Unheard Voices of Youth and Women, The Referendum and All-party government.
Posted on July 31st, 2022

Sugath Kulatunga

In the present system of governance there are two deep rooted shortcomings which have surfaced frequently, but no acceptable solution has been found. The explosive issue of the neglect of the voice of youth was addressed partially after the 1971 JVP insurgency, but practical mechanisms have not been institutionalized to meet the concerns. This dilemma has emerged in a more complex state in the form of the Aragalaya with the stringent voice of go home”. This voice has been orchestrated by many unfriendly elements local and foreign which have sensed an opportunity to ravage Sri Lanka.

There has been more sympathy for a place for the voice of women. An ineffective attempt was made with amendments to the local authorities’ law of prescribing a quota for the representation of women which is impractical.

There is now a talk of looking at a new constitution after introducing the 22nd Amendment. One cannot understand why the government cannot consider the recommendations of the Special Presidential Committee which has already presented their report. Whatever the steps the government takes to Amend the Constitution the two key issues of youth and women’s representation should be addressed.

The solution is to introduce a second chamber for youth which should represent men and women between 18 and 35 years of age on a ratio of 50 percent for each category. They should be elected based on one man and one woman for each District to be elected by the members of local authorities and Pradeshiya Sabha by secret ballot.

To cut costs and give legitimacy, the youth Parliament should meet in the present Parliament and be serviced by the present staff of the Parliament. They should enjoy the same privileges as the members of the Parliament.

The Youth Parliament should have the same powers of the previous Senate to delay legislation and initiate legislation for the consideration of the Parliament. This proposal goes beyond the Peoples Council demanded by the Aragalaya in which ‘there is legal binding for representatives of the Peoples Struggle to intervene/create an impact’.

This demand is for representation for the Aragalaya leaders only and not for the youth in general. This would only be a junta which would impose their will on others.

This proposal might sound outlandish but desperate situations call for unconventional solutions.

REFERENDUM

The provision for a Peoples’ Referendum in our Constitution is another instrument which ensures right of franchise and the sovereignty of the people. The Referendum can be made operative by the Cabinet of Ministers, the Supreme Court, or the President under specific conditions as shown below.

Article 80(2) Where the Cabinet of Ministers has certified that any Bill or any provision thereof is intended to be submitted for approval by the People at a Referendum or where the Supreme Court has determined that a Bill or any provision thereof requires the approval of the People at a Referendum,

Article 85(2) The President may in his discretion submit to the People by Referendum any Bill (not being a Bill for the repeal or amendment of any provision of the Constitution, or for the addition of any provision to the Constitution, or for the repeal and replacement of the Constitution, or which is inconsistent with any provision of the Constitution), which has been rejected by Parliament.

But there is no means by which the people themselves can make it operative. Referendum is as expensive to hold as a general election. In this context a Referendum has been invoked in the country only once and that too for the wrong purpose of extending the life of the Parliament.

In our democracy the people can use the power franchise in selecting a government only once in 5 years unless the Parliament is dissolved earlier. In between elections the voice of the people is muted. This makes people to resort to demonstrations and Aragalayas. The government also takes decisions on conjecture. A typical guesstimate decision was the overnight ban on chemical fertilizer.  It was done with good intentions on the advice of a small coterie of pseudo experts, not anticipating an adverse response from the farmers.

What the country needs is a mechanism to consult the people and for the people to show their response at an intermediate level between the Parliament and the grassroot constituency. Fortunately, we have such a representative level at the Divisional level where a new constituency for referenda of around 8000 elected members of Pradeshiya Sabha and local authorities could be introduced. While the government can invoke a referendum at the will of the President or on a simple majority of the Parliament expressed in a secret ballot, the people could also demand a referendum to express their will with a simple majority of the new constituency registered in a secret ballot.

Such a procedure will be less expensive than the disastrous consequences of unilateral decisions taken by the center.

All Party Government

As children we used to hear about the Andi Hath Denage Kanda Haliya. (The pot of gruel of the seven wayfarers). A new version of this pot is being proposed as an all-party government. One cannot see much merit in this proposal other than sharing cabinet posts and the attendant perks. This is not the time for making every decision a compromised decision to please all parties inclusive of what are known as three wheeler parties with only one or two elected representatives. But they are the groups which subscribe to extreme and narrow views. It is the experience in parliamentary democracies in the West and the East that strong single party leadership delivered results under difficult conditions. There were no all-party arrangements in governments of Lee Quan Yew, Mahathir, president Park of the East or of Thatcher, Adenauer or Regan in the West. They had strong single party governments. In Sri Lanka even within a single party, discord emerge on personal loyalties or key policy decisions. The dissention between the Chairman and Secretary of the SLPP is a good example. Historically Coalition governments have not been successful in the country. The SLFP – Philip coalition disintegrated after the demise of SWRD. The 1970 coalition between the SLFP and the left did not survive the full term. The last coalition between UNP and SLFP of the Yahaplanaya was a calamity.

The present political parties in the country are merely greedy for power which bestows personal benefits. They would not like to sacrifice the selfish motives in the national interest. The kind of conduct of opposition political parties during the separatist war was bordering on treason. The best that these power-hungry political parties may do is to agree on a common program to resolve the economic crisis. Tragically there are no signs of such a move. They are playing the traditional political games.

Sugath Kulatunga

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