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18th amendment will lead to a dictatorship – Karu Jayasuriya

Sep 4, 2010 5:30:03 PM- transcurrents.com

The eighteenth amendment to the constitution would pave the way for a dictatorship in this country and enable some to ‘secure full power for generations’, UNP Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya said.

‘We can’t see any logic in the President seeking a mandate for a third term when the first term itself is not over. The second term has not officially begun and no oath has been taken and it is meaningless to talk of a third term for the presidency, which would begin in 2016, when there are so many burning problems in the country waiting to be resolved’, Jayasuriya told this newspaper when asked in an interview what the position of the UNP would be on the 18th amendment to the constitution which would be put to the vote in Parliament on Sept. 08.

‘There is the continuing problem of the cost of living, there are lakhs and lakhs of people who cannot afford three meals a day, there is mass unemployment, there are health hazards, such as dengue and malaria, and when such issues are rampant, is it the duty of the government or the Head of State to seek self-power for a further period? So, we in the Opposition feel this is nothing but an exercise to secure full power for generations and in our view this 18th amendment will pave the way for a dictatorship in this country’, Jayasuriya explained.

Excerpts of interview:

Q: What is the position of the UNP on the 18th amendment to the constitution?

A: Well, the UNP was the architect of the Executive Presidency and so we have seen the black side and the white side of it. From 1978 up to now, having gone through the mill, we have come to the conclusion that the Executive Presidency is not desirable for this country and also, leaving so much of power in one person will be undesirable and will be a threat to democracy. It will also pave the way for a single party, single person dictatorship.

It is in this context that the UNP decided as a matter of policy that we would recommend the abolition of the Executive Presidency. It is on the same lines that we decided to support a common candidate at the last presidential poll. We sacrificed our party symbol and our own candidate for a common candidate. Under a different umbrella it was possible to bring all opposition parties together.

So, our position remains unchanged and the UNP still maintains that the Executive Presidency should be changed and at the next presidential election we will be seeking a mandate from the people for its abolition.

But over the years, the SLFP from 1978 onwards, opposed the Executive Presidency. They called it a "demon" and wanted to abolish it. In 1994, they sought a mandate to abolish it and this promise was continued up to the last parliamentary poll. President Rajapaksa, as much as Ms. Chandrika Kumaratunga, pledged to abolish it. Even the Mahinda Chinthanaya, at the last parliamentary election, spoke of an executive Head reporting to Parliament. Now it is a complete about turn.

A third term for the Executive Presidency is certainly undesirable for this country. Secondly, the changing of the 17th amendment which covers the Constitutional Council and the Independent Commissions, cannot be accepted under any circumstances because here, power which was vested with Parliament and the independence that we noticed in the Commissions, has now been taken off. In 2005, President Rajapaksa allowed these Commissions to be killed through a slow process. He did not appoint the Constitutional Council members who were recommended to him jointly by the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader. He also did not replace members for the Independent Commissions. As a result the entire government structure is malfunctioning at the moment. All this is because one person wants power.

When the President invited the Opposition Leader for talks on the basis of an alternative proposal for the Executive Presidency, we did take part in good faith. There was divided opinion among the parties and a majority of members felt that we should not go for negotiations because the President would not keep to his word. But we decided that if we could find an alternative to the Executive Presidency, which could be answerable to Parliament, we should take part in talks. On the other hand, if we did not take part, the Opposition would have been blamed. It is in this context that the UNP took part in the dialogue.

But the President indicated that he was keen to come back to Parliament and when the idea of the Executive Prime Minister was proposed by the Opposition Leader, he thought it was worthwhile and was willing to discuss the idea further. He also commented on the local government Bill that was to be tabled in Parliament, and we all agreed that we need to get back to the Ward system.

On the 17th amendment, our position was that as a result of the President not adhering to the constitution, the Independent Commissions are not functioning. This is seriously affecting good governance which everyone is expecting. But under what has been proposed instead of the 17th amendment, the President takes over all powers. It is said that he will consult before making important appointments but consulting does not mean that we could maintain the necessary independence and transparency, particularly when politically alienated members are appointed to top posts.

Q: Are you certain that the UNP could put up a united opposition to the amendment when it comes up in Parliament?

A: Theoretically, things can’t go wrong at the vote. Unless people are pressurized and various steps are brought about, we can’t see a change but Sri Lankan political culture is different. The culture is one that we see in undemocratic countries. The game is not played according to its rules here.

Q: Supposing the amendment is passed by Parliament and it becomes law, what is the UNP planning to do after that?

A: The UNP and all the democratic parties in the Opposition would have to come together. Even now we are discussing with various parties in the Opposition and we all agree that we should all get together for the amendment’s withdrawal. Even if they pass the amendments with the so-called two-thirds, we know for certain that the people are of this country would not endorse it.

If you look at the results of the last general election and presidential election, the votes polled at the general election were a million votes less. Then there was a survey done by some English newspapers. Here, 1.8 percent voted in favour of the third term, while 90 percent voted against it and eight percent abstained. Although these voters are more urban-based, even on a national level the statistics can’t differ very much. We have seen certain surveys, we have seen the opinion of various social segments and religious leaders and one can find that all are against the amendment. - courtesy: The Sunday Island -