|The PA thinking and action
Dr. H. N. S. Karunatilake
In regard to PA thought and action more specifically, a start could be made by going backwards from some of the most recent acts and decisions of the PA Government, because these are all fresh in the minds of the public. It was indeed ironical and hilarious that the President had appointed a Commission on July 21, to inquire and report into the violation of human rights and the damage and destruction caused, especially in July 1983, while barely 48 hours had not passed, on the 18th anniversary of the July 1983 violence, at dawn, the Tamil terrorists unleashed the most disastrous and horrendous attack on the Katunayake airbase cum airport complex inflicting the biggest financial loss on the economy of all time. This stupendous financial loss will have indelible repercussions on the economy for at least the next five years. The July 1983 Truth Commission consists of PA party supporters and henchmen and not persons who can make independent assessments. One of them happens to be a former PA coalition Member of Parliament who still continues to hold paid office in various capacities. This is an attempt to appease and win the confidence of the minorities who are fast deserting the PA government. Displaying supreme opportunism and a commitment to self preservation the President on the same day appointed another counterbalancing Commission to "study Buddha Sasana Affairs". The question is why did she think about the 1983 incidents after 18 years, when she had lost the support of the most representative Tamil parties, while only the gun toting parties are with her. Also, what was the need for a Buddha Sasana Commission after one minister in her government said that the Sinhala Commission Report Part One should be consigned to the dustbin. Part two of this Report will be launched on August 10th and before any more commissions are appointed will the President implement the recommendations in this Report? What is needed is action and performance and not appointing commissions where the reports are finally consigned to the pigeon hole and nothing happens. Even in regard to the Sasana Commission not all the personalities would be in a position to function in an unbiased manner. There are hardly any key and prominent representatives from the leading Buddhist and Sinhala organizations in the country, perhaps with the exception of one member. Some of the Buddhist monks are favourites and trumpets of the Government, while most of the laymen have stood on the fence and hold no firm views on Sinhala Buddhist issues. A recent press report has revealed that the Chairman of the Sasana Commission has stated that he was not contacted before this appointment was made and his consent was not obtained. He has in no uncertain indicated that this was not the time to have appointed such a Commission, as the country is a state of grave crisis.
The President has always been concerned with party affiliations in making every appointment. She has been more partisan than every other leader that has held office in the country since independence. She has identified all others who are not with her as UNP supporters, even those who are not with the UNP. Otherwise she would have no reason to continuously bash particularly the UNP and the JVP, not to mention other parties, in her regular tirades against all parties other than her own. Without evaluating her own tragic and dismal performance she has the audacity to blame everything on the UNP regime, when the economy rose from the ashes, and which was far less corrupt and more competent than her own government. All that the PA spokesmen now do is to recall the past events to justify any wrong thing that they do, but none of them refer to the state of the country before 1977. Has she forgotten the inglorious Marxist dominated administration of her mother, which was swept away by a peoples avalanche in 1977, when under the first past the post system, which is now so strongly advocated by Kumaratunga, Mrs. Bandaranaike was able to win only eight seats, giving the UNP a five sixths majority. May I remind her that history will repeat itself in the not too distant future.
How do the statements that she has regularly made stand with her most recent plea after the holocaust at the Katunayake airport. " I request sincerely the UNP as well as all other democratic political parties, to put aside even for a brief moment all political and other differences, as well as petty personal desires for power and privilege, in order that we together may rebuild this nation, as an undivided, strong and humanistic one." Has she spoken with any sincerity or is it just another opportunistic gambit that has been her characteristic? There are several key words in this quotation. The reference to power and privilege is important I trust that the PA will abide by this and not desire power and privilege at a time when everyone knows that it had forfeited the confidence of the people. The people are not fools anymore and they cannot be hoodwinked, as they know that the Parliament was prorogued and a costly and obstinate referendum decided upon to escape defeat and to hold onto power at any cost. A party system is firmly rooted in this country and how can one dismember party policies and characteristics, to form a national government without a commonly agreed policy and without any direction? The people in no uncertain terms have maintained that a party that has forfeited the confidence of the people performance wise and who continue to mislead the people by false promises and claims should not continue to hold office and should honourably bow out. Take the Katunayake disaster, why are the minions being made scapegoats? Should not the Minister of Defence, the Deputy Minister and the Air Force Chief have resigned after this debacle? The Deputy Minister has failed miserably on all fronts, he has not been even able to put an end to the power cut, nor has he been able to regain the lost territories in the North despite repeated attempts. Holding on to office at any cost and enjoying all the perks and amassing ill-gotten gains have been the hall mark of politics. In India as a result of a train crash the minister in charge forthwith sent in his resignation, but here even if the terrorists destroy the whole of Colombo, the leader and the PA government will not hesitate to hold onto power.
