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Historically – a third term means lifetime!

| by S. V. Kirubaharan

“The elections were pointless, as the outcome would be
determined by Mugabe himself”.
--The opposition leader of Zimbabwe, Morgan Tsvangirai

( November 19, 2014, Paris, Sri Lanka Guardian) Well known types of ruling systems fall into categories: - democracy, dictatorship, republic, monarchy / kingdom, communist and socialist.

In brief, let’s look at the main features of those ruling systems:

If it is a democratic state, there will be equality before the law, due process of law, constitutional limits on government, equal rights, social economic and political pluralism, sovereignty of the people, freedom of speech, freedom of press, etc. Failed states which conduct manipulated elections, also consider themselves democrats. They talk about elections but not about how they are done.

In a state where dictatorship is practiced, political power is held in the hands of a single individual. This is a carbon copy of monocratic and autocratic rule.

In a republic, political power should be decided by the people. But now-a-days it is questionable whether people have this right!

In a monarchy/kingdom, political power is in the hands of a single, often self appointed, ruler. The constitutional/ceremonial monarchies are not the same as the absolute monarchies in the Middle East and elsewhere.

In a communist state, there is no question of multi-party rule. The one-party-rule ideology is based on Maoism, Marxism, and Leninism according to political theories on the potential of the working class.

In the recent past, socialist states have re-emerged along anti-imperialist lines, rejecting neo-liberalism. Venezuela and Bolivia are good examples.

These ruling systems can be researched and debated for days. Their definitions and their features are complicated and can differ in practice.

The interesting point is that many states like to have the word - ’republic’, ‘democratic’ or ‘socialist’ written into their name. The country’s governance may bear absolutely no resemblance to the political philosophy associated with the name.

J. R. Jayewardene

In 1978 Sri Lanka was named the “Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka”. The late President J. R. Jayewardene introduced the Executive Presidency to Sri Lanka. It was he who gave the country these names. When introducing the Executive Presidency, he said that the Executive President could do anything, except turn “a man into a woman”. Therefore, he must have realized that the Executive Presidency, with so much power in the hands of a single individual would have values based neither on socialism, democracy nor a republic. This may be the reason why he wanted Sri Lanka, at least in name, to remain a ‘Democratic Socialist Republic’!

In Tamil there is a proverb that says: “Termites dig the hole and the snake lives”. This is what is happening today as a consequence of the Executive Presidency in Sri Lanka.

The 1978 constitution stated firmly that no President could stand for a 3rd term. But this was amended on 9th September 2010, using the two-third majority that Mahinda Rajapaksa has in parliament, now permits him to seek re-election any number of times in future.

Ethnic conflict

More than 60 years of bloody ethnic conflict continue without any viable solution. In the past, each Sri Lankan government gave a pretext to the international community, saying that they were unable to settle the ethnic conflict because they didn’t have a two-third majority in parliament.

But Rajapaksa who has a two-third majority in parliament is using it, to strengthen and prolong his power! In the past, he told the international community that as soon as the war came to an end, he would give the political solution to the people in the North and East. Today, he says, “there is no minority as such and there is no ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka”!

The world has seen many dictators and monarchies that captured power in military coups and assassinations of heads of states, staying in power until they died or were chased away by the people.

The Shah of Iran was an example of a monarchy chased away by the people. Suharto of Indonesia, Sadam-Hussain of Iraq, Col Gaddafi of Libya, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia are some examples of autocratic states.

Then we come to ‘failed states’ and their power-hungry leaders. These came to power by ballot and then rule the country through manipulation, intimidation and bullet. Good examples are Francoise Duvalier (Papa Doc) of Haiti, Ferdinand Marcos of Philippines, Alberto Fujimori of Peru, Alexander Lukashenka of Belarus, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. There are a few others.

Piggish for power

We can see two very good examples towards which Mahinda Rajapaksa is heading today. They are Ferdinand Marcos of Philippines and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe.

