President Maithripala Sirisena and some election issues

Dr A.C.Visvalingam, President of the Citizens’ Movement for Good Governance



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Wide presidential powers, with immunity provisions, were built into the 1978 Constitution, which introduced the concept of an Executive Presidency. The misuse of these powers and provisions by incumbents has been strongly and unceasingly deplored by the Citizens’ Movement for Good Governance (CIMOGG) as well as many others. However, almost all protests, even those of the most bona fide provenance, were ignored by those who came to occupy the presidential office from time to time. Most unfortunately for Sri Lanka, President Mahinda Rajapaksa took several longer steps into the darkness than any of the others, culminating in his forcing the disastrous 18th Amendment (18A) through Parliament in September 2010 as an urgent bill whereas there was no pressing problem whatever that required an Amendment of this nature. The undesirable features of the 1978 Constitution were thus made much worse, making virtual slaves of all Sri Lankans solely for the benefit of the President, his relatives, friends, supporters and collaborators.


It was only when a small group of concerned citizens managed to persuade the Venerable Madhuluwawe Sobitha Thero to give leadership to the country to get the powers of the Executive President reduced and, inter alia, to have 18A replaced by the 19th Amendment (19A) – a revised form of 17th Amendment – that a little glimmer of hope was perceived in the struggle to eliminate the concentration of power in the hands of one omnipotent individual.


The people of Sri Lanka should be immensely grateful to Sobitha Thero, Maithripala Sirisena, Ranil Wickremeasinghe, Chandrika Kumaratunga and a number of other "backroom boys and girls" who worked so hard and at very great personal risk to set a better constitutional course for Sri Lanka. In praising these individuals, we must by no means forget the 6.2 mMillion enlightened voters who saw the perilous situation into which Sri Lanka had been dragged by around 150 legislators whose self-serving compliance to pass the 18A had been secured by the open threat of exposure of their unlawful activities (see "Fearsome Files" in www.cimogg-srilanka.org).


It has been pointed out often enough that the so-called 100-day pProgram of presidential election candidate Maithripala Sirisena was not realistic. Nevertheless, President Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremeasinghe managed to achieve partial success in a few of the programmed tasks. The following achievements by them should not be undervalued –


1. Eliminating some of the powers that the Executive Presidency had under the original 1978 Constitution and 18A, and limiting the presidential terms to no more than two;


2. Getting the crucial 19A passed, thereby eliminating more of the powers of the Executive Presidency. This amendment still has some key flaws, which will need to be studied and rectified by the next Parliament;


3. Replacing the crude style of governance that prevailed in Sri Lanka over the last decade with a gentler and more civilized one.


For nearly six months, CIMOGG joined its voice to that of many others who were agitating for the passing of the 20th Amendment (20A). Our interest in doing so was based on the understanding that the next parliamentary elections would be held under the terms of this Amendment. However, the unending obstacles created by the Opposition in Parliament have led to the abandonment of the proposed 20A. Parliament itself has been dissolved and, as before, the elections will be held under the far from ideal proportional representation system, which obliges voters in each district to select a party first and then choose three candidates from the list furnished by that party for that district. The main negative implications of this system are (a) once a voter has decided to support a particular party, he has to vote for 1-3 candidates put up by that party alone, and is prevented from voting for better candidates from the various other competing parties, and (b) there is no single MP who is made formally responsible for a given electorate in the district.


There have been, and continue to be, many contributions in the media that advise voters regarding the types of candidates for whom they should not vote. Over the years, CIMOGG, too, has also made its own observations about the need for voter vigilance. Unfortunately, most of those who read or listen to such advice given through the media forget it within hours, if not minutes. There is the overwhelming probability that in August this year, too, many voters will cast their ballots for the same persons whom they supported at the last elections. This constancy is attributable to ingrained habit and/or to gratitude for favours received, such as protection against prosecutions under the law, employment for family members, school admissions for children, and outright bribes in cash and in kind.


Owing to the pressure of political realities soon after his election on 8 January 2015 and a sense of longstanding loyalty to the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), President Sirisena found it expedient to become the SLFP’s President. It would have been far, far better if, on the day of his victory, he could have categorically stated that, having been elected by members of all ethnic and religious groups, he had become the President of all Sri Lankans and would, therefore, disengage himself from all party affiliations. This golden opportunity would probably have been politically too risky at the time for him to have committed himself to in this manner and has now been lost.


Unless President Sirisena places the interests of Sri Lanka above those of the SLFP and takes all precautions to safeguard his own currently high reputation, it will be a sad outcome in comparison with what all concerned citizens have been working towards. The high regard in which he is held, for the great things that he has achieved so far, will be heavily tarnished by any continuing close association with unsavoury characters who are not fit to be our elected representatives.


The current position is that the dire future from which Sri Lanka was saved in January is in considerable danger of being revivified by a large number of MPs of the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) who are afraid of having their appalling secrets exposed and, therefore, want to have a Prime Minister who will extend patronage and freedom from police investigations and charges regarding their theft of public moneys, assault, rape, murder, dealing in drugs, illegal liquor manufacture, gemming in and stealing timber from natural reserves, sand mining in protected rivers, smuggling, drug-trafficking, illegal ethanol imports, murder, rape, forgery, protection money rackets, prostitution, stealing from public funds, use of foul language and violating the sanctity of Parliament. They have been canvassing strongly and unceasingly for ex-President Mahinda Rajapaksa to be given nomination for the forthcoming Parliamentary elections not because they love him but because they expect him to provide them with the same kind of blanket protection as in the past.


Whilst the antics of those who, inter alia, deameaned Parliament by invading the floor of the Chamber, and shouted, ate, drank and slept there, and also organized public meetings to press the case for their guardian angel’s political future were occupying the public attention, a very important revelation made by Mr. Z.L.Mohamed in the FINANCIAL TIMES of 4 June 2015, has been virtually completely, if not altogether, ignored.


Mr Mohamed has included a tabulation in his article which shows that the population above the age of 18.5 years as determined by the Department of Census & Statistics gives a total of 14,206, 305 whereas the number of registered voters in the electoral registers total 15,044,490! He points out that this excess of 4.3% is alarmingly larger than the 3.7% margin by which the presidential election was decided, and even more seriously larger than the margin of around 1.9% (?) by which the previous parliamentary elections were decided. He states that Dr Laksiri Fernando had pointed out this disturbing anomaly soon after the last presidential election. No one, including the officials of the Department of Census & Statistics, the officials of the Elections Commission and members of the public, had disputed it. This is what is really worrying.


Mr Mohamed highlights the fact that, whilst the population had increased by only 1.7% between 2012 and 2014, the voter rolls had expanded by 4.1%. He also opines that the voter rolls had been fraudulently inflated in areas that favoured the Rajapaksa regime. He has ascertained that the "ghost voters came in at a large scale around the 1999 election and surged after the 2010 election". In alphabetical order, the "worst" districts are found to be Ampara, Anuradhapura, Badulla, Galle, Hambantota, Kandy, Kegalle, Kurunegala, Matale, Matara, and Nuwara Eliya,.


Furthermore, he assesses that the discrepancies referred to by him could tip the results of 30-60 parliamentary seats during the forthcoming elections!


The public would like some reassurance from the Director of the Department of Census & Satistics and, even more importantly, from the Commissioner of Elections that the results of the elections fixed for 17 August 2015 will not be skewed in favour of the candidates from one party or alliance because of ghost voters.


Dr A.C.Visvalingam


President


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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