Prof. S. T. Hettige has recently stated, "Today
only the government is bearing the responsibility for the
(Tsunami) problem and other parties have become alienated".
We have learnt to admire Prof. Hettige’s
contributions in the press in the past for their commitment to
rational objectivity. The alienation which he speaks of is one
of the major social derangements afflicting the life of the
community in this country. We would like to draw him into an
objective consideration of what, in our humble opinion, are the
actual whys and wherefores of this alienation, and what must
To the lawyer, or more precisely the
constitutional lawyer, it is patently clear that the alienation
Prof. Hettige speaks of is, in its broadest sense, and not as
confined to the post-Tsunami problems alone, but the natural and
inevitable outcome of the divisiveness bred by our Westminster
system of Parliamentary government constituted by a Government
Party exclusively holding the reins of power, and an Opposition
who remain ostracized as some kind of "outcasts" in Parliament
though representing almost as large a segment of the population
as the Government so-called.
This structure inevitably breeds a devilish brew
of incessant and acrimonious rivalry between Government and
Opposition. As it so happens, the main Government and Opposition
parties in this country are more or less evenly matched in
strength, and basically hold to more or less the same type of
policies. The irony is that the very emptiness of the reason to
differ makes notional differences all the more senseless and
How disgustingly the acrimony is played out both
inside and outside Parliament everybody knows only too well.
That grown up men and women make such a devilry
and dereliction of public affairs is not only a sad, and tragic,
reflection on them, but more importantly on the character of the
system which can reduce even the wise to the level of such sorry
fools. That society resigns itself to such a system is itself an
alarming pathological condition.
In what we have to regard as a memorable
critique on this system contributed to the "Dinamina" of 24th
January, 2004, by Retired S.C. Justice, K. M. M. B. Kulatunga,
it has been pointed out that not only is it impossible to
eliminate the bitterness of political rivalry between Government
and Opposition so long as we remain wedded to the Westminster
system, but also, on the other hand, the existing Constitution
makes no specific provision to say that the Ministerial
portfolios should be awarded exclusively to the political party
winning the majority of seats in Parliament, in imitation of
that system. Thus its continuance is invalid.
The latter view makes such a fundamental
departure from the generally received notion of what the
Constitution is supposed to mean, that we venture, with respect,
to translate the relevant part of Justice Kulatunaga’s
observations verbatim as follows:
"That ministers should be chosen only from the
political party securing the majority in parliament is nowhere
mentioned in the constitution. Nevertheless, what has happened
all along in Sri Lanka is that ministers have been chosen only
from the political party that succeeds in winning the majority
in Parliament. In This manner, the power of ruling the country
is vested in only one party. This practice does not seem to be
in conformity with the Constitution. Public expectations are not
duly represented by giving all ministerial appointments to the
The majority in parliament and thus vesting all
power in that party only. The composition of the cabinet in a
manner that does not represent the wishes of all the people is a
violation of the sovereignty of the people as clearly set out in
Thus, the effect of Justice Kulatunaga’s
observations is to hand down a damning indictment on the
practice of the Constitution as blindly followed in Sri Lanka
for half a century and more.
Indeed, we make bold to firmly assert that,
whatever be the interpretation of the black-letter law that
ultimately ought to prevail, the actual result of the present
system is virtually to negate the suffrage of half the
electorate – and as such pure political lunacy. It is actually
not too far a cry from the other problem of power-sharing
bedeviling the life of the country from the North-East.
Besides, on the other hand, the Hon.D.E.W.
Gunasekera himself, Minister for Constitutional Affairs, at a
meeting in Kandy a few months ago, took occasion to point out
that the rivalry between the two major political parties in Sri
Lanka so checkmated the life of the community as to reduce this
country virtually to a "FAILED STATE"!
Thus, the combined effect of both pronouncements
is to render our practice of the Constitution both SPURIOUS and
How long are we to mimic this vicious puppetry
just because it is the best our erstwhile colonial masters knew
at the time in which to cast our constitution?
