We face an unprecedented situation in the political history of this country and in the political history of any other democratic country in the world.
The common opposition and the civil society got together to defeat the most autocratic ruler out of the rulers after the independence. Autocracy was gradually developing from one ruler to the other, but it came to the zenith during the last regime.
The autocratic nature of the rule of the past president was evident by observing what has happened after the election. His defeat was more similar to a disintegration of a rule of a king rather than a defeat of a political leader. After his defeat, the leadership of his own party had to be handed over by him to his opponent of the presidential election and a situation was created that his party with a majority power in Parliament started supporting the minority Government.
Although a presidential election was held, the impact was of a Parliamentary election. This situation has emerged beyond the democratic and judicial frame and its characteristics were somewhat similar to a situation emerging after a revolution.
Even though there is such a situation prevailing in the country the parties that came to power exercises by and large a form of governance of consensus rather than a form of governance of autocracy. The President on one hand is the Head of State, Head of the Executive and of the Government and on the other hand is the Leader of the main Opposition party which nominated the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament. This situation has never oc
curred in any other democratic nation.
By putting another step recently in the same direction, the main Opposition party joined the Government by accepting certain ministerial portfolios. The senior members of the main Opposition party did not accept the ministerial portfolios and opted to remain in the Opposition. Therefore the Speaker of the Parliament now is in dilemma to decide who should be the leader of the Opposition.
This situation is also unprecedented not only in Sri Lanka but also in any other democratic nation. In addition to that JVP is represented in National Executive Council which was created after the election and contribute to take decisions which are of national importance.
Unique political model
The manifesto of the last presidential election mentioned that there would be an all-party Cabinet after the presidential election and after the forthcoming general election as well. However the Prime Minister talks about a Government comprising of the whole Parliament.
Therefore, now we experience a unique political model representing the contemporary political situation of Sri Lanka which corresponds to the political situation that emerged in South Africa soon after Nelson Mandela became the President. Citizens of Sri Lanka who were engaged in party politics for a long time and lived in the capacity of subjects in the last few years are in the difficult position of digesting all these changes.
Once Nelson Mandela became the President, he did not suppress the white Afrikaans. Instead, he invited them to continue to be in his personal security service and in his Cabinet. He also extended State patronisation to rugby, which was the game of Afrikaans and supported the National Rugby Team to become the world champions and thereby contributed to national unity and harmony.
South Africa had only one problem, which was apartheid. We have two problems one is the problem of autocracy and the other is devolution of power. Malpractices in handling Government funds will be automatically solved when the problem of autocracy is handled.
Autocracy was groomed in this country with prevailing specific cultural biases coupled with Constitutional changes done in 1978. Autocratic behaviour of the Government of Sirimavo Bandaranaike paved the way for a Parliament of a 5/6th majority led by J.R. Jayewardene.
One main reason for the rebellion launched by JVP during the time of President Jayewardene was his autocratic rule. This autocracy came to the zenith during the previous regime. These days there are deliberations to change the Constitution, which gives unlimited power to the President which is the root cause of autocracy.
Previously also there were promises given by who presidents came into power that the executive presidency would be abolished but due to various reasons and mainly due to self-interest they were unwilling or unable to fulfil that promise. In this instance although the President is willing to abolish the executive presidency, this proposal is swinging among the different views of different political parties.
There are accusations about Parliamentary conspiracies that the Prime Minister is trying to get more power without a political mandate. However, it should be noted that it was loud and clear in the election manifesto of the President that instead of the executive presidency, an executive responsible to Parliament through Cabinet would be established. The Prime Minister is trying to fulfil that promise.
The Jathika Hela Urumaya now has no right to go against the promises of election manifesto and accuse that there is a conspiracy among the party which tries to go along with the promises made. It should also be noted that during the last election campaign even the former President has said that if elected he would abolish the executive presidency. Therefore the stance taken by the SLFP is difficult to understand, assuming that there is no political opportunism.
It was mentioned in the election manifesto that a new electoral system would be introduced before the next Parliamentary election. The present UNP Government is having a lukewarm attitude to this. This is also nothing but political opportunism. There is no legal limit of 100 days. If the promises cannot be fulfilled in 100 days, they can take additional days and finish the task undertaken.
However, the situation started deteriorating with lack of consensus and the parties try to implement different agendas. The latest is that a regulation to increase the threshold of Treasury Bills by the Government was defeated in Parliament.
Devolution of power
The second problem we have is devolution of power which caused a war that went on for 30 years. The Government troops winning the war is no answer to the political problem prevailing. It is a different story that international influence fuelled the escalation of the armed struggle. Sometimes the State was unable to handle those situations but in some instances the State acted in a wise manner and took steps to ease the situation. However, it should be understood that there was a problem and it was not solved after the end of the war.
The problem of devolution of power was not considered for deliberations and it appears to be that it would be taken up for discussion after the forthcoming general election and after establishing a National Government. There was a common consensus among the Opposition parties at the last presidential election not to bring the issue of devolution of power to the limelight. The reason for this decision was the possibility of bringing up communalism by the then Government. This shows how far away we are as a nation in terms of discussing the burning issues at stake.
Taking into consideration the way the political parties handle the problem of autocracy by way of trying to change the Constitution, it is very unlikely that the same political parties would be able to handle the problem of devolution. We have a long way to go.
We are moving away day by day from the opportunity we have received. We have observed that the leaders of this country sacrificed the long-term objectives of the nation for their short-term political gains. Now there is more possibility that the 19th Amendment to the Constitution may not be passed by this Parliament. The country is on the verge of losing an opportunity of establishing a more democratic system of governance and this can be avoided only if the leaders and the members of all the parties in Parliament act together.
(The writer is a Chartered Accountant by profession and holds a Master of Business Administration degree awarded by the Postgraduate Institute of Management of University of Sri Jayewardenepura.)