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 operative.

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 taking place.
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 Asia.
And then, they might not take ‘no’ for an answer.