Restore 17th amendment to save democracy
Daily Mirror Editorial
Apr 21, 2012

With the government virtually staggering under intense and unprecedented pressure from the United States, India and other powerful sections of the international community on reconciliation and accountability issues, effective action needs to be taken and taken fast to prevent Sri Lanka from turning into something like another Sudan.

While an Indian parliamentary delegation is holding wide-ranging talks in Sri Lanka and insisting on a political solution based on the 13th Amendment to the constitution, Tamil Naduís Dravida Munethra Kazagan (DMK) leader Muthuvelu Karunanidhi called on the Indian government to push for the United Nations to oversee a referendum on whether there should be a separate state of Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka. Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Thursday hit back at Mr. Karunanidhi saying he should ask for a separate state in India because the Tamil Population in Tamil Nadu is more than ten times as much as the Tamils in Sri Lanka.

Along with immediate steps for reconciliation through devolution of power to the Tamil-speaking people, the government needs to take effective steps to restore democracy.

Independent political analysts believe that the most progressive legislation introduced in Sri Lanka since the curse or disaster of the 1978 constitution was the 17th Amendment which was approved with all-party support.

In terms of the this amendment an all-party Constitutional Council was set up for the appointment of an Independent Police Commission, an Independent Elections Commission, an Independent Judicial Services Commission and an Independent Public Services Commission. At that time the ruling party did not have a potentially devastating 2/3rd majority in parliament and there were effective checks and balances for democracy to work in a manner that brought about a government of the people by the people and for the people. The 17th Amendment had its drawbacks, but it was working quite well for the common good of the people when the government took what many independent analysts saw as a disastrous decision. The 17th Amendment was scrapped and the 2/3rd majority of the patchwork United Peopleís Freedom Alliance (UPFA) government was misused to force the 18th Amendment down the throats of the people.

An opposition critique recently described the 18th Amendment as an act of political terrorism. Most Independent analysts would agree with him. The 18th Amendment scrapped the constitutional council and the independent commissions by giving absolute power to the already too powerful executive presidency, thus opening the door for absolute corruption and other damaging consequences of a dictatorial position. Furthermore, it gave the Executive President the right to contest for any number of terms, though world history has shown that going on for too long could be dangerous and damaging to the country and the person concerned as seen for example in the case of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Widely regarded as one of Britainís most powerful prime ministers, she decided to go on her third term until she was thrown out by her own party and ended up with dementia.

We hope President Mahinda Rajapaksa will in his wisdom realise the dangers posed to democracy by the 18th Amendment, and that he will have the courage to restore democracy through the restoration of the 17th Amendment. Such would be the wisdom of a statesman.

Source: Daily Mirror - Sri Lanka