SRI LANKA: Dealing with lawlessness as the key issue for the coming elections — Asian Human Rights Commission

Basil Fernando

There is the expectation of imminent presidential as well as parliamentary elections in the coming months. The government approaches this with a view to take advantage of the victory over the LTTE to thereby consolidate its power for a further term. In none of the government’s statements is there any indication of significant changes to the policies or programmes than those that exists now. In the previous presidential elections the government promised the abolition of the executive presidency. However, the government approaches the next elections with a view to consolidate the power of the executive president more than for any other reason.

Meanwhile, all opposition parties have announced that the abolition of the executive presidency is one of the key components of their manifesto and the agenda of their platform for the coming election. However, the opposition has so far failed to give details of the power arrangements that are to replace the executive presidency as found in the 1978 Constitution which created a system of absolute power placed on a single individual who is freed from all checks and balances. The opposition talks of the replacement of the executive president with an executive prime minister. Whether this will only be a change of name when the political monster that is now called the executive president will then be called the executive prime minister, needs to be clarified. The issue is not one of change of titles but a substantial question of bringing checks and balances in a real sense to the political system of Sri Lanka.

The essential problem that the country needs to resolve for its very survival as a nation is as to whether it can overcome the present state of lawlessness in the country. The executive presidential system, as it was introduced in 1978, was to displace all the legal mechanisms that existed within the country to ensure a basic system of the rule of law as the apparatus of governance in the country. Such a legal apparatus which did exist from the time of the country’s independence was replaced with a security apparatus which operates above the law. Today, this security apparatus, which stands above all the legal institutions, has virtually displaced the rule of law mechanisms within the country.

Thus, the challenge in the coming elections is one of the greatest that the nation has ever faced in its entire history. The vague words, peace, reconciliation, power sharing, and the like, in no way signifies the real crisis of a nation that has sunken to an abysmal level of lawlessness.

All those who have any kind of thinking capacity need to address their minds as to whether peace, reconciliation or power sharing makes any sense when the nation is in a state of lawlessness. Can the issue of peace be separated in Sri Lanka from the issue of law? If this issue is not addressed as carefully as possible by the opposition it cannot offer a viable alternative to the present state of affairs prevalent within the country now under the executive presidential system.

Of course, the government itself still has the chance of answering this issue but that is possible only if the government is willing to self abdicate the executive presidential system. President Mahinda Rajapakse has no reason to claim that he should not engage in such self abdication. He very clearly expressed in his Mahinda Chinthanaya that, in fact, he will abolish the executive presidency.

“With the consensus of all, I expect to present a Constitution that will propose the abolition of the Executive Presidency and to provide solutions to other issues confronting the country. In the interim, I propose to present a Constitutional amendment through which the Executive President will be made answerable to the Parliament by virtue of holding such office. To endorse the responsibility that the President has to the Parliament, I will attend Parliament once a month.”

Even belatedly, the president still has the opportunity to honour his words as there is consensus throughout the country that the executive presidency needs to be abolished.

The task for the government and the opposition is to once and for all annihilate the law destroying capacity of the head of the state as found in the 1978 Constitution. A nation cannot have stability as long as the very office of the head of the state is one that can survive only with the destruction of the law.

This also poses serious problems to all including the minorities in Sri Lanka. Will words like peace, reconciliation and power sharing be used without reference to the need to restore law in the country? If, once again, the key words in a crucial election are to be confined to mere phrases without substance in the absence of the possibility of the realisation in a situation of complete lawlessness, then, once again the minorities will be deluded by all political leaders including their own.

It is for the electorate to ensure that proper demands are made from the contestants to an election to ensure that the contest will be on the matters that are of crucial importance to the electorate itself, if the election is not to become a farce. The issue of restoring the rule of law is the key issue for the electorate. It is up to the electorate to ensure that this issue is kept at the top of all discussions so as to ensure that the coming elections will not be another bluff which will once again throw the electorate into the same sea of lawlessness.

Document Type : Article
Document ID : AHRC-ART-062-2009
Countries : Sri Lanka,