Kumaratunga seeks 'unequivocal' mandate
[TamilNet, Thursday, 12 July 2001, 19:03 GMT]
Sri Lanka's President Chandrika Kumaratunga Thursday blamed the island's constitution for the ills besetting her country and called for unequivocal mandate for a new constitution in an address to the 'nation' on state run television. The speech focused primarily on the need to do away with the proportional representation system of elections introduced under the 1978 constitution.
The PA says that reverting to the old system would ensure the party a clear majority if not two thirds of the seats in the Parliament. Tamil parties, however, say that it would give rise to 'Sinhala only' governments. The President indicated in her speech that she would have recourse to extra Parliamentary procedure for establishing the new constitution. "It will only create turmoil," said a spokesman for the opposition United National Party, reacting to her statement.
President Chandrika Kumaratunga said that she was ready to abolish the office of Executive President through the New Constitution. Ms. Kumaratunga contested the general and Presidential elections in 1994, pledging to abolish the office of the executive President and solve the ethnic conflict if she was elected. She not only pledged but also set a deadline for to implement her promise. The Marxist Janata Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) withdrew their candidate for President when Ms. Kumaratunga promised that she would abolish the office of Executive President before 15 July 1995.
"Since then she used many devious means, including the coupling the solution to the ethnic conflict to the abolition, to ensconce herself in the office of Executive President. She must be joking when she says that she will relinquish the Presidency. It is what has given her the power to do all this," said a spokesman for the UNP.
"She dwells on the personal sacrifices she is making for the sake of the people, indulging in reprehensible self-pity. What else does she expect to do when holding the highest office in the country? Take two days off for leisure every week?" asked the opposition spokesman.
Following is the Sri Lankan President's speech in full:
"In keeping with the tradition followed by me since election by you as President, it has been my practice to have a dialogue with you whenever the country, the nation or the state is faced with a crisis. Accordingly, it is my intention to address you today on the current crisis arising out of recent developments in Parliament.
You are already aware that the Government has taken two important decisions with regard to the prevailing situation. One is the prorogation of Parliament. The other is the holding of a nationwide referendum on August 21.
I wish to make it abundantly clear to you that these decisions were arrived at due to the concern I have for the welfare of the country and our people, and my honest dedication to stabilize the progress, development and forward march of our country.
Due to situations that developed in Parliament in the past three weeks, an unstable situation was created in the legislature. We understood well that the concern among the public with regard to this situation could be an obstacle to the progress of the country. With a view to providing the necessary space and opportunity for the concerned political parties to find a solution to their differences, I decided to prorogue Parliament for a period of two months. This step was taken under Section 70 of the prevailing Constitution of the country.
Together with this, my Government has taken steps to hold a nationwide referendum, with regard to the Constitution of the country. Being a person who has always given priority to and respected the supremacy of the people, once again I have taken measures to give due place to and enthrone the supremacy of the people. The opportunity is now given to the people to decide as to whether we are to retain the present Constitution that has presented many and varied obstacles to the welfare and progress of the entire Sri Lankan nation, or, whether there should be necessary Constitutional changes in keeping with the needs and aspirations of the people.
Firstly, the 1978 Constitution was imposed on the people of this country with no consultation with the people. Secondly, it is the present Constitution that has been the principal cause behind the several serious crises faced by the country and the people today.
I wish to refer to only a few of these in a democratic country, the supremacy of the people is expressed by way of a free election by the people. However, this expression of the people's view through a free election can be systematically distorted and seriously altered through the system of counting the votes and the determination of those who have been elected by the people. Under this distortion of the representative process, a party that has won 80 electoral districts gets only 51 members elected in contrast, the Opposition that won 20 electoral districts gets 49 members elected. Similarly, a party that wins 70% of the electoral districts gets only 55% elected representatives, while a party that wins 30% of the electoral districts has 45% of elected members.
This has ensured that no political party will be able to establish a stable government. In no other country in the world does such an electoral system exist. There is no such electoral system prevailing in the United Kingdom, France, Australia, India and even the United States of America, that have different electoral systems. Therefore, it is our proposal, through a new Constitution, to have an electoral system that will genuinely and accurately reflect the wishes and aspirations of the majority of the voters or electors (people). It will be a systematic combination based on the electorate system as exists in other democratic countries, and a system of genuine proportional representation to ensure suitable, fair, equitable and genuinely proportionate representation to the various communities and political parties. It is necessary to be rid of the present preferential or ëmanaapaí system, and introduce a different system of proportional representation.
Secondly, we also propose to establish commissions for specific spheres of activity through the new Constitution. Provision was made in the Draft Constitution presented by me to Parliament on August 3, 2000, for the establishment of all these Commissions. If what we presented then were endorsed by vote in Parliament, those Commissions would have been established and functional today. The proposals with regard to these Commissions were discussed at great length and detail with the United National Party, all parties that are constituents of the People's Alliance, and all other parties then represented in Parliament, before being presented to Parliament. We included a large number of amendments proposed by the United National Party.
Consequently, the Leader of the Opposition pledged to vote for the New Constitution, but on August 3, he broke his pledge without giving any reason whatever. I need not describe the manner in which that pledge was broken on that occasion. You would no doubt have seen it very well on television.
However, due to my own and the present Government's commitment to democracy, we proposed once again that these Commissions should be established through the New Constitution.
Thirdly, We propose through the New Constitution to provide fair, constitutional and political solutions to the curse of the ethnic crisis that has, for the past 18 years, gravely affected the lives of all our citizens, be they big or small, rich or poor, urban or rural, and whatever community or religious group they may belong to. We also proposed that the necessary provisions to honestly implement these proposals should be included in the New Constitution.
Fourthly, further, another proposal of mine is to abolish the office of Executive President through this New Constitution. I have always had a very deep interest in carrying this out. This was clearly stated in the Draft Constitution that was presented on August 3, last year. I seek your mandate to definitely and effectively carry this out through the New Constitution.
I do not need the all-encompassing powers that go against the aspirations of the people that are firmly entrenched in the office of the Executive President. My strength is the constant trust placed in me by the people of this country. My understanding, capability and the political experience I have gathered, which was by birthright, is sufficient for my work for the people. More importantly, the sense of honesty and immense dedication to the service of the people that I inherited from my parents also add to my strength. The sacrifice of all that I possess - my wealth, my time, and even the freedom that the poorest is entitled to, for the service of the people, is my sole treasure.
When all these aspects are gathered, I will have more strength than the dictatorial powers provided through the 1978 Constitution. It is my fervent belief that as long as you, the people of this country place your trust in me, for as long as I receive the unstinted support and assistance of the leaders of our party. It will be possible for us to realise together what little is left to realise of the beautiful common dream we had.
I seek your clear and unequivocal mandate that a New Constitution is necessary. Subsequently, we are fully committed to introduce the New Constitution within this year after necessary consultations with the broad sections of society. For this purpose, as I have always done, on this occasion too, I invite all political parties that have a genuine concern for the welfare and interests of our people to join with us in this great and noble task. With all honesty and on behalf of the suffering masses of this country, I hereby call for a broad national understanding with me and my Government to prepare a New Constitution that suits the needs of the nation, and ensure its implementation".