This is nothing but an indication of the total moral degradation of politics and a sign of insatiable power hunger. Most of the politicians have made so much money that they do not want to let go. Those who have recently crossed over to the PA to enjoy the spoils are shamelessly sponsoring the various doubtful issues, such as the Referendum introduced by the PA and the need for a new constitution. Some members of the SLFP old guard have second thoughts about the policies of the PA, but the new arrivals from the UNP are the most vociferous advocates and spokesmen for the cock eyed PA policies. The PA has a set of very strange bedfellows. One such group that was committed to Sinhala nationalism and an unitary state have acquiesced in or are silent on the Referendum and are singing the praises of the anti national PA economic and financial policies. Meanwhile members of the PA constituent parties such as those from the defunct Marxist CP and the LSSP have become the pitiful town criers and protagonists for the decadent PA over the media. They are presumably oblivious to their pathetic and horrid performance in the Television sessions, always defending a totally lost cause.
The time has come for an honest set of leaders to take over the administration. Knowing well the people in the political arena from both main parties I dont think there are honest and able men on either side, except greedy and power hungry self seekers. The people must at the next election reject both parties and select a party that can serve the nation with truly national policies and entrust the administration to people of ability and competence. It is equally important that the choice should not fall on a third party full of men of unproven ability, that has gained some temporary popularity, but that resorts to ping pong policies and shameless political expediency. She speaks of an "undivided nation" and the question is, is she committed to a unitary state? People are most concerned about this issue, even though the opportunistic UNP that has been led by Liam Fox and Solheim may give this concession of a federal state to the terrorists to come into power at any cost. The August 2000 Constitution had to be thrown overboard for two main reasons the lack of a commitment to a unitary state through the treacherous devolution package and the devious means of keeping the Presidency going for a further period through the backdoor.
The President always says that it is the prevailing 1978 Constitution, that is the main obstacle that stands in the way of doing various things for the benefit of the public, but she has not endeavoured to explain why this is so? On the economic front she should tell us how the Constitution has obstructed policies and their effective implementation? May I remind her that constitutional change is not necessary to bring down the cost of living, to provide more domestic employment opportunities, to invigorate the private sector business activity, to keep the public debt within the capacity to re pay or to manage the public finances competently and to embark on a truly national economic policy. The economic issues today are fundamentally more important than everything else, and the constitution has nothing to do with them. What is required are the right policies and competent management. To achieve this objective the Finance and other portfolios should be given to others with proven capacities. The powers under the present Constitution gives her absolute powers to rout the enemy and crush the terrorist rebellion. For economic and financial stability vanquishing the enemy is the foremost consideration because the rebellion is swallowing up all the funds without any military gains. A victory could have been achieved easily last year with the arrival of new military equipment, particularly air force hardware that was acquired at enormous cost but not put to use. In the first place why was all this sophisticated hardware acquired if it was going to remain idle? The PA thinks that a new constitution is necessary to give concessions to the minorities by dividing the country. The terrorists want a separate state, or Eelam, and how can this be conceded when the whole country is opposed to it? Has the government the intention of bringing back the nationally discredited devolution package? Unless the terrorists are crushed they would not agree to anything less than Eelam. It is only thereafter that the other mushroom and non-representative Tamil political parties will begin to have say. How representative are the Tamil parties and are they not overrepresented in Parliament in terms of the votes polled at the last General election? The TULF got 106,033 votes and obtained 5 seats, the EPDP polled 50,890 and secured four seats and that means 12722 votes per seat. Does not this look ludicrous? The Siha1a Urumaya polled 127,863 votes and got only one national list seat. The case for more power for the Tamils no longer stands because more than 350,000 Tamils who before 1980 lived in the North have migrated to the South, not to mention the more than 500,000 who have migrated overseas. If most of the Tamils are now living very comfortably in the South what is all this PA talk about solving the ethnic issue? The President has already spoken of an undivided state. However, there is a conflict therefore between her recent statement of an undivided nation and the need for a new constitution, unless there is a difference in interpretation between an "undivided nation" and a unitary state.
