Why all this fuss about the Constitution ?
Posted on September 4th, 2010

by  Charles.S.Perera

The proposed amendments to the Constitution, have raised a political storm.  Fortunately the directions from which the storms blow do not predict  a danger to the envisaged proposals but may cause irreparable  damage to those who started the storm.

 JVP and its wind bags  like the drowning men holding on to a straw, encumbered with the weight of Sarath Fonseka on their backs are likely to drown in the flood waters of  political disapproval, even Lal Kantha the ego centric trade unionist will not be able to save it from its watery gave.

 The leftist trio DEW Gunasekara, Tissa Vitharana and Wasudeva Nanayakkara  as usual unable to take firm decisions, are  preparing the funeral rights of the good old leftist movement, and it remains for them to jump into the  funeral pyre as they will have no worth while existence with the end of the leftist movement.  Even the President will not have any use of them as he is already assured  of a two third majority in the Parliament.

 UNP is in complete disarray.  It is however heartening that at least a few young UNPers have had a sudden revelation that opposition to a government is not to blow it up, but to make it serve the people better.

 When I was reading the President Barack Obama’s book the Audacity of Hope a passage  struck me as relevant to Sri Lanka.  In that passage he says, that in conversation with an old Washington hand who had served in the Capitol for over fifty years, he asked  the difference of the atmosphere  then and now, and he had answered  that:

  “”¦”¦we might’ve fought like cats and dogs  on issues. A lot of us came from different back grounds, different neighbourhoods, different political philosophies.  But with the war we all had some thing in common. That shared experience developed a certain trust and respect. It helped to work through our differences and get things done.”

 It is a pity that it did not happen that way in Sri Lanka.  The senior politicians, and supposed to be people friendly Marxists did not make the war against terrorism the rallying point to combine forces with the government for the progressive development of Sri Lanka.  They instead made it an opportunity  to make   personal benefits  to realise their political ambitions, without caring a dime for the country and its people.

 JVP is ridiculous in  hanging on to Sarath Fonseka as their Leader.  He was of course the Army Commander during the most difficult period of the recent history of Sri Lanka . He may have discussed strategies  and prepared the army officers for  their different assignments. But the war itself was conducted by  officers under him.

 We saw in video clips during the height of the military offensive against the terrorists, that the Army Officers like Shavendra Silva,  Prasanna De Silva and others who  in the midst of fighting giving instructions to their  soldiers and asking them  before they turn away to take care of themselves.  They deserve lot of credit for the elimination of terrorists from Sri Lanka.

 Sarath Fonseka as the Army Commander  should not have used  his position to help his family to set up business to  sell arms to the army.  He should have retired as an army Officer without seeking political power.  In seeking political power he did not set an example to the Armed forces of Sri Lanka.

 In this respect it is relevant to quote the statement made by Admiral  Mike Mullen  Chairman of the Joint  Chiefs of Staff of  USA   at a press conference after the former Afghanistan  Commander  Stanley A. McChrystal gave his resignation, as it was reported in the  International Herald Tribune of 25 June, 2010. 

 Speaking to the military he had said:

 “”¦.We do not have the right, nor should we ever assume the prerogative, to cast doubt upon the ability or mock the motives  of our civilian leaders, elected or appointed.  We are and must remain a neutral instrument  of the state , accountable to and respectful  of those leaders no matter which party holds sway or which person holds a given office.”

 We may recognise Sarath Fonseka as a war hero, but he does not deserve our respect for what he did afterwards bringing discredit to our country, and the President Mahinda Rajapakse who united Sri Lanka under one flag after 30 years of  untold suffering from ruthless terrorism.

 The 18th Amendment to the Constitution is necessary as that is the least we can do to help a man like Mahinda Rajapakse who has a great vision for the progress and development of Sri Lanka to  continue his good work  to raise Sri Lanka  above its status of a developing nation, if the people would want him and vote for him  at the Presidential elections that follows the end of the term of  his office. 

