No alternative but to hear the people’s voice | Sunday Observer

No alternative but to hear the people’s voice

If the people’s voice is not heard, the country would be rife for revolution. It would be a real one, not of the ersatz variety that celebrates a pyrrhic victory of a hastily put together coalition, launched merely to win an election in 2015.

Institutions cannot stand in the way of the voice of the people. When the voice of the people is not heard, they would revolt, and here are names of some persons who gave leadership to such upheaval — Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, and Mohandas Gandhi.

The law states that the dissolution of Parliament is illegal. The law also states that laws cannot be challenged in any Court, when they are passed in the Legislature, a provision written into the Constitution.This leaves no recourse for the people to agitate against laws that have not been passed taking into proper consideration the recommendations of the Supreme Court for referenda.

The people’s voice needs to be heard specifically under such circumstances, particularly, when the people’s voice has already been heard loud and clear against the status quo ante, predating October 26, 2018.

To reiterate for the nth time, a local government election campaign fought as a referendum against the then functioning Ranil Wickremesinghe Government was lost by the UNP in a landslide.

The tables were turned, but the people’s voice continues to be suppressed.

Sri Lankans wouldn’t necessarily remember a time when Sirimavo Bandaranaike extended the life of her Government by two years. A livid electorate dispatched the United Front in the subsequent elections in 1977, relegating the coalition to eight seats in Parliament.

NOT BODE WELL

Voter suppression at this point in time would not bode well for a party that sought to suppress the voting public.

However, it is up to the aggrieved party, in this case, the voters whose express wish for a general election has gone unheard, to find creative ways to make their voices heard, and make their protests count.

They have the moral high ground, and that is what enables this country to survive the kind of political uncertainty that has been unleashed, without any security breaches to speak of.

This speaks volumes, and indicates that when the people speak, it is impossible for any movement, especially one led by a failed leader, to achieve anything more than a pyrrhic ‘victory.’

It’s not to say that Wickremesinghe has nobody with him. But the support he gets, which is dwarfed by the support for the forces led by the President and the SLPP, is also grudging, due to his unending whip hand over the UNP.

That is a terrible place to be in, for a ‘movement’ that is acting so effusively self-righteous. The voice of the people, the Greeks said, is the voice of God. The people of Sri Lanka would campaign to ensure that their voices are heard in a general election which can now be held, assuming there is a stable government from today, as is being indicated in some quarters.

Parliament, with a fixed term, resulting from the Fixed Term Parliament Amendment in the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, is not a fixed term Parliament any more than a marriage is a lifetime union, when there is legal recourse to end it all, with divorce proceedings.

Ranil Wickremesinghe has said, he is not afraid of elections — his words — if there is a stable government established.

If he delivers a stable government by this evening, which the UNP has already claimed would happen, he could deliver on the promise to hold an election with an immediate call going out to his parliamentary group to opt for a two thirds majority in Parliament, to enable such a poll.

If that does not happen, any government that continues would be lamer and tamer than any figurative lame duck.

Basically, such a government would have its mandate granted by the Supreme Court, and not by the people of this country.

The people’s mandate of August 2015 is over. It need not be reiterated that it ended in February of this year.

History indicates the almost all leaders who have overstayed their welcome have had their comeuppance.

The problem with successful leaders, says Mr Nic Cheeseman, is that “they start to believe their own hype”. While villains and kleptocrats cling on because they fear reprisal, he says, better leaders stay in power because they genuinely believe no one else can do the job. Without their firm hand, they imagine, the state will slip back into penury or chaos. But holding on means hollowing out the institutions on which the future must be built. (FT, London.)

The Wickremesinghe administration did not fall into the successful leaders category, as probably everyone in his Cabinet would freely admit by now, unless they are in the hopeless and irredeemable self righteous mode.

J. R. Jayewardene who is widely believed to have engineered the reforms of the most authoritarian nature ever in this country, with his presidency that takes after the French model, did not, however, introduce a Fixed Term Parliament Act, in 1978.

But, when he did want to fold up the electoral map, he resorted to a referendum to extend the life of Parliament!

This was a gross abuse of power, as he sought to ask the people to suppress an election, but to the chagrin of the then opposition, the people did approve of his move in a referendum that was generally considered free and fair, even though the Jayewardene era was not known for good governance, or a record of allowing the people to vote unmolested, or unintimidated.

LEGITIMACY QUESTIONED

The legitimacy of a government that wants no election despite the public clamour for such a poll, would be seriously in question.

It would be correct to say that the legitimacy of such a government would be cosmetic, at the very best.

The optics would be so miserable that holders of office in such a dispensation would be in an utterly unenviable position.

The people who govern, and the masses who are governed, know that such a government is not tenable.

This would no doubt lead to the following very legitimate question.

Whose purpose would such a government serve?

Those who take up the position that such a leadership would have vindicated the desire for constitutionality and strict adherence to law, would have a legitimate claim to make.

If there is a functional Ranil Wickremesinghe Government once more, those who said there can be no ‘usurpation of power’ by unconstitutional means, would have had their claims vindicated.

But, having achieved what they wanted, they would still have no claim to extend the life of a Parliament that is patently outdated.

