Harim Peiris

Political and Reconciliation perspectives from Sri Lanka

  • April 2015
    M T W T F S S

Why SLFP must support the 19th Amendment

Posted by harimpeiris on April 9, 2015

Why SLFP must support the 19th Amendment

(Published in the Island of 9th April 2015)


The SLFP has been governing Sri Lanka now for twenty years since 1994, with two of those in cohabitation with a UNP Government. Every indicator is that post the next general election, Sri Lanka is likely to witness a national government of the two major parties, coming together for the purpose of nation building or national institution building in an attempt at a serious program of state reform.

The sovereign people of Sri Lanka were faced with a clear choice in January this year, between the Rajapakse promise of a developmental state with a Rajapakse government that was populist in nature, dynastic in ambition and corrupt in practice on the one hand and opposing that was the mild mannered, soft spoken then General Secretary of the SLFP, Maithripala Sirisena, backed by a rainbow coalition led by the UNP which argued for a democratic state with a national government of the two major parties which would promote good governance, strengthen democracy and effect state reform. The people made their choice. Despite every trick the Rajapakse’s could pull and with not quite the Queensberry rules either.

The SLFP did not pre election defect en bloc to the Sirisena camp but post election, having lost they quite rightly elected President Sirisena as leader of the SLFP and also more recently joined his government in support of the one hundred day program. There is now a need for the SLFP to support the 19th Amendment in good faith and with its best efforts, instead of deceptive methods of delay and denial.

The Sri Lankan State requires reform  


There is fairly overwhelming support within the Sri Lankan polity for state sector reform. It is the nature and extent of the reforms that is still being debated. However the reform effort does require that the foremost pledge to reform the executive presidency should be successful. The Mahinda Rajapakse presidency demonstrated that the Sri Lankan constitution essentially has created an elected dictatorship. Not since the decline of the Roman empire, when that country’s senate heaped more and more powers on its elected emperors, did any other republic vest so much unchecked state power in a single individual as Sri Lanka did in its executive presidency especially post the 19th amendment to the constitution. Sri Lanka under Rajapakse was a multi party democracy transforming into an absolute monarchy.

The statement on the constitutionality of the 19thamendment by the good Professor GL Peiris, who as foreign minister was publicly addressing the young Namal Rajapakse as sir, is laughable. Firstly it is a pity that Professor Peiris was not aware of his constitutional procedures when the 18th amendment was presented and passed by parliament effectively in half a day. The reform or abolition of the executive presidency was presented to the people by President Sirisena at the presidential election and received a popular and legitimate mandate. The same cannot be said of the 18th amendment, which was an aberration and should be repealed by the 19thamendment.

The SLFP’s call for immediate and concurrent electoral reform is deceptive. Firstly it is never possible to push through electoral reform and especially the task of delimitation in several weeks. Hence the demand is in the realm of the impossible. Further the SLFP having been in office for two decades could well have implemented electoral reform or the recommendations of the Dinesh Gunawardena headed Parliamentary Select Committee on electoral reforms if it so wanted to. Clearly such reforms were not on the radar screens of the SLFP under the Rajapakse and must be respected when presented by President Sirisena.

The choice for the SLFP after electoral defeat


The SLFP has a stark choice subsequent to its historic defeat, the first ever of a sitting president. It can coalesce around the leadership of President Sirisena ably advised and assisted by former President Kumaratunga, the daughter of the founders of the Party and support the reform effort of a national government for a five year term. The offer of a national government promises for the SLFP, the unprecedented continuous run in office for close upon twenty five years. This would be the preferred option and the most beneficial to the country.

The alternative to such an approach is for the SLFP to try and seek to oppose the Sirisena presidency, but it is opposing something in which it is now an integral part of and tries to capture power in a general election, off its own steam. This is the partisan, opportunistic and self centered option for the SLFP, which while attractive to a few leaders faces the real obstacle of a leadership vacuum. The real option the SLFP had was to decide on whether it goes with the Sirisena and Kumaratunga leadership or the Rajapakse leadership. It made that decision post election when Rajapakse was compelled to hand over the leadership to President Sirisena. The pipe dream of all three presidents, present and former, Sirisena, Kumaratunga and Rajapakse coming together will not work, not least because it would negate the very choice the people made on January 8th this year. The Rajapakse’s’ were sent packing back to Medamulane by the people, not to make a sceruptious reentry by the back door.

Mahinda Rajapakse was clearly and comprehensively defeated at the polls. He and indeed the SLFP must accept the verdict of the people not only in the political persona of President Sirisena but also in the implementation of the one hundred day program and the commitment to real state reform. The SLFP must not be mislead by the political lightweights of the UPFA’s smaller parties, who in their politically orphaned state are desperately seeking a life line.


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