STRUG­GLES AGAINST JR'S DHARMISHTA SAMAJAYA

Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka) - - OPINION - By M.S.M. Ayub

Be­fore the 2nd Repub­li­can Con­sti­tu­tion was in­tro­duced in 1978 by Jayewar­dene, Sri Lanka had a West­min­ster sys­tem of gov­er­nance. Then, de­spite the Pres­i­dent be­ing the head the State, it was a cer­e­mo­nial post while the Prime Min­is­ter who was the head of the gov­ern­ment and the Cab­i­net wielded the ex­ec­u­tive pow­ers of the gov­ern­ment

With the ex­ec­u­tive Pres­i­dency be­ing in­tro­duced, Sri Lanka saw a despotic rule. Although the Con­sti­tu­tion con­tained an Ar­ti­cle pro­vid­ing for the Pres­i­dent to be re­spon­si­ble to the Par­lia­ment, there was no mech­a­nism to stop the Pres­i­dent by the Par­lia­ment

If you would be able to see your en­e­mies or arch ri­vals fol­low­ing in your own foot­steps af­ter your death, that would be the pin­na­cle of your life achieved posthu­mously. The for­mer Pres­i­dent Ju­nius Richard Jayewar­dene com­monly known as J.R. might have the sim­i­lar feel­ing th­ese days with the sight of the present lead­ers of the coun­try at­tempt­ing to fur­ther strengthen the Ex­ec­u­tive Pres­i­dency for which he was hated and ridiculed by the same lead­ers, for decades.

Be­fore t he 2nd Repub­li­can Con­sti­tu­tion was in­tro­duced in 1978 by Jayewar­dene, Sri Lanka had a West­min­ster sys­tem of gov­er­nance. Then, de­spite the Pres­i­dent be­ing the head the State, it was a cer­e­mo­nial post while the Prime Min­is­ter who was the head of the gov­ern­ment and the Cab­i­net wielded the ex­ec­u­tive pow­ers of the gov­ern­ment.

Nev­er­the­less, the Prime Min­is­ter was lit­er­ally an­swer­able to his ac­tions as well as to those of his gov­ern­ment as he had to face the Op­po­si­tion within the cham­ber of the Par­lia­ment al­most ev­ery day. And ex­cept for the emer­gency sit­u­a­tions his ac­tions and those of the gov­ern­ment had to be sanc­tioned by the Par­lia­ment.

That does not mean that ad­min­is­tra­tion was pure and to­tally de­void of high­handed ac­tions. In spe­cial cir­cum­stances the gov­ern­ment even then was able to wreak havoc, as hap­pened dur­ing the first JVP in­sur­rec­tion in 1971 when the coun­try first saw thou­sands of dead bod­ies burn­ing in “tyre pyres” and float­ing in rivers.

With the Ex­ec­u­tive Pres­i­dency be­ing in­tro­duced, Sri Lanka saw a despotic rule. Although t he Con­sti­tu­tion con­tained an Ar­ti­cle pro­vid­ing for the Pres­i­dent to be re­spon­si­ble to the Par­lia­ment, there was no mech­a­nism to stop the Pres­i­dent by the Par­lia­ment. Mem­bers of Par­lia­ment were barred even from crit­i­cis­ing him within the House with­out a sub­stan­tial mo­tion, the out­come of which is de­cided by num­bers.

The Pres­i­dent was en­ti­tled to ab­so­lute im­mu­nity from li­a­bil­ity for any act com­mit­ted in his of­fi­cial as well as per­sonal ca­pac­ity and the late Sarath Muth­thetuwegam­a, the then Com­mu­nist Party mem­ber for Kalawana elec­torate said in Par­lia­ment that even the Pres­i­dent’s wife would not be able to file a di­vorce case or a main­te­nance case against the Pres­i­dent un­der this pro­vi­sion.

Jayewar­dene acted like a dic­ta­tor with this im­mu­nity and ob­tain­ing un­dated res­ig­na­tion let­ters from the rul­ing party mem­bers of Par­lia­ment. He even used his pow­ers to hold a ref­er­en­dum t o post­pone t he par­lia­men­tary elec­tion for another term in 1982, in or­der to con­tinue to main­tain the five sixths of power that his party, the United Na­tional Party (UNP) had re­ceived at the 1977 Gen­eral Elec­tion. And he used the un­dated res­ig­na­tion let­ters to oust the MPS who rep­re­sented the elec­torates where the UNP was de­feated at the ref­er­en­dum.

The hands of the law en­force­ment au­thor­i­ties were so tied that the ref­er­en­dum and the Pres­i­den­tial Elec­tion held in the same year were the most rigged two na­tion­wide polls in the his­tory. His­tory saw for the first time so many bal­lot papers folded to­gether in bal­lot boxes. Pis­tol tot­ing min­is­ters barged into the polling cen­tres with thugs to chase away the polling agents of other po­lit­i­cal par­ties be­fore stuff­ing the bal­lot boxes.

Thugs were sent from the south to dis­rupt and rig the first and the only Dis­trict De­vel­op­ment Coun­cil (DDC) elec­tion in Jaffna in 1981 and in the melee the Jaffna li­brary, one of the big­gest in Asia con­tain­ing over 97,000 books and manuscript­s was torched by the thugs with­out any in­ter­ven­tion by the po­lice.

