr.S.W.R.D.Bandaranayake did re the Indian and Pakistani Citizenship act and the Sinhala Only act, while Section 29 was in the statute books, no other avenue for minorities.The pact may be faulty, may have been forced upon us, but it was the result of the selfishness of our politicians and the public in general.Recollecting what happened at that time I am surprised that we call ourselves an educated society.In that sense I see nor reason to abandon the Indo Lanka pact.On the other hand, Ravaya of 7th July reports that nearly 170 people living along the Nilwala river had been either killed or maimed by the crocodiles.Tax payer’s money at the rate of Rs 15,000 per family had been given the Govt/Provicial council to each of these families =170×15000= Rs 2,550,000. Could not this money been better utilized if water pumps and sumps were installed along this river, if installing a complete water supply scheme was difficult.In this sense I find that the Provincial Council system is a failure.