20A, an end to the long dark night | Sunday Observer

20A, an end to the long dark night

20 September, 2020

The 20th Amendment to the Constitution will become law soon. It means one thing — the nation’s long nightmare that was called the 19th Amendment is over.

It will be as if the dam burst — the dam that was for five years holding the better impulses of a nation hostage. It should doubtless be a cause for celebration.

The man on the street will celebrate. He should, because though it was a constitutional clause, the 19thAmendment was not the classic legally abstruse law that mattered to legal experts, political scientists, and the occasional journalist only. 19A left the country rudderless, and the people had to face the consequences especially on Easter Sunday, April 21, 2019. Those issues that ensued from the political gridlock springing from 19A were not in the abstract; they had an enormous negative impact on people’s lives.

The passage of 20A, therefore, signifies freedom day. Notwithstanding the man on the street who would at least manage a smile at the demise of 19A, there is politics as usual with the attempt in various quarters, particularly in the so called rightward leaning civil society, to paint 20A as a multi-faceted evil.

Some pundits have gone to the extent of opining that 20A is a ploy to keep the SLPP in power in perpetuity, led by the President and the Prime Minister.

It’s by now a well known fact that the 20th Amendment is at least a temporary reversal to what obtained before 20A, a stopgap legal device, before a new Constitution is made into law. That being the case, could anyone seriously suggest that 20A is a power ploy to entrench a permanent SLPP government? It was under the status quo ante that the previous UPFA government was defeated.

If what obtained before the 19th Amendment is so undemocratic, how was the then government defeated in a democratic exercise as good as any? How was it that the UNP was able to form a government and then pass the 19th Amendment if what obtained before it, particularly the 18th Amendment, was as undemocratic as the naysayers say it was?

The moves to demonise the 20th Amendment are, therefore, seen for what they are — politically loaded attempts to keep the Opposition relevant, when there is nothing that’s very hopeful for their own political futures politically speaking.

Meanwhile, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michele Bachelet has also voiced concern about the 20th Amendment and her views have already been refuted by our acting Permanent Representative in Geneva.

Bachelet should be asked the same question as well. Didn’t her predecessors warn of a similar democratic deficit under the previous Rajapaksa government?

But wasn’t there a clean election and a smooth transition of power in 2015 when that government was in power, and what more democracy than that? This government has done away with the odious provision in the 19thAmendment that made it almost impossible for an elected Parliament to be dissolved under a fixed-term Parliament provision.

Perhaps the High Commissioner should have lauded that move as empowering democracy, as the party in power at least could opt for early elections while offering the Opposition a chance to cause an upset — democratically — at any snap election in the eventuality the Parliament is dissolved.

This being a democracy, there have been various views expressed about 20A, some of them from the government ranks as well. It’s a sign of a vibrant democracy that there is such diversity of opinion, but one thing critics would do well to consider is the fact that 20A draws clear lines of delineation between the separate branches of government.

That’s essential for a functioning democracy, and those who are hell bent on discovering the author of the 20thAmendment should consider the draft as exemplary because it does not botch the basics as the 19th Amendment did.

Those who are looking for the authors to the draft don’t seem to know anything about law making. The Constitution deals with concepts. It’s not a novel or a novella, that’s crafted by one person.

Largely one-person efforts such as the 19th Amendment end up being hilariously skewed as the events in 2018 proved. But those who have whipped themselves into a frenzy today have forgotten how Committee stage Amendments were introduced to the 19th Amendment in the most haphazard manner imaginable.

Such tinkering left national security totally compromised, with the Defence Ministry not being a subject of the Commander in Chief.

What 20A does is to ensure that above all there is some measure of cohesion and clarity to our constitutional document. The niceties can be looked into when a new Constitution sees the light of day, but in the interim there would be order out of the chaos of the 19th.

That’s why those who are looking for an author to the 20th Amendment would do well to realise that it’s not a novel — that it has been drafted by professional legal draftsmen. It helps when there is a professional at the helm of the legal apparatus as Justice Minister, even though he did not draft the Amendment, even though in some quarters they are desperate to say he did.

The artificially created anxiety about the 20th Amendment is similar to the noises made about the so-called one-man-government the Opposition complained about and went to Court even before the August 5 election. Despite that unseemly brouhaha about an effective Covid controlling presidency, the people granted a two-thirds majority to the SLPP and the Government led by the President.