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Avoiding a premature general election

by Kamal Nissanka

The peace lobbies in this country as well as the Tamil diaspora clearly know that the LTTE needed a ceasefire to respond to the new international climate created by the 9/11 carnage. But it is very clear that they have not given up the extra constitutional path they seek to achieve their political aim. As evident in the ISGA document, the LTTE intends to have an agreement with the so-called Government of Sri Lanka excluding the President of the Republic.

Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe (present GOSL according to LTTE, ISGA document) cannot engage in such an agreement, which is aimed at redefining the state structure of the island, which would also be tantamount to an extra constitutional or anti constitutional manoeuvre. Should the responsible citizens of this country allow Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe to swallow the tiger bait?

Having done all the protests during the last two months now it seems that Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe is fed up and as the Panduwasnuwara speech (07th January, 2004) reveals he wants to quit and retreat from the ceasefire agreement! many have criticized the speech and the intention delivered by him.

Though the Prime Minister has not yet communicated his position to the Norwegians, quitting the ceasefire (or MOU) is the best decision Mr. Wickremesinghe had taken during his two-year period in office. His whole defense policy was not only a failure but also a mess. If his weak defense policy had continued, it would have allowed the LTTE to perform an extra constitutional summersault by dragging him towards an agreement. (Remember! Even in the absence of an electively represented government all the disavas of the Kandyan kingdom signed the Kandyan Convention of 1815 to express collective responsibility and now we have a method to introduce constitutional change, and so why swallow the tiger bait?)

It is a good omen that the Prime Minister has finally realized what powers he has and what powers the President has under the existing (draconian or bahubootha) constitution. Once late Mr. Ranasinha Premadasa stated that the Prime Minister post under this constitution was nothing more than peons job. (Not that he devalued the premiership but would have compared and contrasted the premiership under the present constitution and with the Westminster models or might have compared the powers of the presidency and the premiership under the present constitution itself).

The power to declare peace and war under this constitution is rested on the President who is also the commander in chief of the armed forces. While praising the earlier unilateral ceasefire declarations by the LTTE, it is stated that the MoU signed by Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe is ultra vires because power to declare peace is vested only on the President (yet it is also argued that if the President had delegated her power to the Prime Minister to declare peace, the MoU is not ultra vires from Prime Minister's side).

The Panduwasnuwara speech of the Prime Minister clearly indicates that he has engaged in all these peace adventures without real power. As per the Prime Minister's speech, the President need not renegotiate the MoU with the Tiger leader and Norwegians and even to do this she has to employ ministers from the UNP Cabinet.

If circumstances arise she can declare a unilateral ceasefire or she may endorse the MoU in public.

Avoiding a general election is a must at this moment. Even if there would be a general election the results will not bring a major change in the parliamentary composition. In the national interest, a general election should be the last resort.

One way to overcome the deadlock is that the Prime Minister can step down voluntarily from the premiership and let one of his colleagues who could work with the President assume duties of the Prime Minister to work till the end of the tenure of the President. Another alternative is the resignation of the President which would be a very remote possibility and therefore unrealistic. However a President under this constitution has a number of alternatives to face a situation such as this.

(The writer is the Secretary General of the Liberal Party of Sri Lanka).

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