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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 104

Those who complain that institutions are deteriorating in Sri Lanka cannot boycott the Parliamentary Sub Committee on constitutional reform

By Raj Gonsalkorale

As the English proverb goes, one is entitled to tell the Opposition politicians in Sri Lanka that they cannot have their cake and eat it too. While there has been much debate about the intent and the order of the wording of this proverb, one much used interpretation suits the thread of this article. This is to say the Opposition in Sri Lanka cannot try to advocate two incompatible things by not participating in the Parliamentary Sub Committee appointed by the Speaker of the Parliament to discuss constitutional changes.

For one, the view the Opposition wishes the public to believe that institutions and institutional strength is deteriorating in the country under the current regime. While some would believe there might be an element of truth in this, this position cannot be sustained and it becomes incompatible with such a belief if the Opposition contributes to this very deterioration if they decide not to participate in an institutional arrangement that is there to discuss an important issue such as constitutional changes.

Purely from a political point of view, more precisely from a political structural point of view, one can take the view that the current regime cannot be faulted solely for contributing to any institutional deterioration if the Opposition chooses to wait in the side lines and complain about it later. They, as much as the regime has a responsibility to take a more active and positive position to safeguard institutions, and this can only be done from within rather than from the outside.

In regard to any discussions on the 13th Amendment or any other constitutional change, the position of all political parties should be made known and the forum of the PSC should be used to have a vigorous debate on the pros and cons of contemplated changes, and to arrive at a solution if possible through consensus rather than confrontation.

Consensus decision making implies that no party, be it the regime or the Opposition, will get all what they want, and that they will have to find compromise solutions and live with them. The failure to do this, and taking the debate outside this forum, will undermine the very institutional arrangement that is available to discuss such important changes, and it will encourage extra parliamentary activities which then will undermine the parliamentary process itself.

Some may support their extra parliamentary activity by claiming that the huge majority the regime has and therefore their ability to always get what they want, renders these institutional arrangements futile, and therefore participation in them is also futile. This is a fallacious argument judging by the opposition that is there from within the ranks of the regime to any changes to the 13th Amendment, and the opportunity that arises from that for the Opposition parties to work with members of the regime to work out a consensus outcome.

While not arguing that political parties should not undertake peaceful extra parliamentary activities to support their position on the 13th Amendment or any other contemplated constitutional change, the position taken here is that such activities should be undertaken by political parties to strengthen their hands within the institution and not to undermine the institution itself.

While institutional independence and freedom may result in better and more equitable outcomes, institutional strengthening will also come from vigorous debate and discussion if the common objective of all concerned is to come up with something that is best, and sustainable, in the long term interest of the country.

All political parties represented in the parliament should participate in the PSC and make their views known. If their reasoning is sound and is based on fact as well as reality, and if their objective is in the long term interest of the country, it is very likely that they will all be able to find common ground to agree by consensus on the future direction of the 13th Amendment.

From all accounts it appears that the President as given a considerable degree of flexibility to his own coalition and his cabinet of ministers, on changes to the 13th Amendment considering the divergent views amongst his own ministers on the proposed changes.

This should be read as a signal by the Opposition that the President may be willing to accept a compromise solution that all parties including those who are from within his own governing coalition who seem to have views that are different to his are agreeable to, provided the compromise outcome will be in the long term interest of the country.

Those who decide not to participate in the PSC, mostly parties that are on the fringes of the political system of the country or who have an agenda that is not necessarily in the best interest of a unitary, united country, could continue to remain in the fringe and become irrelevant or continue their allegiance to a cause not shared by an overwhelming majority of Sri Lankans.

- Asian Tribune -

Those who complain that institutions are deteriorating in Sri Lanka cannot boycott the Parliamentary Sub Committee on constitutional reform
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