Ulterior motive of the 20th Amendment

By Udaya P. Gammanpila

We posed five questions to the campaigners for abolition of the Executive Presidency.  Nobody came forward to reply those.  

We, ourselves, replied to the question, “Why does anti-Executive Presidency campaign exist only in Sri Lanka?”  It was pointed out with evidence that there was a misjudgement in Sri Lanka by identifying weaknesses of 1978 Constitution as weaknesses of the Executive Presidency.  Although the Executive Presidency is the most popular and modern governing method in the world, the JVP is attempting to abolish it with an ulterior motive.  That is to continue this government until 2025 without holding any major elections.  Let us dig deep to understand this grand strategy.

First hundred days of any government is considered as its honeymoon period with the people.  This government’s decline commenced during the honeymoon.  Realizing the deteriorating popularity, the Government was in fear of facing people.  Hence, the Local Authority elections which were scheduled for March 2015 were postponed for an intolerable period and finally held in February 2018.

The excuse for the postponement was delimitation of wards as the election law had been amended to introduce the ward-based election method.  Although the chairman of the Delimitation Committee announced that the Government was deliberately postponing the finalizing of the delimitation report, it was not a compelling factor for the government to hold the election.

Ranil Maithiri MahindaNo-Confidence Motion

The Joint Opposition (JO) held protests, rallies and marches demanding the election.  In the end, the JO petitioned the Supreme Court as there was no legal basis for the postponement.  All these actions resulted in holding the election which was a disaster for the government as expected by its leaders.  When the former President’s party obtained 42% of the votes, the President’s and Prime Minister’s parties were able to obtain only 12% and 30%, respectively.  This is the only Local Authority election in the history in which government failed to secure victory.

Losing the election was not the only loss for the governing parties, and for the SLFP and UNP, too.  Their leaders were at loggerheads on the election platform to attract the pro-government vote.  The after effects of the battle prevailed in the post-election governance.  As a result, the President publicly urged the Prime Minister to step down.  The No-Confidence motion against the PM, rebelling of UNP backbenchers against the party leadership and sitting of 16 SLFP ministers in the Opposition were triggered by the election defeat.

In the light of above, the Government leaders are now suffering from election phobia.  They have already postponed Provincial Council Elections with the same excuse, namely delimitation of provincial electorates.  In order to generate this excuse, the Government amended the Provincial Council Election Act to introduce electorate-based elections.

According to this Amendment, the delimitation report should be approved by Parliament with a two-thirds majority.  If Parliament fails to approve the report, a committee chaired by the Prime Minister will be appointed to suitably amend the report to obtain the required majority. Since there is no deadline for this near impossible task, the elections can be postponed indefinitely.  This undemocratic Amendment was passed when the elections for three provincial councils were due, with the ulterior motive of postponing elections.  This amendment was fully supported by the JVP.  It is noteworthy that the JVP did not actively campaign for holding the Local Authority election as well.

When the Local Authority elections were postponed, we challenged it in the Supreme Court.  However, we cannot do the same for the Provincial Councils, because there is a legal basis for the postponement.  Hence, there is no pressure at all for the Government to hold Provincial Council elections.  
Presidential elections

In a similar manner, the Government can introduce a electorate-based method to Parliamentary elections and appoint a delimitation commission with a view to postpone the election indefinitely.  The Government can justify the decision since President Sirisena promised to introduce an electorate-based election method for Parliamentary elections. The necessity for holding all elections under one method is another justification that can be used by the Government.

Despite the above strategy, the Government must face an unavoidable election in October 2019.  That is the presidential election.  It cannot be postponed, making the delimitation of electorates as the excuse since the entire country is considered as one electorate in a presidential election.  There is no other logical justification for postponing the presidential election.  Hence, if the Government is in need of postponing all major elections until 2025, it will have no choice but to abolish the Executive Presidency.

The UNP is not the solitary beneficiary of the 20A.  The mover, the JVP will also be benefited.  The presidential election is the biggest political headache of the JVP.  The JVP candidates can secure victory at any election but the Presidential. Potential winners of the Presidential election are always from the two major parties.  Being the fourth political force in the country, the JVP candidate has never been considered as a potential winner.

Hence, no JVP candidate has secured more than 4% of votes at Presidential Elections.  That is why the JVP opted for supporting the candidates of major parties at the last three presidential elections instead of fielding party candidates.  For the JVP, abolition of the Executive Presidency means getting rid of its biggest headache for ever.

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