Ferdinand Marcos of Philippines was an elected President in 1965 for the first term. In 1969 he was re-elected for the second term. Due to leftist unrest in 1970, he declared Martial Law in 1972, and amended the constitution allowing him to contest in the presidential election for more than the two term limit. Elections for the third term were held soon after Martial Law was lifted in January 1981. In other words, twelve years after the previous presidential election.

In February 1986, Marcos called for a snap Presidential election. In this election, even though Marcos was declared winner, widespread violence and tampering of election results were reported. The National Citizens' Movement for Free Elections – NAMFREL, an election watchdog in the Philippines declared, Corazon Aquino as the winner. Corazon Aquino is the widow of Senator Benigno Aquino Jr., the leader of the opposition who was assassinated by Marcos government at Manila Airport in August 1983. Soon after the Presidential election in 1986, People Power Revolution forced Marcos to flee Philippines.

When will a courageous Sri Lankan Corazon Aquino appear, to re-instate democracy in Sri Lanka?

In April 1979, black people in former Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) voted for the first time in a democratic election. The majority of the people supported Abel Muzorewa, the bishop in the United Methodist Church. He was the first black prime minister of Zimbabwe.

Within a year, in 1980, another election was held in Zimbabwe. In this election Robert Mugabe won the majority of the vote through intimidation and threat. He openly said that if he lost the election there would be a civil war. In 1980, Mugabe became the Prime Minister for the first time. Since then until today, he and his political party continued to win every election through his usual tactics of manipulation, intimidation and vote-rigging.

Robert Mugabe was the Prime Minister of Zimbabwe from 1980 to 1987 and in December 1987, he was declared Executive President of Zimbabwe by parliament.

Since 1980, six parliamentary elections (1980, 1985, 1995, 2000, 2005, 2008) and since 1990 four presidential elections (1990, 1996, 2002, 2013) have been held in Zimbabwe. In all parliamentary elections Robert Mugabe’s “Zimbabwe African National – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF)” won with a huge majority. Robert Mugabe won in all presidential elections, except a constitutional referendum which took place in February 2000. The result of the referendum was a great victory for the opposition group, Movement for Democratic Change – MDC, lead by Morgan Tsvangirai.

Will this be the fate of Sri Lanka in the near future?

Failed states

Francoise Duvalier (Papa Doc) of Haiti was elected as the President in 1957, remaining in power until he died in 1971. He was succeeded by his 19 year old son, Jean-Claude Duvalier, who was overthrown by an uprising in 1986.

Alberto Fujimori of Peru won the presidential election for the first term in 1990, and the second term in 1993. Due to the constitutional limits for presidency of two terms, in 1998 a referendum was conducted by Fujimori to repeal this law, but it failed. Anyhow he stood for the third term and claimed victory. Election irregularities were reported.

In November 2000 when Fujimori went to attend a Conference in Brunei, a vote of no-confidence was passed in parliament and Fujimori lost his presidency. From Brunei he went to Japan and remained in self-imposed exile.

In the first democratic presidential election in Belarus in July 1994 Alexander Lukashenka won. In another presidential election held in September 2001, Alexander Lukasheno won his second term. For the third term, Lukashenka won ‘with a landslide victory’, amid vote-rigging and fear of violence, in elections held in March 2006. He contested the fourth term in an election that took place in December 2010. He won with his usual manipulations and election irregularities.


History teaches us that no President who amended a constitution to contest for the third term has ever given up power until either he was dead or chased away by the people. There have been occasions such as when President Francoise Duvalier of Haiti transferred power to his son. This happens in failed states ‘in the name of democracy’.

In monocratic or autocratic state like North Korea, Nicaragua, Azerbaijan, Democratic Republic of the Congo - DRC, Syria, Qatar, Cuba and in a few other countries, the power has been transferred from father to son or to a family member.

However the world has taught us that whoever is piggish for power meets with a sad ending; forced to flee the country and their generation has to live with shame and humiliation.

Let us see what is going to happen to Rajapaksa’s rule in Sri Lanka. (end)

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