Batting for the Indian kind of parliamentary democracy, Sri Lanka's Opposition leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe, calls for a decent political culture in the country.
As Sri Lanka awaits a formal announcement on dates for a Presidential and Parliamentary election, separately or together, the leader of the newly-floated 18-party United National Front (UNF), Ranil Wickremesinghe, on Thursday advocated switch over from the present Presidential to a model akin to the Indian system.
A booklet in Sinhala titled “Anagatha Abiyogaya” outlining the shift from the Presidential to Parliamentary form of democracy with an Executive Prime Minister and President as head of the Constitution was presented by Mr. Wickremesinghe to monks at a Temple here.
Earlier, he had said the alliance headed by him could consider nomination of the just-retired General Sarath Fonseka as a consensus Presidential candidate to take on the Sri Lankan President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, only if the former Army chief endorsed a 10-point common minimum programme with abolition or substantial dilution of powers of the Executive Presidency as a key component.
A formal announcement on the Presidential and Parliamentary elections is expected in the next two days and the ruling combine United People's Freedom Alliance is scheduled to hold a news conference at 10 a.m. on Friday.
Political and diplomatic observers here have billed the Presidential election as the mother of all political battles in the 48-year-old history of the island nation, as, for the first time, there is a prospect of an incumbent President and Supreme Commander of the armed forces and retired Army Chief and a former commander of the Army being pitted against each other.
Leading political opponents of Mr. Rajapaksa have been openly discussing the prospect of picking the man who led the war against the LTTE as their consensus candidate in the event of a race to the President’s office.
As per the managers of Mr. Rajapaksa, the President is all set to face any situation while the Opposition parties are still in the process of consulting one another on a strategy to defeat him with or without General Fonseka.
The conditions put forward by the UNF for the retired General, if he wants to be considered as their consensus Presidential candidate, include the scrapping of, or substantially reducing, the powers of the executive presidency, provision to the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and Janatha Vimukhthi Peramuna (JVP) important portfolios in the Cabinet, ensuring the speedy resettlement of the northern IDPs, establishing all the independent commissions for good governance and appointment of Mr. Wickremesinghe as the caretaker Prime Minister.
Further, in the event of parliamentary polls preceding a Presidential Election, Mr. Wickremesinghe would be the Prime Ministerial candidate of the new Front.
Mr. Wickremesinghe said that a decision on the Presidential candidate would be taken only after an election was announced and he was confident that Gen. (retd) Fonseka had a clear understanding of the UNF policies.
In his booklet Mr. Wickremesinghe has also suggested holding the general election, election of the Executive Prime Minister, provincial polls and local government polls on a single day.
The alliance led by Mr. Wickremesinghe is seriously considering Gen. (retd) Fonseka as a Presidential candidate was evident from his comments in the local media. “There is no reason to assume that General Fonseka is not a democrat,” he has been quoted as saying.
Confirming the thinking in the new opposition alliance on the Presidential candidature of Gen. (retd) Fonseka and the rationale behind it, a senior Front leader and former Foreign Minister in the Rajapaksa government, Mangala Samaraweera, told the English paper Island, “The prime objective would be to abolish the executive presidency within a stipulated period of time…An individual candidate who has no party behind him will be the best placed to carry out this agenda.”
“The probability of General Fonseka or any other common candidate abolishing the executive presidency, especially if there is a strong democratic safety net around him, will be much greater.”
On the lacuna in the current Constitution, which has been exploited by Parliamentarians to walk over to the party of their whim, Mr. Wickremesinghe said that a future UNF administration would delete that clause in the Constitution.
“We have to sit down and discuss the details, but are agreed in principle that the crossover provision has to be abolished totally,” he said, in response to a question by the local media when questioned if the UNF would ensure that the liberty of crossing over would be denied to both government and Opposition MPs.
On paper, the members elected on a party ticket have to abide by the party whip inside the Parliament. However, there has been a controversy over interpretation of the provision. Today, most of the high-profile Ministers in the Rajapaksa government are members of the main opposition party, United National Party (UNP) and cases by the party against them for deserting the boat are pending in the apex court.
