Elections are not the solution

Friday, 9 November 2018 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Elections are an integral part of a democratic system but they are not the answer to everything. Speculation is rife that parliament could be dissolved by President Maithripala Sirisena as part of an effort to seek a referendum from the people about the change of Prime Minister and subsequent executive actions that have plunged the country into political turmoil. But that would only be an additional violation of the Constitution and further undermine the powers of parliament.  

Referendums are important to measure the views of the people but the results do not automatically become law or gain the moral high ground. Moreover the process of referendums demand that the people’s views should be sought about a possible change to the Constitution before such a change is made. Calling an election after undermining the Constitution and reducing the powers of a major branch of government that represents the will of the people, is not an improvement. It is in fact the exact opposite. 

When politicians are cornered they act irrationally. What is required in this instance under the Constitution is to call parliament and ascertain the majority and based on that majority and only on that majority decide who should be Prime Minister. Without this step all others are simply an effort to further muddy the waters and expand the powers of the executive at the cost of parliament. Under the 19th Amendment the President cannot dissolve parliament until four and a half terms are over or unless a two thirds majority of parliament calls for a dissolution. 

Given that this parliament was appointed in August 2015 it can only be dissolved after January 2020. Even for members of parliament to decide whether they want a dissolution of parliament, it is still essential to convene the House. If the Constitution is to be respected there is no way around this reality. 

But the narrative is being shifted determinedly in a different direction. There is a clear attempt to justify the actions of 26 October by covering it with the promise of a referendum and using that as a twisted reason to disregard parliament. Despite a determined Speaker taking what is seen as a largely single handed stance to remain independent and push for a vote on the first day parliament is convened, there is significant opposition to the effort. Political leaders and their supporters who were supportive of the removal of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe are now attempting to deride the actions of Speaker Karu Jayasuriya as partisan and stemming from the fact that he is a member of the United National Party (UNP). 

The Speaker is appointed through a vote of parliament. He is usually selected to be an independent protector of parliament as well as the rights and privileges of its members. The role of the Speaker is to build bi-partisan consensus across all the political parties and ensure than the people’s interests are protected by the actions of parliament. The role of parliament has been undermined for years in Sri Lanka with politicians using it to hurl insults at their political opponents, rather than address issues of governance. Running away with the mace, staging sit ins in the well of the House and chanting in protest are the more memorable instances when parliament has resembled a circus rather than an important branch of government. If parliament is not given it’s rightly place now, this could well be the last nail in the coffin.