I have now served two and a half years in Parliament. This would have been half the term in the old days before the United Front government of 1970 extended its own term by two years, and added one year to all future terms. This began the rot of Parliament expanding its own powers and privileges, which the Jayewardene government of 1977 took even further, extending its term to over 11 long and woeful years.
These terms, it should be noted, are not fixed, and the government in power has the right to have an election when it wants. Naturally it does this when it thinks conditions are most favourable. And in Sri Lanka the situation is made worse by the fact that we have two sets of elections to decide on who is going to govern us, namely a Presidential election as well as a Parliamentary one. Naturally both are fixed in terms of advantages to the incumbent, with the added benefit of having one or other of the executive authorities continuing in power during the election.
This situation is unusual, since elsewhere in the world where there is an Executive Presidential system, terms are fixed. This was the case in Sri Lanka when the system was introduced, but J R Jayewardene changed it for purely selfish motives, to ensure the perpetuation of his power.
He also changed the electoral system he had introduced for similar selfish motives, when he realized that a proportional representation system without a preference vote meant less effort on the part of those low down on the list, with no hope of being elected. The system of preferences he introduced has been the single most destructive feature of Sri Lankan politics over the last quarter of a century.
That has now been changed, for local government elections, and I hope this will happen with regard to Parliamentary as well as Provincial Council elections. But the system that has been introduced is still an absurdity, if much less awful than the system Jayewardene introduced.
In reflecting on the changes now made, and those that are still essential, I realized that we have in fact a completely dysfunctional constitution. We have failed to look at practices in other countries with successful records in democracy in creating this monstrous hybrid system. Thus, despite what Jayewardene had declared in his manifesto in 1977, he kept the Cabinet of Ministers in Parliament, which does not happen elsewhere in Presidential systems.
And listening to the debate recently about Provincial Councils, I felt that we are continuing to pronounce in terms of the problems we take seriously at any point, with no attention to principles of governance. I am therefore starting a series on Constitutional Reform, based on the seminal discussions on that subject that the Council for Liberal Democracy held over 20 years ago, when the evils of the system Jayewardene had introduced were first becoming obvious. Here are the first tentative suggestions, as to which further discussion is welcome.
Limitations on the power of Parliament
- To prevent elections being manipulated by arbitrary dissolutions of Parliament
- To ensure stability of Government
- To promote consultation of regional interests in legislation
Parliament shall continue for four years from the date appointed for its first meeting.
No vote of No Confidence in a Cabinet may be passed unless there is also an expression of Confidence in an alternative Cabinet.
There shall be a Second Chamber of Parliament known as a Senate, composed of five representatives from each Province elected on the Single Transferable vote system.