In his booklet Mr. Wickremesinghe had proposed changes to the 13th Amendment to the Constitution with the post of Governor being abolished while the Chief Ministers would be members of the State Assembly comprising the Prime minister and those others who would be appointed to it.
He called for setting up guidelines to be followed by political parties when fielding candidates for elections and for upholding a decent political culture in the country.
Mr. Wickremesinghe pointed out that Sri Lanka’s political culture should be based on electing the best people to implement a national policy and proposed that United Nations anti corruption convention be adopted in Sri Lanka to combat the rampant corruption that exists.
He said the country had the opportunity of establishing a national policy setting out long term plans to be achieved in 25 years and that this had made possible due to the defeat of the LTTE and thus its capacity of deciding who will rule this country.
Mr. Wickremesinghe said his political career was most affected by the actions of the LTTE and mentioned the attempt made on President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s life in 1999 and the LTTE sponsored mass boycott of the 2005 presidential election.
As per a senior leader of the UNP in the booklet he had said fresh ideas would be welcomed as something vital as a national policy had to be prepared taking into account ideas of all parties and groups. “Sri Lanka needs a national policy with long term plans so that we will be able to regain the lost status and prestige."
In the document he said reminding that Sri Lanka was one of the leading states in Asia only second to Japan at the time it won its independence and that status should be regained,” Mr. Wickremesinghe said. He said the country needed a policy based on what Buddha’s preached in his sermon Bahujana Hithaya, Bahujana Sukaya” that deals with the wider welfare of the people.
The monk Nayaka Thera said there were many philosophies and policies talked about in Sri Lanka but nothing was pracitsed.
“The important thing is to practice these teachings,” he said adding that polices should be directed towards the fulfilling of plans suitable for Sri Lanka. The monks welcomed the ideas.
The Opposition leader had reportedly told the Working Committee meeting on Thursday evening that he had not finalised any agreement with General (retd) Foneseka and a final arrangement on the matter would be arrived at once an election was declared.
Mr. Wickremesinghe had assured that he would discuss the matter regarding Gen.(retd) Fonseka with all UNP MPs once the presidential election is declared. He had told members of the Working Committee that one should not worry about the presidential election now as the government had not reached a final decision on an election yet.
“Our approach would be different with regard to the presidential and general elections,” he said responding to Kurunegala District Parliamentarian Johnston Fernando who raised the issue on General (retd.) Fonseka. Mr. Fernando had reportedly said that the MPs needed to know the real situation regarding the presidential candidate.
United National Party leader Ranjith Atapattu who had raised the issue of the common opposition alliance had said the symbol of the alliance had to be the elephant and nothing else.
Mr. Wickremesinghe had also assigned Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya and General Secretary Tissa Attanayake to negotiate with other parties with a view to expand the common alliance.
The JVP says it is not apprehensive about being part of the same Cabinet as its rival, the pro-LTTE Tamil National Alliance, in the event of a caretaker government being formed with UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister.
Meanwhile, English daily The Island in response to questions from the local media on whether the JVP had no difficulty in sitting with the TNA in the same Cabinet after being critical of the latter’s pro-LTTE stance, JVP has said he saw no reason why his party could not do so because the caretaker government to be formed would consist of all political parties represented in Parliament.
He said his party saw no alternative to winning the next presidential election with the help of a common candidate and forming a caretaker government to restore democracy.
Asked whether the Elections Commissioner had rejected the JVP’s application for the registration of a new political party to field Gen. (retd) Sarath Fonseka at the next presidential election, the JVP Parliamentary Group Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake told the paper that his party had not received any official communication to that effect.
He said the application for the registration of the new party had been submitted on October 12, 2009 and the JVP was hopeful that the Elections Commissioner would accept it and Gen. Fonseka would be able to contest on its ticket.
Mr. Dissanayake said the party symbol was likely to be ‘something like a sword, but not so sharp’.