General Elections 2020: A Defining Moment for Sri Lanka



A headline in a newspaper of May 23rd quoted the Prime Minister as having said, "President and Cabinet can efficiently manage the country without parliament" (Daily Mirror May 23, 2020). The President has stated, and has been quoted many times in the media, as saying that he will not in any circumstances re-summon the dissolved 'old" Parliament. Both the President and the Prime Minister have indicated that they await the general elections 2020, and the summoning of the "new" Parliament.

Yet most candidates contesting the forthcoming general elections 2020 are those who have represented the people, for the past ten or more years. So why is there demonisation of the "old" and the faith in the "new"? Is it possible that there is an expectation that the much desired "new" Parliament will adopt and enact a Constitution that will do away with familiar institutions known as Parliament and the courts (the two other pillars of governance in a parliamentary democracy)?

We are known as the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. It is perhaps because some small aspects of the "socialism" survived the onslaught of the market economy, that our public health system has delivered in the Covid-19 pandemic. Are we now living in times when we are going to eliminate the "democratic" part, just becoming the plain and simple Republic of Sri Lanka?

For 70 years one of the key pillars of governance in this country has been Parliament. For at least half that period, (and until as recently as 2019) all political parties at some point or other, promised the nation to abolish the Executive Presidency, and strengthen the institution known as Parliament. Yet today, political leaders in government and their assorted supporters, jurists, scholars, professionals, business leaders, and opinion makers, express views indicating that they want to bury Parliament- some for 6 months, some for 5 years, and others for all time. Meanwhile the electronic media idealize the armed forces in a new war- the war against Covid-19. These are the only "veerodara ranaviru" (a word now used to refer only to members of the armed forces). "Front line workers" in the public health response, members of the police and public service, do not share this honorific title.

As we go to the polls in 2020, we should ask ourselves "Whither Sri Lanka?" With so much information on the internet, and in diverse media, we should try to reflect on the experience of other countries on institutional arrangements for governance. What was the experience of World War 11 Germany, and what is the current experience of Hungary, Hong Kong and Myanmar? We can also turn the pages of our history in antiquity, and reflect on the conversation between Venerable Nagasena and King Milinda.

The King: Reverend Sir, will you discuss with me again

Ven.Nagasena: If your Majesty will discuss as a scholar well; but if you will discuss as a king, no...........

The King: And how do kings discuss?

Ven. Nagasena: When a king, your Majesty, discusses a matter and he advances a point, if anyone differs from him on that point, he is apt to fine him, saying: "Inflict such and such a punishment upon that fellow".

Thus, your Majesty, do kings discuss.

[The Questions of King Milinda, Vol 35 part 1, reprint 1977, p.46].

It is important to remember that in 2018, a Full Bench of our Supreme Court held that this country has not had a monarch since 1972, and the President under our Constitution has not "inherited that mantle". Constitutions restrain the exercise of powers, and those who take oaths of office to respect the Constitution, in doing so, agree not to take on the mantle of kingship.

Prof. Savitri Goonesekere Prof. Arjuna Aluwihare

On behalf of:

Mr. Priyantha Gamage, Mr. Chandra Jayaratne, Mr. Faiz-Ur Rahman, Bishop Duleep de Chickera, Rev. Dr. Jayasiri Peiris, Dr. A.C.Visvalingam, Mr. Tissa Jayatilaka, Prof. Arjuna Aluwihare, Mr. Pulasthi Hewamanna, Prof. Ranjini Obeyesekere, Prof. Camena Guneratne, Prof. Gananath Obeyesekere, Prof. Gameela Samarasinghe, Dr. Usvatte-Aratchi, Dr. Radhika Coomaraswamy, Ms. Manouri Muttetuwegama and Mr. Dhammapala Wijayanandana.

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