There is no need to change the Constitution to reduce lawlessness and crime. The President has all the powers to ruthlessly combat crime and lawlessness in the same way that the police under political direction brutally attacked the peaceful march on July 19th. If the police act with the same zeal and enthusiasm much of the crime, murder and rape could be drastically reduced in a very short time. The police force is more than twice as large as it was a decade ago but it is heavily politicized. If a police commission is necessary for the purpose a bill could be introduced in Parliament and one can be sure that this will command the support of all political parties, though not of the PA, because the latter wants the police to be the instrument of intimidation, violation of human rights and subjugation. In the present context a Judicial Commission will make a major contribution and neutralize political appointments and loss of public confidence in the judicial set up. The country has a very biased judiciary and the President even without a Commission can act impartially and always appoint persons of great integrity and eminence to the highest posts without having to tinker with the Constitution.
The President wants a strong government and continues to blame the present Constitution for her inability to preside over a government with an overriding majority. She has been very critical of the system of proportional representation saying that under the system, a two thirds majority cannot be obtained. The people must not be misled and this contention must be examined on the basis of historical data. The 1977 election was conducted under the first past the post system that the President now wants badly. Her mother was totally routed at the 1977 General Election where the SLFP polled only 29.71 percent of the total votes polled and secured only 8 seats. On that occasion had the PR system been there the SLFP would have got 49 seats. On the other hand, the UNP by polling 50.92 per cent of the votes was able to get 140 seats giving the UNP a record five sixths majority. Applying this to the present situation what would be the outcome if the first past the post system is applied at the next General Election? The present PA administration is in the same plight that the Sirimavo Bandaranaike administration was in 1977. There is a graver economic crisis now and the cost of living has become unbearable. Although now there are plenty of goods at high prices there is no purchasing power in the hands of the consumer. There are no domestic employment opportunities and people have to go abroad for employment. The security situation has deteriorated beyond redemption due to mismanagement and appeasement. The government continues to aimlessly borrow overseas at short term on very unfavourable terms not taking into consideration the capacity to repay. Hundreds of business concerns have gone bankrupt and closed down and the banks have not been able to effect recoveries. Matters have been made worse by the anti democratic and obstinate moves to postpone Parliament and to hold a meaningless Referendum. This situation is very similar to that in 1977 as far as the voter is concerned. With the present proportional representation system the PA now has a chance of getting at least 45 seats, but a change to the first past the post system will only spell disaster for Kumaratunga and the PA.
Indications are that at the Referendum two features will be dominant. The total poll will be low, even though government may do everything possible to fill the ballot boxes, but there is an upper limit to this. In 1977 the UNP majority over the SLFP was a stupendous 1.32 million which was an indication of wholesale public disenchantment. It will be impossible for the PA at the Referendum to introduce an additional 20 per cent or more hora votes into the ballot boxes. Since at the 2000 General Election with all the election rigging and thuggery the PA was able to poll only 45.1 per cent of the votes, getting anything above this figure at the Referendum would be a superhuman task. One or two ministers who have specialized in polls rigging and election malpractices have, for reasons best known to them, stated that at the Referendum the PA will get a 70 per cent poll. The expectation that the first past the post will in future be favourable for the PA therefore is totally unfounded and is a myth. This is certainly so in the present situation where the PA has lost all credibility and its popularity and acceptability is at the lowest ebb. If the first past the post principle is applied to the last election the PA would have got a total of 123 seats and the UNP 58 seats and the JVP just two seats. This will give the PA a majority of only 11 seats, so where is the 2/3rds majority?
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