The 100-day manifesto – a contemporary account
Posted on June 3rd, 2018

By Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha Courtesy The Island

Since there is now some confusion about the 100-day manifesto, with lots of contradictory claims, I thought I should republish the first clear account of what happened, which was written soon after the events themselves. Though it may be claimed that my memory too may be at fault (not a charge usually made against me), the fact that this was written soon after should be an argument for its relative credibility.

I have highlighted points of particular interest, and I have annotated the items pledged in the 100 day manifesto to make it clear what was ignored.

I was quite heavily involved in preparation of the manifesto for the Presidential election. This was not an easy task, for there was little concern about the structural reforms that seemed to me so essential. Instead there was stress on what some of those involved in the process seemed to think was all that was needed, namely abolition of the Executive Presidency.

I was particularly upset by the approach of Jayampathy Wickremaratne, whom I had thought of as committed to constitutional principles. He startled all of us by declaring that there had been an agreement that the presidency would be abolished and power transferred to the Prime Minister within a day if Maithripala Sirisena were elected.

This struck me as both impractical and wrong. It was impractical because it would give back to Mahinda Rajapaksa the situation in which he had assumed that he would win easily, namely a straight fight between him and Ranil. And it was wrong because we could not ask people to vote for Maithripala Sirisena and tell them that he would immediately turn himself into a cipher and hand over power to the Prime Minister.

I argued this point strongly and the next day Jayampathy said he accepted it, but I believe what he accepted was the practical argument since he seemed to imply that, without saying it, we would do what he had suggested. Even so, this was not enough for Ranil for, when he was given the finalized manifesto, he sent it back with a few changes, one of which was to reiterate that power would be transferred to the Prime Minster.

I thought the situation was urgent enough to warrant my going to see Maithripala, who I came to realise was quite understated in his approach to issues. All he said was that that was not what he had anticipated, but that convinced me that the point should be strongly argued. I believe the JHU representatives involved in the process also made the point so what Ranil and Jayampathy wanted was not in the final version of the 100-day manifesto.

The JHU had been the only other party in government to come out strongly in favour of the common candidate from the very start. We did assume that the Muslim parties would have no option, and so it proved, though it took time for them to take a stand openly. However, I did not worry about that, being heartened for what a Muslim lady for whom I had great regard said when she congratulated me for the stand I had taken. When I said I was hoping that now Rauff Hakeem of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress and Rishard Bathiudeen of the All Ceylon Muslim Congress would follow suit, her response was that we would be better off without them and that they were not at all necessary to ensure that Muslims voted for Maithripala.

The JHU contribution however was invaluable not only because they helped to ensure that the manifesto did not simply talk about abolishing the Executive Presidency but also because they were instrumental in producing a manifesto that addressed wider issues instead of focusing only on the obvious reasons for dissatisfaction that required remedial action.

In this regard, I was pleased that the individual who, in effect, produced the longer manifesto gave me due credit, declaring in his book on the election entitled ‘The Revolution of the Era’ that ‘I would like to mention that important submissions and recommendations were made by Dr. Rajiva Wijesinghe who subsequently became the State Minister for Education. He especially recommended the language related to sustainable development for this document. Although I had been a vociferous advocate of sustainable development, I was somewhat hesitant, even fearful of inserting these aspects into the draft manifesto. With Dr. Rajiva’s recommendations, my doubt cleared up’.

This was written by Asoka Abeygunawardena, who turned up at the office at Chandrika’s residence, where we were drafting what was to be the 100-day manifesto. Since that was taking up so much time, he said he would take the ideas we had each produced for the larger manifesto and put them together. Within a few days he had produced an excellent document, along with an English version which he asked me to finalize.

Unfortunately, this document did not get the publicity it deserved. More attention was given to the 100-day manifesto. That had been a brainwave of Mangala Samaraweera, who said that the people wanted something short and sharp and easy to digest, which would make it clear that the new President was serious about reform and intended to move swiftly on the structural changes that were essential. In fact, we did put forward a number of suggestions which, if taken forward as would have been easily possible, would have transformed the body politic. But the government concentrated as Jayampathy had indicated was its priority, only on the constitutional amendment to reduce the power of the presidency and practically ignored all the other structural changes promised in the manifesto. Though in some cases there were cursory attempts to take things forward, none of the following was done properly –

Sunday January 11

A Cabinet of not more than 25 members including members of all political parties represented in Parliament will be appointed with Leader of the Opposition Ranil Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister, Ranil was sworn in, on Ravi Karunanayake’s suggestion, immediately after the President, which contributed to his assuming he was practically equal. And not all parties were put into Cabinet, though the number exceeded the promise.

Monday January 12

In order to strengthen democracy, a National Advisory Council will be set up inclusive of representatives of parties represented in Parliament as well as Civil Society organizations – This was a very small body, and it hardly ever met subsequently.

Tuesday January 20

The Standing Orders will be amended and, in terms of Proposal 67/10 now tabled in Parliament, Oversight Committees will be set up comprising members of Parliament who are not in the Cabinet and their Chairmanship will be given so as to ensure representation of all parties, after consultation with the leaders of all parties represented in Parliament. No attention at all was paid to amending Standing Orders, except that the motion I had put on the table some months earlier was taken up towards the end of the month, and the former committee met – but then Ranil insisted on putting things off because he had asked Priyani Wijeyesekera to prepare a paper on Consultative Committees. When it seemed she was delaying I upbraided her, but she told me she had handed it in but Ranil did not want to proceed then

Wednesday January 28

An all-party committee will be set up to put forward proposals to replace the current Preference Vote system and replace it with a Mixed Electoral System that ensures representation of individual Members for Parliamentary Constituencies, with mechanisms for proportionality. This was completely forgotten, and ignored in the draft 19th Amendment. Though Maithripala promised to ensure reform before dissolving Parliament, he broke his promise under pressure.

Monday February 2

An Ethical Code of Conduct will be introduced legally for all representatives of the people Did not happen

Thursday February 19

The National Audit Bill will be introduced and passed within three weeks. This did not happen, a draft was produced in April but not discussed.

Friday February 20

The Right to Information Bill will be introduced and passed within three weeks. This did not happen, a draft was produced in April but not discussed.

One Response to “The 100-day manifesto – a contemporary account”

  1. Ananda-USA Says:

    Rajina Wijesinghe disappoints me; he says he was working hand-in-glove with Jayampathy Wikramaranth, a man he’ll bent on the Christian agenda to dismantle Sri Lanka!


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