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The curse of the 18th amendment and why it has got to go

| by Pearl Thevanayagam

(October 12, 2014, Bradford UK, Sri Lanka Guardian) President Mahinda Rajapaksa claims he is the common presidential candidate and the people are behind him. Do not his advisors read world news? Uhuru Kenyatta was only responsible for the ber massacre of a thousand Kenyans but he now stands trial at the ICC for war crimes.

Kenyatta is the son of Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya's founding father and first president (1964–1978). His family hails from the Kikuyu, a Bantu ethnic group. He has been accused of organising a Kikuyu politico-religious group, the Mungiki, in the post-election violence. Overall, the post-election violence of 2007 is said to have claimed about 1300 lives.

Compare him to that of our President whose security forces annihilated some 40,000 or more ethnic civilians who had nothing to do with the LTTE and who were displaced umpteenth time leaving behind their lands and relatives wading through Kilali lagoon in their thousands walking all the way out of Jaffna peninsula through Kandy Road and finding their way into Wanni only to come face to face with the government security forces who made three pronged attacks; by air, ground and sea in the hope of bagging LTTE cadres.

Bosnian Serb army chief Ratko Mladic is now before Hague for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed between 1992 and 1995 as a result of UNHRC’s tireless pursuit to bring those engaged in the heinous crimes which targeted Muslim minorities in the predominantly Orthodox Christian enclave.

Deposed Yugoslavian former president Slobodan Milosevic died in Hague prison while awaiting trial by the ICC. Nine other world leaders are currently serving porridge although in VIP set-up with TV, internet facilities and special needs of their respective dietary requirements. Hague is far kinder to its war criminals whose own treatment of their freedom fighters be they government soldiers or LTTE rebels leaves much to be desired. The latter two fought a war for the ideals they believed in not envisaging successive governments were playing a cat and mouse game pitting one against the other.

Meanwhile back home in Sri Lanka surrendering civilians were shot point-blank and those captured were incarcerated in army detention camps during the final throes of the war against the LTTE in 2009. Women were systematically raped by government security forces and according to those who managed to escape to foreign shores stand testimony to the fact they were preyed upon by depraved soldiers who were inculcated into the belief that ethnic Tamils should be relegated to the dustbins of history ……..

Sri Lanka’s democracy is under threat more than ever before. The 18th amendment endows the President with unlimited powers including his seeking umpteenth time to extend the executive presidency. It is up to the members of parliament to vote against the 18th amendment to ensure democracy is preserved. Let’s face it. We are under the jackboot of an oligarchy, a family dominated fiefdom which is holding to ransom the country against the will of its people.

Political power is divided among the legislative, executive, and judicial branches. The most powerful of these is the executive branch. The President is the Head of the State, Government, and the Armed Forces. He is elected by a direct vote of the people for 6 year terms, and under the 18th amendment, the number of terms is unlimited.

His powers of appointment are very broad under the newest amendment, as well. Not only can he appoint the Prime Minister, Cabinet, and Justices of the Supreme Court, but he may appoint other key officers as well. If he fails to appoint the official, he can simply assume their powers until an appropriate candidate is found.

For example, President Rajapaksa has held the posts of finance and defence ministers in past, in addition to his constitutional powers. His ability to appoint government posts allowed him to gain the support he needed from Parliament to pass the amendment in the first place. While the President can be impeached by a combined effort of Parliament and the Judicial Branch, no other may challenge his decisions in either a public or private capacity.

The Prime Minister and the Cabinet advise the President in his capacity as the Head of Government and are charged with the direction and control of the Government. While they are ultimately responsible to Parliament, they are appointed by the President.

The Legislature of Sri Lanka is unicameral, with a Parliament of 226 members elected to 6 year terms by a direct vote. The members of Parliament then elect a Speaker, Deputy Speaker, and a Chair of Committees. The President can dissolve Parliament at any time, which significantly weakens their authority vis-a-vis the Executive branch. The main purpose of the Parliament is to pass bills and resolutions. This legislation becomes law upon a majority vote and the endorsement of the Speaker. If the Cabinet requires it, however, the bill may require a referendum, which the President must endorse. No court can question a law adopted in this way.

The judicial branch of Sri Lanka is comprised of a Supreme Court, a Court of Appeals, a High Court, and other courts created by law. It is the task of these courts to protect and enforce individual rights of the people. The President appoints not only the Chief Justice and members of the Supreme Court, but also the President and Justices of the High Court.
They may hold office only for 65 years, and while their appointment was subject to approval of the Constitutional Council under the 17th amendment, this requirement has been abolished by the 18th amendment. The Supreme Court holds the sole power of constitutional review, and its jurisdiction also extends to matters concerning fundamental rights, final appeals, and election issues. It also has the power to review the actions of Parliamentary members and may advise Parliament in the legislative process.

Defence secretary Gotabhaya, brother of the President, has taken over urban development and is evacuating Colombo’s citizens of their legitimate lands to make way for showcase development all the while depriving them of their legal rights to live in their homes the lived in for decades.

Rajapaksas have extended their tentacles into every ministry and department possible over and above C es the President has his kith and kin leading these ventures.

As the President begins his travel to the North to open the Northern railway and recommence Yaldevi on October 13 the big question is, why now and in such a mighty hurry. NPC chief minister C.V. Wigneswaran has a point when he asserts that his hands are tied and that powers devolving lands and high security zones among other pressing issues which undermine NPC are factors for not meeting the President on Monday when he opens Yaldevi train since the latter had failed to provide NPC with the necessary authority to disburse funds donated by the international community to develop North and East.

His contention is that Governor Chandrasiri and Minister Douglas Devananda …………………
Hopefully CVW would pressurise the President into amending the 18th amendment rather than crying out for 13 +. Once the term of presidency is limited to two then there is every opportunity for 13+ to be implemented since presidency would have changed hands be it Chandrika Kumaratunga, Sarath Fonseka or a common candidate from UNP.

In any event, it would be in the best interest of the country to do away with the Rajapaksa regime which has proved beyond reasonable doubt that it depleted it of resources and enriched the family clan and its supporters who have bled the masses and brought burden on them economically and shamed the country in the international fora by way of UNHRC probe for its war crimes.

(The writer has been a journalist for 25 years and worked in national newspapers as sub-editor, news reporter and news editor. She was Colombo Correspondent for Times of India and has contributed to Wall Street Journal where she was on work experience from The Graduate School of Journalism, UC Berkeley, California. Currently residing in UK she is also co-founder of EJN (Exiled Journalists Network) UK in 2005 the membership of which is 200 from 40 countries. She can be reached at pearltheva@hotmail.com)

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