|Parliamentary election 2010: The best case scenario|
The Coen brothers’ movie with Javier Bardem was called No Country for Old Men. What should we begin to call this one? I mean the country, not the movie. What do you call a country in which an unarmed young woman, a woman who has not harmed anyone, is detained in a police station for writing a book, and a book which does not call for violence against anyone? As Marvin Gaye, another non-home grown cultural inspiration, kept asking ‘What’s Going On’? Where, when and how will this end? It is against a backdrop of such preoccupations that I view the April 8th election.
The government wants a two thirds majority in order to replace the Constitution, it says. The UNP opposition hopes to form a coalition with other Opposition parties. It would be unhealthy for the body politic if the electorate were to grant the wish of either side. What would be healthy is for the Opposition to have a strong enough representation in the legislature so that a two thirds majority is out of reach for the government even by means of defections. The most authoritarian administrations we have had have been those with a two thirds majority and the worst experiences we citizens have undergone, have been at the hands of governments enjoying a two thirds majority. Of the three Constitutions we have had, those produced in 1972 and 1978 were far less enlightened and prudent than the one we started off with at Independence, the Soulbury constitution.
The government wishes a two thirds majority to ‘protect the country from foreign conspirators’. With the Executive in safely patriotic hands, this is surely far more a question of the right foreign policy -- and foreign minister -- than a two thirds majority in the legislature.
Does the government need a two thirds majority so as to effect ethnic reconciliation between our constituent communities by radically reforming the structure of the state? Hardly, because the President himself has ruled out a federal system and is unwilling to go beyond the 13th amendment making for provincial autonomy, minus police powers. Which may be fine, but this is already part of our existing Constitution.
What of the UNP’s favourite scenario, of a replay of 2001? After our last experience of Ranil Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister I do not think the electorate should or would risk a replay which would amount to an erosion of the gains of our military victory over the Tigers. This would be so if he were to become PM with the support of the TNA. Mr Wickremesinghe has already pledged irresponsibly on a visit to Jaffna, that he would remove all military camps except for Palali. That is not his decision to make even if he were to be elected PM, because the portfolio of defence remains in the hands of the Executive. Matters would be different if the UNP were able to secure a majority to form an administration with the DNA – or the DNA as well as the TNA—which scenarios are exceedingly unlikely.
The best case scenario is if the governing coalition were able to secure a two thirds majority not on its own volition or by means of defections, but solely by means of negotiation with the main Southern and North-Eastern Oppositions, namely the UNP and the TNA. It would compel the incumbent to revise the present equation, include the aspirations and ideas of the opposition, thereby balancing the influence of the small chauvinist parties in the government’s ranks and establishing something close to a broad national consensus which could be reflected in the architecture of a new basic law; a new Constitution for a post-war Sri Lanka. Such an equation could not only revive the practice of serious multiparty deliberation in Sri Lankan politics, but also generate the synergies needed to restore rationality and propel reform.