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Constitutional amendments and Elections Ordinance

Since the promulgation of the 1978 constitution of the so-called "Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka", there has been a number of high-powered committees to suggest amendments to the Constitution and the Election Ordinance. So far, nothing tangible seems to have come out except arguments against the executive presidential system, without even touching on the proportional representation system.

The Soulbury Constitution, which replaced the Donoughmore Constitution, was thrust upon us as a result of consultations among Lord Soulbury, Sir Ivor Jennings (who was advisor to DSS) and D. S. Senanayake. However, to enable constitutional changes to be acceptable and implementable, the United National Party, was hurriedly formed to contest the 1947 election and form a government to accept dominion status of independence on February 4, 1948, which left Trincomalee harbour and Katunayake airforce base under the suzerainty of His Majesty’s Government.

It was left for Premier S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, who came to power in 1956 with an exceptional majority to do away with the last vestiges of colonialism by taking over the Trincomalee harbour and Katunayake air force base. Although independence was granted to Ceylon and its Dependencies (e. g. the Maldives, which paid tributes to Ceylon in the past), Ceylon was only left with the small islands around Jaffna. It was left for Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike to acquire the ownership of Kachchativu island and find a solution to the Indian Tamil problem, which was a vestige left over by the British colonial government, through friendly negotiations with India.

The Indian and Pakistani Citizenship Act and the Indian and Pakistani (Parliamentary Representation) Act No. 36 of 1954, adopted by Premier D. S. Senanayake’s government to disenfranchise the Indian Tamils (who voted for leftist candidates) wholesale, without suggesting a practical solution, was another landmark in the minority struggle. (The Indian and Pakistani Citizenship Act was never implemented and was allowed to lapse). The situation was further aggravated by the Sinhala Only Act (devoid of a provision for reasonable use of Tamil, which was removed due to pressure from the extremist Sinhala sections led by F. R. Jayasuriya and K. M. P. Rajaratne) and the cancellation of the Bandaranaike–Chelvanayagam Pact under pressure of J R’s U N P and the Buddhist clergy.

Finally J R J promulgated a constitution for him and his party to be in power for a life time thus throwing out the elected representatives of the Tamil community from Parliament through the 6th amendment to the Constitution adopted with the help of his steamroller majority. Government MPs toed his line as they would have lost their seats, had they opposed J R, since their undated letters of resignation were in his pocket. An already bad situation became worse with the massacre of 13 soldiers in Jaffna by the Tamil militants and J R giving them a state funeral in Colombo, followed by the anti-Tamil pogrom, aided and abetted by UNP goons.

Almost every party in this country is dominated by its leader who acts without consulting grass root organisations in formulating and implementing policies, either before or after elections. On the contrary, even in a country like the US, a countrywide election is held to nominate a presidential candidate of a party and once the candidate is elected, the defeated contenders support him at the major election and can even be his second in command in case of his victory. For that matter, in this country, the rivalry exists not only among candidates of different parties but among candidates of the same party!

We in this country have been aware from our childhood that even to become peon or a driver, being the lowest strata in the administrative hierarchy, one needs to have minimum qualifications like Junior Standard or JSC (8th Standard). But not for politicians! If there were at least minimum stipulated qualifications for a prospective candidate to seek nomination for a local or provincial or parliamentary election, such as GCE (A/L) or a university degree or in the alternative, a long established dedication to the service of the society, without seeking personal aggrandisement or an unblemished record of character and service to the society, without being charged or convicted in a court of law, they would not have to spend millions (or even billions) on their election campaigns. Such persons, even if they lose, will still enjoy the love and affection of the people.

On the other hand, there should be statutory provisions for candidates to declare their assets publicly at the time of submitting their nominations and, once elected, such assets should be scrutinised by an independent panel to be appointed by the Elections Commissioner or Auditor-General.

Against this background, it is very opportune to start a dialogue among electors who are the real backbone of political power, as to what type of individual should be voted to power, individually or through a well structured party system, where, each individual member will have a say in selecting his or her representative, without being dictated to by those who usurp power.

Why not go for a Constituent Assembly, as happened in 1970s, and evolve a constitutional model, having in mind our ancient indigenous system, with suitable deviations and modifications to suit the present day world environment and systems of governing.

E’mail: smon@sltnet.lk

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