What a coincidence. On 26th January India celebrates Republic Day, for this was the day that India gave herself a new Constitution; (Independence Day is celebrated on 14th August), for us it would usher in a watershed year, for we shall be electing a President for the next five years. Unfortunately neither of the principal candidates have, in their Manifestos, mentioned that they would seek the support of all parties to give ourselves a new constitution, though the people of this country would most certainly vote for one if a Referendum is held on the issue and compel the self seeking politicians to form themselves into a Constituent Assembly and prepare a new constitution drawing on the experience we have had under the Donoughmore, Soulbury, the 1971 and the 1978 Constitutions; we have seen it all, so let us give ourselves a Constitution that would endure (the American Constitution has lasted over 200 years with a few amendments, the Indian has lasted 60 years also with a few amendments). let us also base our next constitution on fundamental values and give ourselves a Constitution which no President can violate with impunity. Let us enthrone the LAW and ensure that no one can violate it with impunity and that no one, not even the President is above the law.
Many local intellectuals and organizations such as the OPA and CCMOG and its outspoken leader Dr.Visvalingam have over the years virtually pleaded for political reform but it is indeed sad that our Presidential aspirants don’t hold out any hope of such reform. We need to restore democracy in form and substance, enthrone the rule of law and ensure that the social contract is based on core values all of us hold sacred, and any violation by anyone becomes a punishable offence.
The sovereignty of the people of the country must be restored in a meaningful manner. As Presidential candidate UB Wijekoon has stated in his is a message asking for change and the enthronement of value based politics that though the people are said to be Sovereign that, in fact and practice is a myth, Sovereignty he says, now limited to placing a cross at an election, thereafter the people abdicates and the politician takes over. We need a new Constitution which secures for the people their just rights. Transparency and accountability is the need of the hour. We the people must also have the right to information to keep a watch on the corrupt politicians who today get away with murder.
This election campaign has been like no other, the hate that is being spewed and the misinformation and sheer lies have had no precedent, it is to say the least quite frightening. The unfortunate man caught in between this sordid business is the voter. Elections Commissioner has also stated that he has never in all his experience seen a situation such as this. We do need to effect a major change not just by having an elections Commission but also effecting a few other major changes. Let us hold both Presidential and Parliamentary elections on the same day and have a caretaker government in place to supervise the election as they do in Bangladesh. Let us also adopt the German system where no fresh election follows the defeat of a government and new attempt is made to form a government. I also hope that we do away with the preferential voting system.
Yes we do need a new Constitution where transparency, accountability and the right to information would be enshrined for they are so important for good governance. The cancer of corruption cannot be eradicated unless these fundamental rights of the people are secured. This right to information is vital to curb corruption for it would ensure transparency. I do not expect corrupt politicians to support this endeavour but it is incumbent on us the people to take our responsibilities seriously and mount a campaign to force the hand of those who are seeking power now to promise to bring forth the necessary legislation. This legislation should be followed by legislation which requires all members of Parliament and senior officials to make a public declaration of their assets. The present practice of Parliamentarians declaring their assets to the Speaker should be discontinued —- we the public should have a legal right to know the assets of all those who aspire to hold public office. We should also have legislation to compel the declaration of the sources of campaign funds and the declaration of campaign expenses by politicians.
I have noted that one candidate has promised to restore the 17th Amendment which has been violated with impunity; whilst this is indeed welcome we do wish that ALL those contesting the Presidency will give a solemn pledge to de-politicize all national institution. I am happy that the President Rajapakse has stated that if he returns to office he would endeavour to have the Preference vote system changed; what we need is electoral reform on the lines of the Dinesh Gunawardena Report.
Our present Constitution is indeed a Bahubootha Constitution in many respects and needs to be dumped, but we should not throw the baby out with the bathwater. It must be conceded that there are certain features in it which contribute towards stability, which stability would have been absent had we had a Parliamentary system and Cabinet government. We would never have won the war had we continued with the Westminster model of Cabinet government. Let us retain a quasi Presidential form with the President accountable to Parliament or we could have a President elected by Parliament who would be in charge of Defence and Foreign Affairs and also accountable to Parliament.
We need by deed to show that there is a genuine concern for the minorities. Yes we need to give serious thought to building a Sri Lanka nation out of our pluralistic society, where there is no perception of hegemony by any segment of our society, which to my mind has created the demand for s separate mono ethnic state. An important piece of legislation, considering the present situation, which should be reintroduced, is the Equal Opportunities Bill. Those who are today aspiring to bur next President should as a part of the solution to the ethnic problem promise to have this Equal Opportunities Bill reintroduced.
Whatever the arrangement, any new structure of the state would need to ensure that real democracy, equity and justice prevails; the minorities, who would include not only the Tamils and the Muslims but also the Burghers, Malays, the Parsis, the Sindi’s and any others would need not only to be provided adequate constitutional protection but should also have a meaningful stake in forging the destiny of the country for Sri Lanka belongs to us all. We need at the same time to take on board the fact that there was an armed attempt to divide the country on ethnic lines and we need to ensure that the territorial integrity of the country and its sovereignty and territorial integrity never ever again comes under threat.
In conclusion let us hope that whoever wins the Presidency, he would invite Constitutional experts such as Drs Jayampathy Wickremaratne, Lakshman Marasinghe, other intellectuals such as Drs BS Wijeweera, Godfrey Gunatileka, Ministers such as Dinesh Gunawardena, DEW Gunasekera, Drs. GL Peiris and Sarath Amunugama and Mr. Mangala Moonesinghe to prepare a concept paper to launch a Constitutional Assembly to craft a national constitution to end confrontational politics in this country and set us on the road to prosperity even now 60 years after we regained our Independence. Finally let me refer to a recent statement of the Editor of the Island; he has asked the question: should not the candidates sign their manifestos and make it a legally binding contract with the people ——— to implement what they promise to do in their manifestos. We the people have been cheated many times over, for a politician’s promises we know are as brittle as lover’s oaths.