By Dayan Jayatilleka –
Though Trotsky was by far the better writer, next to Marx and Engels, Lenin had the most unforgettable political terminology. One of his terms was ‘Parliamentary cretinism’. It popped into my mind recently.
The main Opposition has taken a sharp turn in the wrong direction recently, opting for the slogan of the abolition of the executive presidency instead of reforming it so as to ensure a separation of powers and checks-and-balances, which was its earlier position.
Today there is Opposition unity among the main tendencies of the political Opposition: the SJB, TNA, JVP and FSP. But this opposition unity is on, and for the wrong thing: the abolition of the executive presidency and the restoration of power to Parliament—with the exception that the FSP places more emphasis on organs of People’s Power. Since those organs are yet to be created, any abolition of the executive presidency will mean a power shift to parliament.
While the People call for the ouster of all 225+1, the political opposition wants power to be shifted to the very place that the 225 are and the next 225 will be! Go figure.
Furthermore, the executive presidency is elected by a majority of the people of the entire island taken as a whole. The autocratic over-centralization of power in the executive presidency is a distortion which can be corrected by the abolition of the 20th amendment and introducing the separation of powers and checks-and-balances as in the USA and France. When there is a cancerous growth in the throat or even in the brain, the solution is not to decapitate the patient, but to use surgery—especially laser surgery—to remove the tumor.
What I find especially shocking is that all the fundamental blunders of policy that robbed Ceylon/Sri Lanka of the bright future it had, took place under a parliamentary system of governance, broadly regarded as the Westminster model. And yet, a liberal Opposition now embraces that model in place of an executive presidency with checks-and-balances such as those in the USA and France.
The hill-country people of recent Indian origin, who had voted in elections since 1931 were disenfranchised in Independent Ceylon under the Westminster model.
The first mass uprising and the lethal police shootings (leaving 8 dead) in 1953 took place under the parliamentary system.
The Sinhala Only policy of 1956, which Lee Kuan Yew always identified as the island’s original sin, was promulgated under a parliamentary system.
The Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact of 1957 was abrogated under a parliamentary system, though SWRD may not have done so had he been the elected President instead.
The proficiency exams in the public sector, the change in the medium of instruction in schools, and the schools take-over all took place under the parliamentary system.
The universal system of weekend holidays on Saturdays and Sundays was substituted by pre-Poya and Poya, under the parliamentary system.
The policy of district-wise and media-wise standardization of entrance to the university took place under the parliamentary system.
The state takeover of Lake House took place under the parliamentary system.
The rise of the JVP, the first insurrection of April 1971 and its bloody suppression took place under the parliamentary system.
The abolition of the independent Public Service Commission and the subordination of state administration to politicians, took place under the parliamentary system.
The constitutional status of Sinhala only and the formal accordance of primacy of place to the biggest one of the island’s many religions took place under the parliamentary system.
The birth of the Tamil New Tigers (TNT) in 1972 and of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 1976, as well as the first acts of lethal violence, took place under the parliamentary system.
The adoption of the separatist Vadukkodai resolution by the democratic Tamil mainstream took place in 1976 under the parliamentary system.
This system, under which the worst policies were adopted, policies which derailed and wrecked this country’s prospects, is the very one the liberal-democratic Opposition is committed to restoring.
By contrast, the re-enfranchisement of the hill-country people of recent Indian origin took place under the presidential system.
The 13th amendment making for provincial devolution was adopted under a presidential system.
The electoral system of proportional representation was adopted under the presidential system.
The 200 garment factories program and Janasaviya were enacted under the presidential system.
This is the system the liberal-democratic Opposition is now committed to scrapping.
Surely a nationally and directly elected presidency is closer in spirit to a republican democracy and a far better channel of popular sovereignty, than a parliamentary system?
Surely a presidential system with the separation of powers, making for checks-and-balances is the Middle Path between the present-day hyper-centralized autocratic presidency on the one hand, and a purely parliamentary system which privileges parochial interests and makes for majoritarianism, on the other?