The Democracy of Recalling the Dissolved Parliament!
Posted on April 27th, 2020

Palitha Senanayake

By selecting the 20th June 2020 as the date on which Parliamentary election could be held the Election Commission has pushed the country, constitutionally, in to a no- man’s land.  The commission seemed certain that the country would not be normal by end of next month, the month in which the election should be held with no constitutional issue.  But then it seemed certain that things will be normal by June, the month after.  The commission appears comfortable in forecasting what will happen in two months but not what will happen next month.  Thus, we have a constitutional crisis on top of the Covid 19 crisis, courtesy the election commission.  In the end the Election commission seemed to have made its point, ‘Well, this is why we requested the President to seek Supreme Court opinion!’

The Commissioner maintains that he prevailed over the pressure received to hold election as well as the pressure received to delay it. Well, the Commissioners job is not to give in to this political camp or that but to hold free and fair elections when they are due.  However, the reason for this procrastination appears to be that it is not possible to have an election campaign to the heart’s content of the candidates contesting in the prevailing pandemic atmosphere. Here again the commissioners primary concern is the democratic rights of the people over and above those of the candidates. Alright, the people have the right to get to know the candidates but this may not necessarily be done in the way that we have been used to all this while.

The election campaigning ways that continued throughout in this country was first introduced in 1947 when the literacy level of the people was only 6% of the population. It is said that the symbols were first introduced and displayed prominently because the majority could not read. Today the literacy level is   90 + % and that may require a differ campaigning strategy. In 1947 public support was portrayed through community leaders, with limited political acumen,  and intoxicant was the main method of obtaining this support, but today even though some social riffraff would look for ‘free drinks’ during the time of an election campaign, their support may not have a positive effect.  On the other hand today the level of communication has reached new heights with television, internet and social media.  Thus, there are better and more effective ways of getting at a more educated polity and hence the strategies have to follow suit.  In any case we have to come out of this culture of offering a bottle of liquor and a meal to attend a political meeting with a free bus ride and also of holding meetings that phew venom with no substance. Therefore let this dark cloud of Covid 19 have a silver lining as well.    

There however is another political aspect to this procastination in holding elections and that is, some politicians expect that the pressure of delay in elections will render the country without a Parliament for more than three months prompting the President to reconvene the dissolved Parliament. The fact that the Parliament was dissolved 6 months early on Presidential proclamation has spawned a score to be settled  among these outgoing parliamentarians; the last straw of hanging in power.

Those who subscribe to this school of thought should realize that the world and the society will never be the same in post covid 19; at least for some time. The WHO has expressed optimism that a cure may be found towards September but that will take some more time to reach formal commercial levels of production. In such a light is Sri Lanka going to postpone elections indefinitely until this pandemic is brought under total control?

The life of the Parliament, by lapse of time or by proclamation, is constitutionally over and hence there isn’t a chance of reviving it. The country has to go forward and not backwards and hence the need of the hour is to elect the new Parliament rather than to resort to political gimmicks to recall a dead body to life. The last Parliament, though legally cremated on the 2nd march 2020 was dead in its moral and ethical right to continue to be the legislator in February 2018 when the people expressed an overwhelming lack of support for same at the Pradeshiya Sabha elections. That was the day the voters of this country gave a resounding defeat to the incumbent and brought a relatively unknown set of people with a completely new political party; something that has never happened in the political history of this country.  The majority overwhelmingly voted Podu Jana Peramuna, neither because they were well educated on their policies nor on how they would govern once in power, but because they were so disillusioned with the policies of the Government that was in power.

Ironically, that was the only chance the people received to concur with the policies of the government that was elected in January 2015, promising to restore democracy!    It is indeed unfortunate that the Judiciary of the country looked only in to the legal aspect of the life of the Parliament, when it restored it in power in November 2018, glossing over the moral and ethical aspects of the same. And now with a new President in power, the old Parliament has no justification to exist except to sabotage the program of work of the new President that the majority approved.

The philosophers who gave thought to democracy ( demos– common people, kratos– strength) back  in 507 BC in Athens, strictly thought in terms of a government by the will of the majority on a day to day basis. However this became too cumbersome an affair in practice and hence it was later decided that the people should elect representatives for a stipulated period to govern the country for them and ‘ in keeping with their aspirations’. In this, it was not the period for which representative was elected that mattered, but whether that representative truly represented the wishes of the majority at all times. Thus, it was not acceptable (and was not democratic) for the elected representative to act as he/ she pleased during the time stipulated, ignoring the wishes of the majority. Therefore, did the previous legislator had a democratic right to continue as the legislator after it received such a resounding lack of support from the majority of this country, merely because it received a mandate for 5 years in 2015?

Thus, since the elected President has said that he is not in favor of convening the old parliament under any circumstance, if the Supreme Court orders to reconvene the dissolved Parliament in response to the petition filed by M A Sumanthiran, that order will be made in defiance of the 69 million majority who voted to elect the new President.

No man is good enough to govern another man, except with that other’s consent– Abraham Lincoln.

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