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Sunday, 7 June 2015

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Politics vs Constitution-building

There was a political joke doing the rounds in the 1980s when the current Constitution was being amended and further amended and, yet again amended, in accordance with the interests of the regime of the time using its steam-roller five-sixths majority in Parliament. The joke was that when a researcher in the UK went to the famous British Museum Library and asked to access the Sri Lankan Constitution, he was guided to the 'Periodicals' section.

Our Constitution seems to be undergoing a similar rapid revision today as barely a week goes by without fresh ideas arising about changes to the basic law of the country and the institutional structures of the national polity.

The 19th Amendment, so long awaited by most citizens tired of the depredations facilitated by the 18th Amendment, finally saw the light of day a few weeks ago but in a much diluted form. Those legislators who strove hard to revise the Bill and dilute its provisions using their majority voting bloc in the House must take responsibility for deliberately blocking the efforts by the current governing coalition to reform the presidency in the manner long sought by pro-democracy forces in the country.

That it is the same set of legislators that is delaying the appointment of the Constitutional Council set up by the 19th Amendment, seemingly indicates a political agenda to block efforts at the actual democratisation of our 'democratic socialist republic'. Since it is these same legislators who remain the sole supporters of the recently deposed former President, their anti-democratic intentions revealed by such political manoeuvres should not come as a surprise. After all, it was the very anti-democratic character of that presidency that served to swing voter sentiment in favour of Maithripala Sirisena and his rainbow coalition of virtually all other political parties and movements.

Neither should their behaviour in their overnight 'protest' in Parliament come as a surprise - given the esteem and reverence with which they hold the national legislature. In the light of this parliamentary behaviour, their current actions blocking the introduction of the 20th Amendment to enable crucial electoral reforms as well as the string of 'no confidence' motions being signed and flaunted in the public eye should all be seen as part of the manoeuvres not for justice and democracy but for individual political survival.

All this should clearly indicate to the citizens and voters as to where the battle lines are drawn between those who genuinely value democracy, institutional governance and justice for all and, those who value first their own individual political (and other) fortunes and understand little about institutions and processes of governance.

For the nation as a whole, the focus should not be on the mere antics of a single set of cornered politicians, but on the efforts of the whole range of political parties, major and minor, as well as concerned citizens' movements, to transform our political system now so battered and deformed by sheer greed and abysmally mediocre governance.


Threatening the Police

In these 'terrorism' ridden times, generally speaking, anyone who threatens violence against the State or any particular agency of the State, is liable to be labelled a 'terrorist'. Indeed, not just labelled but often prosecuted and punished or, in less-than-civilised dispensations, summarily dealt with either by arbitrary arrest or actual physical attack and even assassination. Usually, it is the politician in power who is quick to label others, especially political rivals out of power, as 'terrorist', that convenient catchword so useful in harassing dissidents and political rivals.

Last week, however, it was a Councillor of the Southern provincial administration who reportedly chose to threaten an agency of the State with physical violence, even killing. According to reports, this politician indirectly called for the police personnel of the Financial Crimes Investigations Division to be 'stoned to death'. He further expansively announced that this would be done in a new political regime led by a former President. That he thought that this former President's regime would enable such a thing as a barbaric massacre of police personnel through stoning, says much about the style of governance that this politician expects from that ex-president.

More importantly, if such a threat has been made by this politician, then he stands to be labelled as a 'terrorist' himself, and face due prosecution. It is no wonder then that this politician's passport has been impounded.

The public, so used to hearing leaders of the previous regime threatening various forms of violence and humiliation against political rivals, will now wait to see if this seeming latest misbehaviour by a minor potentate of the last regime will be firmly dealt with by the authorities or, whether this behaviour too becomes yet another symptom of the disease of impunity that once swept this 'paradise isle'.

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