|Lankas political dilemma
Many correspondents have compared our constitution with that of the French. They have pointed out the admirable cohabitation that takes place in France in similar situations when the President is from one party and another controls Parliament. So, why will it not work over here? The answer is simply moral degradation and the criminalisation of politics.
When there are serious allegations of murder and corruption being made against the President by members of the UNP government; and when the President makes serious allegations against cabinet Ministers who were her former colleagues, there simply will not be any room for cohabitation. One or the other will have to go.
The question is who will survive? Will it be the President or the UNP government? If the executive President survives until the 4th December 2002 the chances are she will win. Conversely, if the UNP government is to survive, they will have to ensure that they either, get rid of the President, or the executive Presidency, which are two different things, before that critical date, when the President acquires the power to dissolve Parliament.
The above prediction is made on the assumption that there would not be a peaceful resolution of the civil war or any improvement in the economy by the critical date. It is beyond the scope of this article to analyse the deep and complicated reasons that are formidable impediments to peace. However, it would suffice to state, very briefly, that Pirabakaran would have the same difficulty in settling for something less than Eelam as the government of Sri Lanka would have in granting Eelam.
Consequently, while commending the new Prime Minister and wishing him the best of luck in his efforts to seek a peaceful resolution of the conflict, any hard nosed assessment of the current position, will have to give due consideration to history, and expect it to be a failure.
In the above eventuality, the President would have a strong hand on the critical date, provided that she purges the corrupt and the murderous members of her party, or persuade them to defect to the UNP. Also providing of course, that she can staunchly rebut the serious allegations being made against her. Then, she could dissolve Parliament and a PA-JVP coalition would have a good chance of winning a subsequent general election. It is assumed that a kindly benefactor of the UNP would not import Somawansa Amerasinghe again, to reverse the outcome.
Therefore, the UNP has little choice. They have to get rid of the President before she gets rid of them. They have two options in moving against the President. They can either impeach the President or abolish the Presidency. They cannot do both. Its very much one or the other. They would lose all credibility if they try to abolish the Presidency after failing in an attempt to impeach the President.
The long-term viability of the UNP government is likely to depend on making the right choice. The chances are that they would succeed in abolishing the Presidency, but are more likely to fail in an attempt to impeach the President. Their chances of abolishing the Presidency would also diminish, if they try to do so, with lower credibility, after having failed, in an attempt to impeach the President.
The prospects of abolishing the Presidency is very high because Chandrika herself asked for and was given a specific mandate by the people to abolish the executive Presidency by July 15th 1995. This was requested and endorsed by the JVP at the time. Both the PA and the JVP continued to carry this as an objective in their respective manifestoes; and this was one of the conditions mutually agreed upon in the PA-JVP MoU that set up the probationary government.
The two alternative courses of action, though they seem similar, are entirely different. In abolishing the Presidency one is getting rid of an obnoxious system. In successfully impeaching the President one is getting rid of a discredited person holding an office in an obnoxious system, which would remain.
In abolishing the Presidency one hopes that executive power is transferred from the executive President to a cabinet of Ministers rather than to an executive Prime Minister. An executive Prime Minister, wielding the same powers of the present executive President, would be the same demon under a different garb. The problem would not be cured; it would continue. The requirement is for a Prime Minister who will be the "first among equals" presiding over a cabinet that will collectively exercise the executive power of the sovereign people, vested through the elected representatives of the people, in the cabinet of Ministers.
For keener elicitation, if one were to place appropriate caps on the current players; what we need is not a mere replacement of Ranil in Chandrikas present seat, but a different system. No more should we have a concentration of power such as it presently is, in the hands of the President. What we need is the dispersion of power at the top. Among other severe drawbacks, the concentration of power in the hands of one individual, no matter the title, undermines any serious attempt to devolve maximum power to a North-East entity.
Having said that, there is another important aspect that needs to be considered, when deciding between impeachment and abolition. As a part of the process of impeachment the President will have to stand a trial before the Supreme Court. At the end of the trial a declaration will be made whether she is guilty as charged or not. In the event of the Presidency being abolished, the necessity for a trial would not arise, unless special legislation, which would subvert principles of natural justice, is brought forth for the exclusive purpose. In either event, whether the President is guilty of the allegations made, is only of academic interest. She cannot be punished for any crime because the constitution gives the holder of the office of executive President absolute immunity from prosecution.
Of course this is not a good system, but it is one that the UNP, which includes the present Prime Minister and other Ministers and MPs, voted for with enthusiasm. Of more current and future importance would be the fate of the Chief Justice.
It will be recalled that the UNP brought forth a motion of impeachment against the Chief Justice during the tenure of the last Parliament. This was aborted by prorogation and dissolution of Parliament. The motion of impeachment now lies dormant. However, it must not be allowed to go to sleep, in order to be woken up when it suits the interest of the present UNP government. Every single UNP MP who signed this motion must ask of himself or herself whether they were serious. If they, deep in their hearts believed in the allegations against the Chief Justice; they should proceed with the motion forthwith. If they were playing cheap politics and unduly assassinating the good character of the Chief Justice, they should apologise to the Chief Justice forthwith, without any reservation.
These things may not matter to our politicians who condemn themselves by their own behaviour. It matters much to all the citizens of Sri Lanka who will now witness constitutional imbroglios that will be adjudicated upon by the Supreme Court. We need to have absolute confidence in the decisions they make on constitutional matters of the highest importance. So, one more time to the UNP and other MPs who signed the motion of impeachment against the Chief Justice; please put up or shut up.
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