There is also another disturbing aspect about
this antisocial mischief self-inflicted by the people of Sri
Lanka, the overwhelming majority of whom are Buddhists. As the
Latin tag has it, "Quot homines, tot sententiae," and if we are
not to end up in bedlam with each one heading in a different
direction, ‘toleration and compromise’ is the only way out. This
serves to engage the ideal of the Buddhist injunction for
dispute resolution, consultation eventuating in CONSENSUS. This
is therefore the essential pre-requisite for national unity.
Significantly, it may be said that foremost amongst those who
have urged the two major parties towards national unity have
been the Venerable Mahanayakes of Asgiriya and Malwatte in Kandy.
Curiously, this underlying necessity seems to
have had implicit recognition over and over again through the
practice on the part of most Governing parties during the past
decade or so to invite the Opposition of the time to make
consensus with a view to national unity. Needless to say, the
expectation is naive in the extreme, and has never been met.
And, furthermore, as shown below, noblesse
oblige dictates the obligation is entirely the other way round.
This also compels us to the necessary conclusion
that the Government has no warrant for confining the reins of
power within the grip of solely its own hands, the bugbear of
our governance, on both counts.
Therefore, if National Unity is the desideratum,
the onus is unequivocally on the Government to share the powers
of governance with the rest of the Parliamentary membership pro
rata the suffrage the latter, too, has received from the
sovereign People. The ideal, as has once been deftly put, of
GOVERNMENT WITHOUT OPPOSITION!
The logic of this compulsion as actually resting
principally on the Government may be analyzed as follows.
Firstly, for the simple reason that it is solely
the Government that has the power in its hands, to share or not
Secondly, for the simple reason that, on the
very respectable authority cited, its monopolization by
Government is constitutionally spurious.
Thirdly, because, as pointed out by the other
authority cited, it checkmates national progress in a largely
Third World nation, and defeats thereby one of the greatest ends
of government, the creation of an order of economic sufficiency
for the community. Thus it is antisocial.
Fourthly, in a context of universal democratic
equality – even the Prime Minster it is said is no more than
primus inter pares - the Buddhist injunction to consensus serves
to put the burden of practising the precept squarely in the
hands of the party who can effectually implement it. This is
none other than the GOVERNMENT!
Fifthly, because, by essential definition, it is
inherently the obligation of those in authority to oblige - N O
B L E S S E O B L I G E !
The foregoing outlines the simple short cut to
the elimination of one of the most intractable thorns in the
side of our governance. In comparison, most other points of
controversy are trivial and secondary, and in fact would wither
away once the first priority is allowed.
In the minds of many, our present constitution
is in such an infernal mess that it is by the very gravity of
the mess fast heading in the direction of the melting pot. This
is an ideal pre-condition for the necessary radical changes – we
should seize the opportunity, rather than tantalizingly give it
the miss and perpetuate the existing misery. The initiatives
must come from ALL leaderships, not only in politics, but other
ranks as well.
As the great dramatist once said, "There is a
tide in the affairs of men, which when taken at the flood, leads
on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is hemmed
in sorrows and in miseries".
On such a tide are we afloat - NOW!
We fervently appeal to Prof. Hettige, and indeed
other cognoscenti of the so many Universities in this country,
to give generously of their wisdom to this nation in crisis.
As mentioned above, this applies to especially
political leaderships of all ranks and kind, in whom lies
directly the burden of steering the destinies of this country at
this critical juncture in its affairs.
And last but not least, society at large must
also learn to alert itself to the great issues at stake, to
enable it to make the right choice when called upon to exercise
its suffrage at the several opportunities now fast approaching.
Tailpiece: Upon just preparing to mail the
foregoing, we have been startled by the remarkable similarity of
thinking to hear over the weekend the comments of the Chief
Minister for the Western Province at a recent Conference in
reference to the practical identity of views shared by the two
major political parties on the North-East question, and
consequently the moral challenge lying upon them both to close
ranks so as to hasten it to a final settlement. The comments
seem to read like an unsolicited testimonial to the relevance
and urgency of our message.