Jayewar­dene gave a mes­sage to the Ju­di­ciary in 1984 in­tro­duc­ing a new mech­a­nism to im­peach the then Chief Jus­tice Neville Sa­ma­rakoon by ap­point­ing a par­lia­men­tary se­lect com­mit­tee to in­ves­ti­gate the al­le­ga­tions against the CJ. It is well known that the ma­jor­ity of any par­lia­men­tary se­lect com­mit­tee con­sists of rul­ing party MPS. (The CJ had earned the wrath of the Pres­i­dent over a speech the lat­ter had made at a pub­lic place.) It was the same mech­a­nism that was used to oust the 43rd CJ, Shi­rani Ban­daranayake by Pres­i­dent Mahinda Rajapaksa in Jan­uary, 2013.

Any law once made by Par­lia­ment can only be amended by the Par­lia­ment. How­ever, Jayewar­dene even amended a law us­ing his pow­ers un­der emer­gency reg­u­la­tions, with­out con­ven­ing the Par­lia­ment. The orig­i­nal Pro­vin­cial Coun­cils Act pro­vided the merger of North­ern and Eastern prov­inces only if the Tamil armed groups sur­ren­dered their weapons. With the In­dian pres­sure mount­ing to merge the North­ern and Eastern Prov­inces, Pres­i­dent Jayewar­dene is­sued a gazette no­ti­fi­ca­tion on Septem­ber 2, 1988 amend­ing the rel­e­vant sec­tion of the said Act.

The Amend­ment which was brought in while the fight­ing between the In­dian forces and the LTTE was on­go­ing mainly in the North pro­vided for the Pres­i­dent to merge the two prov­inces if he sat­is­fied that the process of dis­arm­ing Tamil armed groups has com­menced. And six days af­ter this no­ti­fi­ca­tion the two prov­inces were merged by the Pres­i­dent by a spe­cial procla­ma­tion.

Pres­i­dent Jayewar­dene de­prived for­mer Prime Min­is­ter Sir­i­mavo Ban­daranaike of her civic rights for six years through a com­mis­sion ap­pointed by him, pre­vent­ing her from con­test­ing the 1982 Pres­i­den­tial Elec­tion. And he at­tempted to ma­nip­u­late the law by re-ap­point­ing Abeyratne Pi­lapi­tiya to Par­lia­ment as Kalawana MP ig­nor­ing the re­sults of a by-elec­tion at which Sarath Muth­thetuwegam­a had been elected to the same elec­torate in 1981.

His high­handed ac­tion to pro­scribe the JVP along with another two par­ties on ridicu­lous grounds fol­low­ing the 1983 anti-tamil ri­ots led to the 2nd JVP in­sur­rec­tion in 1988/89 which re­port­edly claimed over 60,000 lives.

Thugs pelted stones at the houses of the Supreme Court judges af­ter they ruled that ar­rest­ing of Lanka Sama Sa­maja Party stal­wart Vivien Gu­nawar­dene dur­ing a protest against the oc­cu­pa­tion of Diego Gar­cia is­lands by the US. He jus­ti­fied the in­ac­tion by the po­lice dur­ing the at­tack, claim­ing that the court had al­lowed protests.

Jayewar­dene was thus able to med­dle in the af­fairs of all three arms of the gov­er­nance, ex­ec­u­tive, leg­is­la­ture and the ju­di­ciary as he had been given the pow­ers to do so by the 1978 Con­sti­tu­tion. Be­sides, he had five sixths of par­lia­men­tary power. It was he who ap­pointed per­sons to and re­moved them from all high posts in th­ese three arms of gov­er­nance. Thus the en­tire State ma­chin­ery was afraid of him.

It was against this back­drop that a huge out­cry against the ex­ec­u­tive Pres­i­dency emerged in the 1980s and grew in 1990s. Some of the present lead­ers of the Sri Lanka Po­du­jana Per­a­muna (SLPP) led gov­ern­ment such as Mahinda Rajapaksa, Ni­mal Siri­pala de Silva, Di­nesh Gu­nawar­dene, Va­sudeva Nanayakkar­a and Ban­dula Gu­nawar­dene as politi­cians and Dal­las Ala­hap­pe­ruma as a jour­nal­ist were in the fore­front in that strug­gle then.

Later Jayewar­dene’s UNP it­self joined the cho­rus which led to the pas­sage of the 17th Amend­ment to the Con­sti­tu­tion, a process ini­ti­ated by the JVP dur­ing the so-called Pari­vasa Gov­ern­ment un­der Pres­i­dent Chan­drika Ban­daranaike, in 2001. With­out the un­tir­ing ef­forts by the then JVP par­lia­men­tary group leader Wi­mal Weer­awansa the 17th Amend­ment would not have seen the light of the day. The pur­pose of the Amend­ment was to pre­vent at least to some ex­tent a rep­e­ti­tion of the au­thor­i­tar­ian rule, by cur­tail­ing the pow­ers of the Pres­i­dent to ar­bi­trar­ily ap­point per­sons to and re­move them from high posts.

The ef­fects of the 17th Amend­ment was re­versed by the 18th Amend­ment in­tro­duced in 2010 by the same group which once fought tooth and nail against the Ex­ec­u­tive Pres­i­dency. In­ter­est­ingly it was Pres­i­dent Jayewar­dene’s UNP that was later in­stru­men­tal to bring in the checks against the un­bri­dled pow­ers of the pres­i­dency through the 19th Amend­ment back in 2015, but with the sup­port of the present lead­ers of the SLPP. The Pen­du­lum is to sway again to the other side with the 20th Amend­ment to the Con­sti­tu­tion, with the help of the Jayewar­dene’s arch ad­ver­saries who have for­got­ten their own yes­ter­year strug­gles against JR’S

“dharmishta samajaya”.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Sri Lanka

© PressReader. All rights reserved.