A two-thirds is the people’s prerogative to restore order and a functioning democracy | Sunday Observer

A two-thirds is the people’s prerogative to restore order and a functioning democracy

The din against the Government’s request for a two-thirds majority at the upcoming general election, is two or three decibels higher than the loudest air horn noises made by the most berserk of buses on our streets. But this is a curious call. The opposition UNP says a two-thirds majority is bad for democracy. They say power should not be concentrated in a single group of politicians.

Such a broad tent outlook never prevented them from establishing a two-thirds majority mainly through rather dubious means, when they were in power. What it all means in essence is that the Sri Lankan opposition thinks such a super majority is bad for democracy provided their opponents are in power. If they are in power, they think a two-thirds is rather brilliant, and just what the doctor ordered.

The then government ruled as if their returning to power gave them special entitlement above and beyond the usual remit that comes from being elected.

For those who may have forgotten, a brief refresher may be in order.

The UNP was back in power after 21 years. The party cadre and the rank and file couldn’t contain themselves. The UNP’s return was called a revolution, of all things. The only reason such a term may have fit, is that the UNP ‘returnees’ thought that being back in power meant the world revolved around themselves.

FLAWED LOGIC

Ensuing therefore, the transition was marked by such a massive display of public venting against everyone but themselves, and prolonged and raucous bouts of self righteous exhibitionism, such as could be put on.

All this because they had for the most part never been in power as long as they could remember. That being the reality, these newbies hadn’t the slightest clue about what it was to govern. But given that they thought it was a ‘revolution’, their sense of entitlement was way over the top.

Even if that was to be excused after the 21 years in the wilderness, it’s somewhat hard to believe that this sense of oversize self righteousness still remains.

Hence, they think a two-thirds majority for ‘us’ is democracy, but for the other side is dictatorship.

To put things in perspective, a further detour into the recent past history of the 2015 UNP return, would be useful. The party’s flawed reasoning for a two-thirds was based on the equally flawed ‘Licchavi’ logic that the so called unity between the two major parties meant that in culmination, a National Government should be formed.

A National Government, in all known so called Westminster style democracies resulted from the need at a given time for overarching national unity due to a common national endeavour such as a war, or an invasion by a foreign power. But the common cause that triggered the cobbling together of a so called national government in 2015, was the common desire at that time of the then President and the UNP, to keep the Rajapaksas out of power at all costs.

After the war ended in 2009, it’s undeniable that a new nationalist, progressive political force had emerged under the Rajapaksas. But in 2014, this new power centre was eclipsed almost accidentally, because of fatigue with the governing SLFP’s long stay for 21 years, coupled with the sleight of hand in pulling the rug from under the then SLFP leadership by getting part of it to ally with the UNP, based almost entirely on considerations of personal ambition.

This too was done at the last moment, a few weeks before the 2014 Presidential election which ended the then Rajapaksa regime’s rule.

Such a quirky, shotgun move to eject a nationalist force, even though it succeeded at the time, does not a revolution make. Very soon, this fact became all too obvious when things began to unravel.

GIVEN MUSCLE

But having chanced upon power almost accidentally as described above, the UNP was all agog after the 21 year hiatus, and misread what they considered a long overdue return as some sort of real revolution, as opposed to the curious one they had proclaimed.

Hence, all the hijinks, the over the top rhetoric, and the sense of entitlement that was interpreted for public consumption also as a revolutionary need for a two-thirds majority, enabled by a so called national government.

Such a government was not national at all but anti national, inasmuch as its primary rationale was to destroy the post war nationalist movement and its Rajapaksa leadership.

Having self engineered a two thirds majority in this manner for the flimsiest of reasons, it’s funny now, that the perpetrators of such a farce enacted on our democracy doth protest too much these days about a two thirds majority for the newly elected Government.

First point — to reiterate — is that there can be no double standards. It cannot be said by the UNP that a two-thirds majority is good for democracy under them, but bad for democracy under a Rajapaksa presidency. The second is that their project which was variously dubbed as a revolution and return to good governance, etc., was very quickly, an utter failure.

The people have now voted for something entirely different. They have voted quite decisively for a new set of principles, and granted a new mandate.

It’s the people’s right to ensure that such a mandate is strengthened and given the muscle to function, with a two-thirds in Parliament.

If a two-thirds was good for our democracy in 2015, it should be good for democracy in 2020 as well.

Of course, the self serving argument is that somehow the UNP government was more democratic than a Rajapaksa regime, and therefore a two-thirds given to them was somehow not a real blow to democracy at all. Some people think that freedom and democracy is when they have all leeway to do what they want, and to hell with the others. They also think that free speech is when they have the right to say what they want, and to hell with others.

A two-thirds was a disaster under the previous government primarily due to blatant abuse of power and accompanying excesses such as the appointment of an Opposition Leader from a party that had a minority of seats in the Opposition, the sacking of a Chief Justice with the stroke of a pen, and countless other deeds such as tinkering with legislative drafts in Parliament to reflect something other than what was intended by the legislators,in the passage of certain laws.

DOCTRINE OF SEPARATION

Such a set of people now in Opposition have no moral right to lecture others about the possibility of a reduced democracy with a two thirds majority granted to the governing dispensation.

It could be said on the other hand that the Yahapalana cabal abused democratic norms to such an extent that there is a definitive two-thirds majority that’s needed now for the successor government, as a corrective to put things right after that bout of chaotic ‘National Government’ hegemony.

Before anyone contends that the Yahapalanaya never had a two-thirds majority in Parliament, it has to be stated that of course this is technically right. But not having one didn’t prevent the Yahapalana folks from getting two thirds piecemeal for legislation they wanted passed, often with various arm twisting tactics one may add ...

It may also be contended by some that the substance of some of the legislation passed by that regime was essentially democratic. But that’s not correct, and in reality nothing could be further from the truth.

The 19th Amendment for instance, foisted the fixed term Parliament on the country.

What’s democratic about a fixed term Parliament Act?

The fixed term Parliament provision in the amendment removed the one safeguard the people had against the hegemony of the legislature in a system that made the Prime Minister, as the head of the legislature, much more powerful than is desirable under the doctrine of separation of powers.

A two-thirds majority would strengthen the President’s hand in reversing some of the odious characteristics of the 19th Amendment, thereby also enabling a way to ease the gridlock in the cohabitation arrangement between President and Premier, that the Yahapalanaya regime became notorious for. There are other aspects in a two thirds that could be still more beneficial at this juncture, that bear further airing in the public spotlight in the near future.

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