Democracy for Dummies – Part 2

Welcome! This page provides more depth to the main page Democracy for Dummies. It also provides an explanation of Sri Lanka’s democractic system in the context of what is going on currently in Sri Lanka, since the 2015 presidential and general elections. Please read that page first before delving in to this one.

How do we choose the president?

The president is elected by all citizens of Sri Lanka who are of the age of majority, i.e., legally adults having reached 18 years of age, and who are registered to vote.

When does the presidential election happen?

The contest to choose the president occurs at the end of the sitting president’s term. However, the sitting president could call for a new election at any time during his term. There was a legal ambiguity which meant that it was not clear when a new term began. Chandrika tried to use this to call an election before her first 6 years were complete, and after winning re-election, she tried to add on the new 6 years to the end of the first 6 years, ie starting the new term after the end of the first term. The Supreme Court objected to this.

When the executive president can be ignored

The executive presidency created by JRJ didn’t obstruct Ranil, JRJ’s nephew, acting like a dictatorial executive prime minister during the disastrous 2002-4 period however, as the then executive president, Chandrika, was a complete shambles. This was when Ranil signed the infamous ceasefire agreement (CFA) with the Tamil terrorists. Ranil was acting in violation of the constitution, and therefore illegally, but Chandrika was so weak and confused that she could not do anything about this.

More about: the prime minister

During most of Sri Lanka’s history, the system has worked very well. Usually the party to which any president belonged also had a majority of MPs in the parliament. This way, Chandrika (for example) could say “I want Mahinda to be prime minister” and everyone in the SLFP, who were the majority party, would agree. Mahinda then became prime minister in 2004. Similarly, in the period from 2005-2015, Mahinda’s UPFA had the most seats, and Mahinda was president, and so he could say “I want D.M. Jayaratne” to be prime minister. And the majority of the MPs in the parliament (all UPFA members) would agree. So Jayaratne was prime minister. Also, during the 2002-2004 period, the UNP had the most MPs but the president was Chandrika of the SLFP. She was forced to make Ranil the prime minister because the UNP had the most MPs, and all of them wanted Ranil.

The problem that arose during the parliamentary election of August 2015 was that the majority of the general population, and the majority of the UPFA MPs wanted Mahinda to be prime minister. However, Sirisena, due to his envy and hatred of Mahinda, said he would never appoint Mahinda prime minister.

This was a complete joke. Because, as has always been the case, if more than 113 of the MPs in the parliament say they want Mahinda (or whoever) to be prime minister, the president has no way to obstruct that. In fact, even if the UPFA got less than 113, it would still be Mahinda who had to be made prime minister as long as he had the backing of all the UPFA MPs along with some kind of coalition partners such as the SLMC or JVP (and this is what happened in the past when Mahinda became prime minister in 2004 with the support of the JVP). Sirisena’s random television speeches and letters of animosity against Mahinda were therefore used to scare the UPFA voters, and to demoralize the party and the voters. The uneducated voters fell for it.

More about: the leader of the opposition

In the current setting however, there is a slight problem. The majority of the UPFA MPs were elected on an explicitly anti-Sirisena and pro-Mahinda platform. Almost all the pro-Sirisena MPs were rejected (and had to be sneaked into parliament through the back door via National List robbery by Sirisena). And so these MPs want to sit in the opposition because, aside from being anti-Sirisena, they were in fact elected on a mandate of being opposed to the “National Government” (which is actually not a real national government, but is actually a UNP-SLFP coalition government) concept championed by Sirisena, Ranil and Chandrika. Sitting on the government benches would be a violation of their voters’ wishes. Sirisena has a hold on them, however, because the majority of the UPFA MPs are also SLFP members.

Uptil now, UPFA and SLFP could be used interchangeably. But things are different with Sirisena at the helm of the SLFP. He is openly and actively hostile to and seeks to damage and weaken, the UPFA. He seeks to drive the UPFA out of any say in the governing of the country, and is planning on pulling the SLFP out of the alliance too. So right now, if any UPFA MPs want to be in the opposition, they will have to face the risk of being sacked from the SLFP, which has been hijacked by the UNP-sucking Sirisena.

It is because of this state of affairs that recently, headlines reported that Sirisena “had allowed the opposition to choose whoever they want to be leader of the opposition.” Morally, ethically, and in the spirit of democracy, this should be a given. The UPFA MPs who are against the “National Government” should be able to sit in opposition and choose anyone from their number to be their leader. However, Sirisena is able to mock them and their voters because he has the ability to sack them from the SLFP and in doing so, possibly deprive them of their parliamentary seat. They were all elected as UPFA MPs at the last election, so they are able to resist him and in any legal case, they will be found to be in the right, and Sirisena will be found to be wrong. The problem of course is that under Ranil and Sirisena’s dictatorship, the courts are heavily manipulated, and although the correct verdict will eventually most likely be made, it will take a long time. During that time, the parliament will have no real opposition.

More to follow.

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