From the time, in 2002, that the letter and spirit of the Constitution were violated by the then President refusing to appoint to the Elections Commission the nominee recommended by the Constitutional Council (CC), good governance went on a rapid downward slide in Sri Lanka. Infractions of the law by the People’s representatives at all levels have now burgeoned into a comprehensive disregard for most of the important checks and balances which are found in the Constitution. The violation of the oath to honour and safeguard the Constitution has become a tragic joke. Hopefully, the forthcoming Parliamentary elections will provide an opportunity for the more responsible political parties to put the brakes on the current culture of ever-growing impunity and to get good governance back on the rails again. If this Country is not to go further down the road to complete disdain for the Rule of Law, there is no choice left but for these parties to work out a consensus on at least the more fundamental issues of importance to the Nation. An agreement to do may be called “A Core Programme for Responsible Political Parties (CPRPP)”. On matters falling outside the CPRPP, each party would be free to follow its own individual policies.
It must not be assumed, as a blind article of faith, that the Government party/parties for the time being will necessarily get a large majority, or even a nominal majority, in Parliament at the forthcoming elections. In the past, there have been large unexpected swings against the incumbent government, proving many political experts and astrologers wrong. In passing, it may be noted that there may be a valid question here as to which of these professionals have proved to be more reliable! It would, therefore, be in the interests of both the Country and all responsible parties that a CPRPP be agreed upon without delay because such a consensus for legislative action would prove equally useful whatever the result of the elections. If the electoral results prove favourable for a group of parties that has agreed on a CCRPP, that group could get on straightaway with the task of governing, without having to dither and quarrel on every single subject. If, as it turns out, this group ends up in the Opposition, it will be able to act much more effectively than the Opposition has done in recent times.
There is, unfortunately, very time left before the elections are held, making it improbable that all interested political parties would be able to find the time to sit round a table to work out an acceptable CPRPP speedily from scratch. Accordingly, the Citizens’ Movement for Good Governance (CIMOGG) offers, with the object of having both a Government that respects the Rule of Law and an effective Opposition in Parliament, to make some suggestions in this regard for inclusion in a CPRPP.
CIMOGG’s recommends that the parties to a CPRPP commit themselves to the following positions:
- To act in strict conformity with the Constitution at all times.
- To select candidates of good character, academic background and experience, while keeping in mind the long-felt need to increase the number of women and persons below the age of 40 in the ranks of future MPs to at least 20-25 per cent each.
- To spend more time and effort on constructive endeavours rather than the schoolboy- level of smart cracks, crude mud-slinging and generally uncivilised behaviour that is now witnessed on election platforms and in Parliament.
- To insist that the Speaker actively works to have the 17th Amendment, as presently set out in the Constitution, implemented and the CC appointed with all possible speed.
- To get Parliament to provide the CC with all necessary resources to enable it to name without delay all members to the Elections Commission, the Public Service Commission, the National Police Commission, the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, the Permanent Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery and Corruption (Bribery Commission), the Finance Commission and the Delimitation Commission.
- To have the Press Council replaced with a Media Commission, in consultation with the CC, initially outside the ambit of the 17th Amendment.
- To empower the CC, outside the ambit of the 17th Amendment, to appoint a Constitutional Reform Advisory Committee, of whom not more than one-third shall be lawyers, to prepare a new Constitution which will, inter alia -
- a. maximise the separation of powers between the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary, with Parliament having full control over public finance;
- b. limit the number of Cabinet Ministers to not more than twenty-five and all other categories of Ministers (Deputy, Project, District etc) to not more than fifteen;
- c. remove the right of the President to dissolve Parliament as and when he wishes and, instead, fix specific dates for all elections at intervals of either four or five years;
- d. remove Presidential immunity from prosecution;
- e. provide, as in the case of all State employees, for the automatic suspension of any elected representative from functioning in his office if he is faced with criminal charges, until such time as he is acquitted;
- f. provide more realistic constitutional procedures for dealing with a President or Member of Parliament or Judicial Officer who violates his oath or affirmation to honour and safeguard the Constitution;
- g. remove all significant shortcomings in the 17th Amendment.
It is hoped that each of the parties with representatives in Parliament, and even those outside, will take up any other issues that they consider to be of similar or greater importance, before meeting together on an early date and agreeing on as many of them as possible. In the absence of a substantial measure of agreement on the fundamental issues raised above, our worst fears regarding freedom of speech, freedom to hold views different from those in power, freedom from fear of arbitrary arrest and torture, right to life and so on may become increasingly justified.
Copies of this article are being sent to the Secretaries of all political parties.