 The Tamils be they politicians, academics, intellectuals or ordinary civilians should not rake the past, call for equality and devolution of power which will only make the Sinhala community hate the Tamils, and who knows result in another spate of terrorism.  An aspect of reconciliation is also to forget and forgive the errors of the past.

 It was most  annoying that Douglas Devananda decided to show his Tamilness by giving evidence in Tamil before the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation  Commission. He had made matters worse by stopped several times  to dispute English translation by the interpreter. He could have as well given his evidence in English.

 In the reconciliation and reconstruction process  there should not be  communal reference Tamil, Sinhala, Muslim etc.  They should all be treated as Sri Lankans in that progressive movement of bringing all people together.  This is where the Tamils should take a lesson from the American President Barrack Obama.  His was a peaceful revolution.

 Mr.Barrack Obama did not separate himself as an ethnic minority.  He worked in harmony with the majority whites winning them over  with his pragmatic method of  campaigning.   He made it possible  for a man from  a minority ethnic group to become the leader of the most powerful nation of the world.  Why cannot the showy Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu cannot understand this  and change his separatist attitude ?

 Every body talks  of   the proposed 18th Amendment to the constitution as an affront to Democracy.  Democracy is something that had been introduced by the West, expecting the developing countries of the third world to respect it, while they themselves act undemocratically.  They have introduced” human rights” to out manoeuvre  democratic principles, to interfere into internal affaires of the sovereign states of developing countries.

 Democracy is good in principle to already developed countries.  But a developing country should follow a “middle path” with out making  democracy a  sacrosanct political system.  If China  did not keep the west from interfering into its affairs, and adopted authoritative methods when necessary, it would have still remained as it  was described by Pear S Buck in her book the Good Earth.

 For a developing country to rise from low income  economy , to a middle income economy and then to a fully developed economy takes time and disciplining of the population. It is necessary to use high handed methods at times in the interest of the country.  That is not to say the methods adopted should be dictatorial, but  sufficient to infuse understanding and necessity of sacrifice for the overall development.

 Therefore, an executive President is necessary for  Sri Lanka, which is now on the correct path to development.   The fear of the other political parties about the introduction of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution is that they will not be able to have  political power to make their political philosophies workable to hasten the development process. 

 But the democratic principle of changing Political parties  at every  parliamentary and Presidential election hampers development. When one political party has introduced a political process of development the results of which could be seen in a certain number of years, another political party coming into power before the end of that time period, will change the whole process to suit their political philosophy and the country as a result will  fall from once process to another with out any development at all.

 This has to stop, as we  have seen that  democracy  has not helped us from 1948 until now to even come above the lower income economic classification.  It is only now thanks to perspicacity of the President Mahinda Rajapakse we have reached the middle income economy status.  The country is at peace, infrastructure development is proceeding well, and the foreign currency reserve shows efficient management.  The country is socially, economically healthy.  The defence and security of the country is assured by an efficient Defense Secretary.

 What remains is the reconciliation and reconstruction, which at the way things are turning out will not be difficult if the present political system continues for some more time.  Therefore the 18th Amendment is necessary for the present situation.  The 17th Amendment as it is, is not workable, and it is best that it is scrapped and a more workable legislation is substituted.

 An incumbent President’s right to contest for another term of office under the 18th Amendment does not mean that after the end of the  term of office  of  the President he is automatically allowed to continue in his office.  It only allows him to contest the  Presidential elections along with other candidates.  Mr.Mahinda Rajapakse  will not have the guarantee that the people will vote for him.  That would not be against any democratic principles

 Therefore, why make a fuss about the 18th Amendment to the Constitution ?

 The country definitely needs  changes to its Constitution, to allow the President Mahinda Rajapakse, who has the  correct perception to lead our country to a higher target of development.  There had been errors and mistakes in certain ministerial responsibilities, but they are not irreparable, and it appears that the President has an eye every where to take stock of the situation and take corrective steps.

