LSSP statement on the 18th Amendment to the Constitution
by Tissa Vitarana
(September 12, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) It is with mixed feelings that I speak here in Parliament on behalf of the LSSP. In the course of the discussions among Government political leaders on Constitutional changes, we were heartened by the readiness that was shown to end the Executive Presidency and restore executive powers to Parliament. It is now evident that the Executive Presidency will continue, and we are meeting here to consider the 18th Amendment to the existing Constitution. What then is the stand of the LSSP?
As is well known the LSSP strongly opposed the 1978 Constitution, and I was there when Dr. N M Perera, Dr. Colvin R de Silva, Pieter Kueneman and other Left leaders and activists sat down on the road opposite the LSSP office in protest. Dr. N M Perera wrote a booklet in 1978 a "Critical Analysis of The New Constitution of the Sri Lanka Government", where he predicted the possible outcomes when the Constitution came into effect, many of which have unfortunately come to pass. The alienation of the voters from the elected representatives, the breakdown of good governance, the dangers of authoritarianism and even dictatorship, the suppression of human and democratic rights, specially of the minorities, and the political instability that could occur, specially when the power in Parliament was held by a party different from that of the President were pointed out by him. The purpose behind the J R Jayewardene Constitution was clearly to distance the voters from those who governed by making the large district the electorate and handing, over the executive powers of Parliament to one individual, the President. The intention was to facilitate the implementation of the Neo-liberal globalization agenda of the USA and its imperialist allies, to restore direct neo-colonial exploitation of Sri Lanka.
Dr. N M Perera cited the disastrous consequences in many Third World countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia (like Indonesia and Philippines) that have copied the USA and France (where the system had evolved gradually over time as a stable integrated organic whole with the necessary checks and balances), and transplanted their alien Executive Presidential systems of government. This includes the repeated occurrence of both civil and military dictatorships under which the people of those Third World countries have suffered. This would undoubtedly have been the fate of Sri Lanka had Mahinda Rajapaksa lost the Presidential Election this year.
Sri Lanka too has already suffered under this system. It was during the Presidency of J R Jayewardene that Buddhist priests, intellectuals like Sarathchandra, judges trade union leaders; media personnel and innocent Tamil citizens were directly attacked and even killed. Thousands of workers who struck work for a small salary increase were dismissed in July 1980. The series of Pogroms on innocent Tamils culminating with the attacks of Black July 1983, can never be forgotten nor forgiven. Tamil militant violence escalated thereafter, and this led to the LTTE-led war and counter-insurgency with its death, destruction, violation of human and democratic rights etc. which lasted 26 years, as a direct outcome. The violence of 1988-89 during the Premadasa presidency, though provoked by the JVP, led to the deaths of political and trade union leaders as well as thousands of innocent youths. Fortunately such dire consequences have been less evident during SLFP Presidencies.
The LSSP therefore stands for a New Constitution that completely replaces the 1978 Constitution. Basically one that restores executive power to Parliament. One in which the people are empowered through extensive devolution of power down to village level. One in which the minorities have a fair share of power both at the Centre and the periphery. One in which the independence of the Judiciary etc. is ensured. It is our view that this could be achieved by continuing the APRC process, which President Mahinda Rajapaksa initiated, to its logical conclusion with the participation of the TNA (free of LTTE pressure) and other parties. The position of the LSSP has been made clear both within the Government and at meetings held throughout the country, together with the CPSL and the DPF and other parties in our Socialist Alliance.
The 18th Amendment
It is our intention to remain within the SLFP-led Government and vote for this 18th Amendment. But we shall continue to uphold our stated position and campaign for it. There is no doubting the fact that the Executive Presidency greatly helped to win the war against the LTTE, and it would appear that the President is convinced that it is essential to win the "economic war" as well. Although we are not in agreement (Mahathir Mohamed achieved the Malaysian economic miracle as Prime Minister for 22 years), we fully support the decision of the President to give priority to win the economic war to eliminate poverty. It is our contention that we need to catch and apply the new waves of advanced technology that are sweeping across the world to achieve this objective. There is no doubt that the 18th Amendment to the Constitution would facilitate the mobilization of the Public Service and the other institutions for economic development. But the extra powers given to the President should be used justly and in the real interest of the country and the economy. There should not be any abuse of these powers. It is such responsible action that would help to instill confidence in the President in the event of his seeking a further term.
The removal of the limitation on the number of Presidential terms to two, that exists in the 1978 Constitution, so long as all the Presidential elections are held in a fair manner, is a democratic process. That the conduct of the last Presidential election was done in a fair manner was confirmed by international observers. It is our expectation that it would be the same in the future. The LSSP, like all socialist and progressive forces, supported the similar right that was won by Hugo Chavez, the present President of Venezuela. He is not only a socialist but also a consistent fighter for the rights of Third World countries against Neo-liberalism. The President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, has always been to the left of centre and sympathetic to the socialist parties. He has taken a consistent anti-neo-liberal position, both in Sri Lanka and abroad, developing strong ties with the non-aligned countries. Therefore we shall be glad to support him for a further term and help him to consolidate national unity by ensuring minority rights, fully restore human and democratic rights, and put our country on the road to real economic take-off.
LSSP statement on the 18th Amendment to the Constitution