Third term and cricketing lessons from JR

Friday, 21 November 2014 01:51 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

The wheels have been set in motion to make history. President Mahinda Rajapaksa yesterday signed the proclamation declaring his intention to hold a presidential election seeking another term. The Elections Commissioner had received the proclamation signed by the President and it was reported that the nominations will be called shortly. Dates are yet to be announced but speculation is buzzing over dates in early January, especially since the Vatican had shortened its time requirement to buffer political impact on the Pope’s visit to just two weeks. This leaves the timeframe wide open to Rajapaksa who can meet the expectations of the Catholic community and the rest of the island on a euphoric high. Constitutional complications ahead of Rajapaksa’s announcement sent waves along Sri Lanka’s political and legal circles for several reasons. Many are concerned that breaking the limitation of two terms since the establishment of the fresh Constitution under former President J.R. Jayewardene will worsen the nepotism and corruption the Rajapaksa Government has been under, particularly during the second term. During an interview J.R. himself, despite being a controversial figure, insisted an amendment to the two-term period requires a two-thirds majority in Parliament PLUS a Referendum. This is clearly the intention behind the relevant Constitutional article and who should know better than JR himself, since his own brother was probably its principal framer. In an interview with the Sunday Island Editor on 15 December 1991, responding to the question: “Why did you not contest in 1988?” JR replied: “Under the Constitution of 1978, a President can be elected for two terms only. Under the law creating the presidency my first term was deemed to have commenced in 1978. Thereafter, in 1982 I was elected for the second term. If I had acceded to the request of my party, and many of the Members of the Opposition, and contested the presidential election in 1988, it would have meant a third term for me, and would have needed an amendment to the Constitution, by a two-thirds majority, and also the sanction of a Referendum. I thanked my sponsors and declined to accept their offer. Moreover, as a cricketer I was aware that in cricket, there are only two innings given to a side, and there is no third innings.” Cricket being a gentleman’s game, J.R. clearly decided to follow its example. Whatever criticisms his detractors may throw at him, the former President clearly listened to his conscience. Certainly decades later Rajapaksa sees things differently, as far as he and his family are concerned it is a “do or die” moment. Backing down at this point is unthinkable, especially given the many fronts the Government is engaged on, from massive infrastructure development to the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) investigation, this is no time to leave the field. Embroiled in all this the public are waiting to see what the Opposition comes up with, ever pragmatic they will play a waiting game until the cards become a little more clearer. The Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) may present an interesting dimension with everyone reading the political landscape for any hints of what is to come. If the JHU decides to coalesce with similar-minded groups and field a separate candidate, how will that affect the President’s vote base? Will a common candidate stand up? Whatever the answers, it’s now game on!