Now it’s President’s turn to do the rest
Now it is all over, bar the
shouting: the 18th Amendment to the Constitution has
been passed into law after days of intense political
manoeuvring in which the ruling United Peoples’
Freedom Alliance (UPFA) emerged winners with the
opposition, especially the United National Party
(UNP) suffering further damage that significantly
eroded its credibility.
There have been many arguments for
and against the 18th Amendment.
Its proposers, the UPFA has argued that it would be
unfair to deprive President Mahinda Rajapaksa of a
third term of office just because he has performed
creditably twice and that seems a reasonable
contention. They also say that the President needs a
strong and stable government, immune from electoral
pressures, to carry out development activities
unhindered just as J R Jayewardene did in the late
seventies and early eighties.
On the other hand, the opposition
argues that there is concentration of power in one
individual as a result of the 18th Amendment which
not only removes the two-term bar on presidential
office but also replaces the Constitutional Council
with a Parliamentary Council that can act only in an
advisory capacity to the President. Such a
concentration of power in an individual is unhealthy
and does not augur well for democracy, they claim.
After weeks of argument, a few days of legal
wrangling and a day of drama both within and without
Parliament, the amendment has now sailed through,
not only garnering the required two-thirds majority
but gathering eleven more votes in excess. Clearly,
the government got its act together in style while
the Opposition was caught napping, grappling with
its own disputes instead.
That is the political reality of the day and the
chances are that the Amendment will stay as law for
a considerable time to come.
A salient feature of our
Constitution is that amendments require a two-thirds
majority, so they can only be brought about by a
ruling party. And, no ruling party would want to
dilute the power it enjoys by scrapping these
amendments now. Therefore, just as much as the Sri
Lanka Freedom Party-led government made use of the
Constitution introduced by the UNP, any future UNP
regime - if it does manage to return to power -
would dearly embrace these changes!
Previously, we had a Constitution
that was only partly functional. Until a few years
ago, the referendum required to merge the Northern
and Eastern provinces was being postponed ad
nauseam. The Constitutional Council was
non-functional because of the deadlock over the
nomination of certain members. Even the appointment
of the Secretary General of Parliament was made on
an acting basis as a result!
Now, we have instead a Constitution that is fully
Therefore, the excuse that
constitutional impediments hamper the government’s
efforts is no longer valid, just as much as the much
abused claim that the war was hindering development
no longer holds water. Therefore, it is time for the
government to deliver.
Its mandate is clear: six more years for the UPFA
and seven more years for President Mahinda
Rajapaksa. No ruling party or national leader could
ask for more from a nation.
There have certainly been some development efforts
that are praiseworthy, especially in the North and
East, in the deep South and also in the construction
of highways countrywide, but the pace of these
efforts is questionable.
There is also the issue of there
being no economic respite for the masses in spite of
the infrastructural development that is obviously
These are surely worrying trends.
Then, there is the now nearly
forgotten ‘ethnic crisis’. Faced with the prospect
of pushing through constitutional reforms
expeditiously, issues that affect the ‘minority’
communities in the country have been relegated to
the back burner. Recommendations of the All Party
Representative Committee (APRC) are a forgotten
entity. Suddenly, all talk of resolving ethnic
issues through devolving power to the regions has
ceased. It is as if there were no ‘ethnic issues’
that led to one of the world’s bloodiest terrorist
wars that lasted nearly thirty years.
We therefore feel that with the
entire legislature at his beck and call and with
untrammelled power being accumulated with the
Executive, the onus will now be on President
Rajapaksa to take the lead, both in various
development efforts as well as in formulating ways
and means to resolve the various ethnic based
grievances that led to the war. He can comfortably
shed his politician’s garb now and don the
statesman’s cloak instead.
In six years’ time, when the country
next goes to the polls the masses will not want to
hear excuses. They will want results instead. They
will want to see a peaceful nation and a prosperous
country where the standards of living have
appreciated perceptibly. They will ask their rulers
whether Sri Lanka has indeed become the miracle of
And then, they might not take ‘no’ for an answer.