 Now if everything goes well  and the proposed amendments to the Constitution are adopted, it is left to the other political parties to rally round the President  and his government and help them to make a success of reconciliation and reconstruction of post terrorist Sri Lanka.  That way they will not be left out of the government’s development projects, and they can have their say on matters of importance.

 It is important that the Government Servants do not embarrass the government calling for strikes for pay hikes.  Every one has to make sacrifices and rally round the government to develop the country.   It does not mean that the opposition parties, and the government servants should not be vigilant. 

 But recalcitrant Trade Unionists like Lal Kantha should not be allowed to manipulate workers, and University Students for  political ends. If they continues  their s activities  which are detrimental to the country, democratic principles should be overlooked to punish them, or even arrest them.

 The public servants should check, observe, report defects, deficiencies, corruptions, undue interferences, slack in work to the proper authorities so that every body overseers the other  to enable the machine of administration to  work efficiently for the common good of the country.

 The Constitutional changes are essential and the Executive President should continue for some more time to come .  Therefore the fuss about the proposed 18th Amendment to the Constitution is not necessary.

3 Responses to “Why all this fuss about the Constitution ?”

  1. S de Silva Says:

    What is this charge by the UNP /JVP combo on MR trying to ‘manipulate’ the Constitution via the proposed 18th Amendment and calling for a Referendum before such an amendment !? Did JRJ call for a Referendum before the 17 Amendment to create a Presidential system of government and limit the term of office to two years ? Did Ranil call for a Referendum before he signed the CFA with the terrorist Prabhakaran ? We quite rightly accuse the West of rampant hypocrisy – here is an example of that kind on our own soil. I personally do not have any problem with MR or anyone else ruling SL for the nth if that is by free and fair public elections held on time.

  2. Raj Says:

    Charles, you are very right in saying ‘ But recalcitrant Trade Unionists like Lal Kantha should not be allowed to manipulate workers, and University Students for political ends. If they continues their s activities which are detrimental to the country, democratic principles should be overlooked to punish them, or even arrest them’.
    These people have done nothing but obstructing progress and intimidating and misguiding workers, like Arther Scargill did in the UK. Government must take a heavy handed approach with this sort of people, especially for misguiding university students. 80% of students who attend JVP rallies do so for fear of intimidation.

  3. cassandra Says:

    A short rejoinder to your question, ‘Why all this fuss about the Constitution?’ might well be, ‘Well, why not?’

    Now, the government will not be seeking to amend the Constitution unless there was something of significance involved. Not merely is it seeking to amend the Constitution, it seems also to be in an indecent hurry to do so – in fact, even before President Rajapakse has started his second term! And, if the matter is of significance, should we not have a healthy discussion about it?

    The fuss, as you call it, is about the perils of what the Amendment has potentially in store. Already, the office of President is invested with very wide powers; arguably, with too much power concentrated in a single individual. The restriction of a maximum of two terms does at least obtain some restraint over possible abuse. Lifting the two term restriction might have made some sense if the office of President was not as powerful as it is or if the change was accompanied by a dilution of those powers.

    We need to also bear in mind that the 18th Amendment goes beyond relaxing the two term rule. It will also effectively negate the 17th Amendment and even further diminish the already undermined independence of the judiciary, the public service and the police force. One of the greatest safeguards in a democracy is the separation of the powers of the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. That is something that should be jealously safeguarded.

    The provisions of the Constitution as it now stands were surely enough to allow President Rajapakse to successfully prosecute the war against the LTTE and pursue the development projects he has undertaken. So, what further strengthening of the President’s hand do we need?

    Clearly, you are happy with the proposed Amendment, and that is to be respected. But not everyone feels the same way. They have genuine concerns of what the Amendment will bring in its train. Hence, the expressions of disquiet and opposition to the proposed changes, and these cannot be dismissed out of hand as amounting to no more than a fuss.

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