The civil society movement leading the charge on axing the presidency yesterday unveiled a six month post-electoral roadmap for constitutional change by a common candidate, creating momentum for broad opposition consensus on the issue.
Marking a major milestone in the movement to field a single-issue, common opposition candidate at presidential polls likely early next year, the Movement for Social Justice led by Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha Thero proposed a return to the Parliamentary system of government within six months of the election.
The event held at New Town Hall in Colombo yesterday drew a star-studded Opposition cast, including former President Chandrika Kumaratunga, Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, TNA Leader R. Sampanthan, former Army Chief Sarath Fonseka and JVP MP Sunil Handunetti standing in for Party Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake.
Making a rare public political appearance was ousted Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake. The Government coalition was also represented by the Jathika Hela Urumaya, whose MP Athuraliye Rathana Thero and Western Provincial Councillor Udaya Gammanpila were in attendance at yesterday’s gathering. UNP Leadership Council Chairman Karu Jayasuriya, Bar Association President Upul Jayasuriya, TNA MP M.A. Sumanthiran and UNP MPs Ravi Karunanayake and Harsha De Silva also attended the event.
“This country needs good governance. It needs a restoration of the rule of law. A just society. This vision has no political party. No race. No religion,” Sobitha Thero said, making his opening remarks. The presidential system was one the entire country had rejected en masse, from political parties including the UNP who drafted it to the nation’s most senior religious leaders. “The LSSP doesn’t want it. The Communist Party doesn’t want it. The UNP doesn’t want it. The JVP doesn’t want it. Even the Government ally the JHU doesn’t want it. So why is the Government insisting on propping up this system?” the monk charged.
Announcing the roadmap for Constitutional change on behalf of the Movement for Social Justice, Jayampathi Wickremaratne PC pledged to focus on the goals of candidacy rather than personalities in fielding an Opposition presidential contender. The candidate would have no discretion in determining the timeline of the abolition of the presidency once elected, Wickremaratne explained, saying specific dates for the step-by-step process would drafted into the election manifesto. “The legal draft of the Constitutional amendment will be presented along with a manifesto. Within six months of assuming office, the presidency will lapse automatically, allowing Parliament to appoint a nominal president,” Wickremaratne said. The manifesto will also include a specific date – exactly one month after the date elections are held – for the Constitutional amendment to be presented to Parliament, the senior lawyer said.
The first proposed Constitutional changes will include the Abolition of the Executive Presidency, the establishment of a Parliamentary system of government and the reinstatement of a strengthened 17th Amendment to make key institutions free of political interference, Wickremaratne explained. “Ideally we should have comprehensive Constitutional reform, but constitutions are not made in empty spaces – they are made on tough political ground. With these first steps we hope to open the door for better dialogue on this issue,” he said.Wickremaratne lamented that in the current political space, there was no space even for that debate to take place. The common platform could strive to achieve broader consensus, the President’s Counsel said, subject to the main issue of abolishing the presidency.
Addressing the gathering, Ravaya Editor Victor Ivan said that while there was no doubt Colombo was a more beautiful city and the roads were much better, people and institutions were in a state of decay. “What of the people? What of the institutions? They are rotting. They are spiritually dead,” the senior journalist charged. Ivan warned that if the Opposition movement was to go forward, all those involved had to be genuine in their endeavours. “If we are going to dream together about a new constitution, a new system, then there can be no hidden political agendas,” he said. The Ravaya Editor explained that when President Mahinda Rajapaksa defeated Prabhakaran in 2009, all other politicians became midgets by comparison. “But if all of those midgets stand upon each other’s shoulders, perhaps they can rise tall enough to offer resistance,” he quipped.
Academics, journalists, artistes, student leaders, lawyers and civil society representatives participated in yesterday’s event. (Daily FT)