The JVP, is an embodiment of this position. The party ostensibly at least, fought for the Rule of Law. Now that the courts have ruled that the dissolution of Parliament was illegal, that party’s leader has said that the current Parliament is not legitimate, or uttered words to that effect.

He has, along with the JVP’s national leadership, taken up the position that his MPs would vote to dissolve this Parliament before four and a half years are up, when Parliament’s term can be ended by the President without the legislature’s assent.

‘Parliamentary sovereignty is a principle of the UK constitution. It makes Parliament the supreme legal authority in the UK, which can create or end any law. Generally, the courts cannot overrule its legislation and no Parliament can pass laws that future Parliaments cannot change. Parliamentary sovereignty is the most important part of the UK Constitution’. (parliament.uk)

When Ranil Wickremesinghe says that the Sri Lankan legislature modeled the four and a half year fetter on the dissolution of Parliament on the British FTPA, or Fixed Term Parliament Act, he is probably right. He must be knowing what he had in his mind when the legislation was introduced.

But this much is clear. The people’s voice is supreme, and the President and Parliament have every legal and constitutional right to seek to creatively enforce the people’s opinion on a given issue of national importance.

‘Furthermore, we are not preventing anybody from having elections. If an election is how this crisis would be ultimately resolved, we support the democratic process being observed, and respect it. So we are not preventing anybody from doing anything.’

That direct quote is from an interview granted to a local daily, by the new US Ambassador, Alaina Teplitz.

Yes, elections are how this crisis would be ultimately resolved, and that is self evident to anyone who has an objective view of the current situation.

STATUS QUO ANTE

A reversal to the status quo ante predating October 26, would frustrate the desire of the electorate to choose who governs the country, and this fact would be obvious considering that though the courts have ruled — at least in the interim — that the President’s appointment of a Prime Minister on October 26 was not legal, the people definitely seemed to go along with the change.

This was why Ranil Wickremesinghe could not walk into any office and claim that he is carrying out his Prime Ministerial duties. He could not get his fellow top tier leadership (Cabinet) to do likewise either. The Armed Forces seemed to intuit where the people’s preferences were, and have acted accordingly.

Curiously, though, the UNP leader was also seen prostrating himself before the President, asking President Sirisena to recognize him as the rightful Prime Minister.

As the TNA’s Sumanthiran said, he didn’t have to do so. If he was Prime Minister legally, he could have enforced his authority without a by your leave from the Executive.

He could not do so in reality, because the President’s writ ran, and that’s largely due to the cooperation of the ordinary man on the street, and of course the Tri-Forces.

Did the Forces cooperate with one branch of Government, the Executive, due to some extraordinary power the President yielded?

In reality, the President didn’t yield that kind of power, as most constitutional powers had been taken away from his grasp, in legislation enacted during the tenure of the Yahapalana Government.

The President derived his power post October 26, from the power of the people. This could be established conclusively some day for posterity and the edification of all, when an election is finally held, and the dust permanently settles on this episode of Ranil Wickremesinghe being summarily unseated by the President on October 26.

All these are salutary lessons to those who are likely to be consumed by the hubris of a victory in the courts of law, that would be pyrrhic in the backdrop of reality, as the voice of the people and people’s sovereignty are entirely separate matters that stand aloof from Court decisions.

The UNP’s rule essentially functioned as a dictatorship, and this has been documented in previous columns by the writer, in this space. People do not take kindly to dictatorships. Courts of law may do so in adherence to constitutional principles, but people do not.

That’s particularly so when a dictatorship has its opt out Clause and is ignoring it. The opt out Clause is right there in 70 (1) of the Constitution.

It can be sidestepped with excuses. A million things could be said about why the UNP will not contribute to a two thirds majority to dissolve Parliament, but all of those contentions would sound extremely hollow, particularly now, after the post October 26 events have played out in the national spotlight.

As the US Ambassador seems to suggest, her desire is also to see Sri Lankans going to the polls if that’s the way to democratically resolve the current crisis.

Absolutely, an election is the only way, and there is no moral legitimacy for a Ranil Wickremesinghe government to continue, particularly, after the fallout from the Bond scam, and the results of the local government elections.

A tone deaf leadership would be in denial of those glaring realities. There is no plausible deniability for the UNP period, with regard to the aforementioned realities.

National polls are the only recourse, and it’s the UNP that is standing in the way of them. It’s not the Courts that are standing in the way of a general election, and that fact needs to be underscored.

UNP HAS THE KEY TO POLLS

It’s the UNP that has the Open Sesame for elections. Ranil Wickremesinghe needs to instruct his troops to vote for a two thirds, and elections could be called within the week, and no court of law would be able to say anything in objection, no matter who goes to court, and for what reason!

Until that is done, all these celebrations and protestations about the ‘victory for democracy’ would be utterly hilarious, and history of course would judge the pretenders severely, despite how laughable such claims may sound now. But he forgets that there is no parliamentary sovereignty in this country, in which a written constitution emphatically articulated the concept of people’s sovereignty instead.

It means or should mean that the people can overrule the legislation of Parliament, even though the technical means by which this could be done, are not articulated.

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