Executive Presidents manipulate democracy!

“JR Jayawardena was a very power hungry politician. He rose to power at an age other politicians normally retire after a very long political career. Instead JRJ assumed executive powers to himself without an election! Thereafter he manipulated and abused democracy of this country as none before or after.”
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By Thomas Johnpulle

(October 22, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) It is true people are not bothered about the executive presidency for now. Even politicians complain about it only when they are in political doldrums unable to grab power. However, there is a serious allegation against all executive presidents of this country. They have abused democracy. A king rules with people’s consent though there was no process of manifesting it. The moment the king becomes unpopular he is either ousted or neglected by the people. In this country the king had to be a popular character because the powerful Sangha ensured that the king always toed the line. The legitimacy of his command lied fairly and squarely in adherence to Buddhist concepts and practices. Even Tamil kings who ruled parts of Sri Lanka like the Kandyan kingdom worked wholeheartedly to protect and promote Buddhism and wished to be seen as true Buddhists. Even in the absence of democracy, it ensured a certain form of conduct.

Although the election process has awarded the masses a say, it has taken away the finer requirements of a ruler. What matters to today’s rulers is to pass through that one day called the Election Day. If passed, they are set for life, if not they wait for the next opportunity.

However, they don’t stop at that.. They have now taken over election days as well! Key election dates are decided by the executive president himself. This helps him/her manipulate the public mandate the way he/she wants. It means disaster for the opposition as it is forced to go into an election when least favourable to it.

JR Jayawardena was a very power hungry politician. He rose to power at an age other politicians normally retire after a very long political career. Instead JRJ assumed executive powers to himself without an election! Thereafter he manipulated and abused democracy of this country as none before or after.

A general election was due by 1983.. JRJ scraped it and replaced it with a referendum in 1982. Had he waited till 1983, the outcome would have been completely different. There is no country in the world that has held a referendum in lieu of a general election. Immediately thereafter he held the presidential election while maintaining a ban on his rival - Mrs Bandaranaike. His extreme greed for power was exploited by outsiders as well. When the 13th Amendment to the Constitution was forced upon JRJ by India through gunboat diplomacy, all but one MP rejected it. However, JRJ threatened them with the dissolution of the parliament. By 1987 the parliament of the day was elected according to the old election system that gave an enormous number of seats to the UNP. Even if the UNP managed to get the same support in 1987, it would have only obtained a lesser number of seats. In other words, many would have lost their lucrative MP posts. Faced with this fear of losing personal benefits, all UNP MPs voted for the 13th Amendment.

After holding a referendum in lieu of the due general election in 1982, the next general election was due in 1988 (6 years later). However, no general election was held. Instead a presidential election was held. In 1982 the general election preceded the presidential election but in 1988/89, the presidential election preceded the general election. Had the two elections followed proper order, there would have been a government change in 1988! It was craftily avoided by JRJ and R Premadasa.

Premadasa made a complete mockery of the 1991 LG election. The British High Commissioner criticised the gross violation of election laws and was in turn branded persona non grata. Unpopularity of the Premadasa administration reached its zenith when PC elections were held. Despite the gigantic publicity and sympathy over Premadasa’s death people of 3 provinces out of 7 provinces gave the opposition a clear mandate to come out of the woods. After a series of political disasters and successes like the return of Dissanayake, the Wijetunga government also hit a slippery slope.

Going by the dates, the next Presidential election was due in 1994 while a general election was due later. However, once again election manipulation happened. Due to the unpopularity of the then government, they calculated that it would be a disaster if the presidential election was held first because the general election that would follow would give the winner a landslide. Therefore, the general election was called in advance. The opposition managed to win it with extreme difficulty. At the presidential election that followed within 3 months, fears of the former president was confirmed when the challenger won with a staggering majority but to no avail because only 50.01% is needed to win a presidential election. Winning more votes does not result in winning more seats at a presidential election!

Thereafter the next general election was due in 2000 ahead of the next presidential election. However, the exact opposite happened again. The government realising its dwindling popularity called for an early poll. In reverse order! A presidential election was held in 1999 and the general election was pushed to 2000. Before the general election, the president threatened to dissolve the parliament unless her political package got 2/3rd majority. It didn’t and time was up for the parliament. A weak parliament was formed which collapsed a year later. To the credit of the opposition, for the first time under the new constitution a government was brought down within just 1 year into its term. This power grab proved fatal for the winners of the 2001 election. Their act was reversed on them just 2 and a half years into the term of their parliament. Contrary to the due presidential election in 2005, a general election was declared in 2004 by the president wherein the president’s party won the election. It was timed to the detriment of the other party. Had the government of 2000 been allowed to complete its full term, UNP would have easily won the 2005 presidential election and the general election too.

Chandrika refused to acknowledge the 2005 presidential election and tried to hold on to power. A Supreme Court judgement dashed her hopes and in 2005 a presidential election was held.

The next election should be a general election. However, plans are already afoot to hold a presidential election early 2010 which is not due until 2011. Immediately thereafter the general election would be held. This will ensure the ruling party the maximum number of seats at the general election.

These examples clearly indicate the extent to which all executive presidents have abused the democratic will of the people. If the executive presidency is going to stay, the executive president should not be allowed to dictate election dates for the presidential and general elections. These elections should follow the proper cycle of six years unless an intervening event occurs in which case there would be an election for sure. It will ensure that rulers don’t work with the election in mind maintaining policy consistency right throughout their rule. It will elect more representative, responsible governments that are better suited to serve the people.

Along with this change Sri Lanka must go back to its former election system. Manipulating the election system as happened in 1978 is the next level of abuse of democracy! The present PR system has created a mismatch between the elected representative and the electorate. As a result no one cares about his electorate until an election draws near! Even at an election, if a few thousand votes can be grabbed from here and there, a politician may enter parliament without winning his electorate. Old system also ensures proper representation of people’s political aspirations than diluting it. For instance, a different political party, than the ones that usually win may win 3 to 4 electorates in the Colombo district if election is held following the first-pass-the-post system.

There is an even higher level of abuse of democracy which is called the 17th Amendment. It plans to place ‘independent’ persons even above the democratic mandate of the people! All Sri Lankans know that there aren’t any ‘independent’ persons in Sri Lanka. What’s worse, these ‘independent’ persons are to be appointed by politicians. Ridiculous! It is another attempt to use money power and position power to manipulate the peoples’ mandate. Proper implementation of the election law, keeping people awake and keeping them aware of their rights, punishing all wrongdoers, changing the election system and disallowing the executive from interfering with the law will ensure proper elections. Nothing more is required.
-Sri Lanka Guardian

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