30 March 2015

So who wants a puppet as President?

The 19th Amendment, which seeks to ‘reform’ the executive presidency, has now been tabled in Parliament.  It has the approval of the entire cabinet sans the sole representative of the Jathika Hela Urumaya.  One would assume that it has the blessings of President Sirisena. 

The text, as it stands, contains contradictions with regard to who the real ‘Head of State’ would be (once enacted) but is full of irregularities in terms of that which should and should not be included in a document of this importance.  Constitutions, after all, are not about ‘tiding over current difficulties’ but are (hopefully) lasting.  A robust constitution would not require frequent amendment, subject to the caveat that since nothing is perfect there are mechanisms scripted in to facilitate amendment if and when flaw is recognized.  The 1978 Constitution was poor on both counts.  The draft 19th Amendment follows a pattern of partisan moves which amount to tinkering of the lowest order. 

It is important to observe that of the 18 amendments to the constitution, 17 of them (barring the 17th) were in essence documents deliberately designed to serve the interests of the particular government in power.  The 19th is not an exception.  It is designed to serve the interests of a man and a party, namely Ranil Wickremesinghe and the United National Party.  Both entities, man and organization, were trumped repeatedly at elections.  Today, the UNP rules courtesy the generosity of the man they helped make President.  While President Sirisena may not have won without the UNP’s support, it is also true that a UNP didn’t have the confidence to field its own candidate. 

Whether or not the architects and the would-be beneficiaries will have the numbers to see the 19th through is yet to be seen.  At this point, all that matters (in the name of democracy, good governance, ethics and all those lovely things that decorated the Sirisena campaign) is to assess whether or not the 19th is a true reflection of the President’s manifesto.

President Maithripala Sirisena’s election manifesto, among other things, refers to changes he pledged to make to the constitution, in particular the executive arm of the state.  ‘The new Constitutional structure would be essentially an Executive allied with the Parliament through the Cabinet instead of the present autocratic Executive Presidential System,’ he promised.

The key word here is ‘allied’.  Now had ‘allied with’ been replaced by ‘subservient to’ then in terms of being true to election promise this document and its architects would acquire the credibility currently absent. 

As it stands, a future president would be a figurehead or worse a puppet of a Prime Minister who holds executive powers.  The 19th is therefore a clear violation of mandate or (if you want to be generous) a neat sleight of hand that’s a hoo-hoo with tongue out at the voter. 

In the rush to keep good the manifesto-pledge of not touching ‘any Constitutional Article that could be changed only with the approval at a Referendum’ the authors of the 19th have forgotten one important fact of this business of turning an elected president into a puppet whose moves are dictated by the fingertips of the Prime Minister.  No one in his or her right mind would want to spend money and expend energy to become a puppet. 

No one would want to become a puppet.  Furthermore it would amount to a monumental insult to the voter to ask him or her to vote for a puppet.  It is as simple as that.