BY CHAMIKARA WEERASINGHE
The people would now like a ringside seat to see how President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and the newly elected Government would run the country. They have given the governing party a two-thirds majority at the Parliamentary Election, the power they sought to amend the Constitution, said leading Constitutional lawyer, former Chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka and President’s Counsel, Dr Jayatissa De Costa.
The victory is more significant compared to the results of the other political parties, the United National Party, its breakaway party or Sajith-Premadasa–led Samagi Jana Balavegaya and Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna. Sri Lankan voters preferred a strong and capable leader, he said.
The repealing of the 19th Amendment, or introducing the 20th Amendment, is a question of achieving the goal of overall stability in the country, for which the people have voted in President Rajapaksa, Dr. De Costa said.
The 19th Amendment triggered a Constitutional crisis in the country under the previous regime, Dr. Jayatissa De Costa said in an interview with the Sunday Observer.
Q: Is repealing the 19th Amendment good to the public considering that it will only bring back the 18th Amendment?
A: Yes, it will be similar to the 18th Amendment, but its key objective is to restore stability.
Ever since Maithripala Sirisena became the President, the people have witnessed turmoil in the country. The country degenerated economically, politically and socially. So-called narcotics, underworld operations, organised crime were on the rise. Drug lords were so powerful that their main base was none other than the prison headquarters, Welikada.
Q: Some scholars say that we may keep whatever useful in the 19th Amendment. Your views?
A: The Government has followed that, for example, the Right to Information Act.
The Constitutional Council was an utter failure, especially, the appointment of the members to the Election Commission. A member, who was appointed to the Election Commission, went to the extent of appearing in the fundamental right application, which challenged the President’s dissolution of Parliament.
Even Parliament could not question him because the Commission is not answerable to Parliament. The people want to see Gotabaya Rajapaksa governs the country and not get him stuck.
Q: Does the Government represent all ethnic groups?
A: Yes. Thondaman’s party, the Ceylon Workers’ Congress (CWC) contested under the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP). Pilleyan’s party, Douglas Devananda’s EPDP and Athaulla’s party, represented the SLPP.
Q: Would the ceiling for ministerial posts go up with the repealing of the 19th Amendment?
A: No. You cannot have an unlimited number of ministers. There will be a limit. Otherwise, you can make all the Government party members ministers.
Q. It has been observed that Governments have shown interest in changing the Constitution frequently. Isn’t it wrong to change the Constitution in this manner?
A: We got Independence in 1948. Our first Constitution, the Soulbury Constitution, lasted for over 20 years. Till 1972, the Queen of England was our head of State. The next Constitution didn’t last long because President J.R. Jayewardene had turned that topsy-turvy. The Indian Constitution has been amended 103 times for the past 70 years. That Constitution was not promulgated in a hurry. The drafting of the Constitution took nearly three years, headed by legal expert B. R. Ambedkar. It is one of the best in the world.
Q: What happened to the UNP at the last election?
A: They attacked the people’s very culture, they were expected to protect according to the Constitution. They jailed bhikkhus for keeping elephants at temples, which is a tradition in the country.
They ridiculed bhikkhus and detained them for nothing. They did not understand the pulse of the people. The biggest and the most powerful pressure group in Sri Lanka are the bhikkhus. The UNP ballroom dancing class though not that much educated, thought just because they can speak in English, they are the elite and they are the educated. They always think that they are superior to the masses. This quality is discernible in Ranil Wickremesinghe’s faction.
Q: Do you not think that Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa of the Samagi Janabalawegaya has the upper hand over the UNP?
A: Sajith’s party is not a potent political force. It is a loose coalition of different parties. Mano Ganeshan is interested in his welfare.
Rishad Bathiudeen is an extremist political figure, Rauf Hakeem is an opportunist relying on Muslim votes. Digambaran has his political interests. Sajth Premadasa has no base in the country. It is the traditional UNP.
Q: Does Sajith Premadasa have a flair to strengthen his political party?
A: If he can become a second Basil Rajapaksa or someone like him, he may do so. Sajith is only strong on paper now. When there is another election, traditional UNP voters will rally round the UNP
Q: The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) has voiced its opposition to repealing the 19th Amendment. Your views?
A: They have just got to be careful not to become the best losers now that their parliamentary seats have reduced to three. Whenever they contest by themselves, they lose. The JVP may do well to compete under one of the main political parties.