1.1 Constitutional Reforms
The establishment of democracy will not be complete until we do away with the executive presidency and move into Parliamentary system – where the executive authority is vested in the Cabinet led by the Prime Minister and answerable to the Parliament, the supreme body in a representative democracy.
The Prime Minister can hold office only so long as he can command the confidence of Parliament.
Recent history has proved that the concentration of power on one person has not only denigrated the Parliament but also the whole Cabinet. There is also no evidence to support the misguided belief that an executive authority vested in a single person helps to maintain the geographical integrity of Sri Lanka. The Executive Presidential system has prevailed since 1978 and the civil war ended in 2009, after 31 years of that system. When the government in power defeated the 1971 April uprising in a short time, it did not possess executive presidential powers.
The Presidential system favours dictatorial regimes with an inclination to suppress the press and control the judiciary, as shown by our experience with several such regimes.
Size of the cabinet
It should be enshrined in the Constitution that there should not be more than 25 members of the Cabinet and a maximum of 25 Parliamentary Secretaries.
As canvassed in the interim report of the Steering Committee of the Constituent Assembly, the establishment of a second chamber or a Senate is encouraged. The Senate should act as a house of scrutiny. However, the Senators should be representatives of each Province. Five Senators suggested in the interim report, from each province could be reduced to three. The ten Senators to be appointed by the National Government should also be reduced to three. Accordingly, the Senate chamber will have a total of 30 Senators.
If we have the privilege to govern, we will endeavour to disqualify Senators who have a history of partisan activities in the Sri Lankan political spectrum at least within the past ten years. Our intention is to choose people who have excelled themselves in their own professional fields or made a positive contribution to the country as a social activist.
Multi-Member Proportional Electoral System (MMP)
The incumbent government has introduced a Multi-Member Proportional Electoral System. A government of ours will provide a reference to one of the Parliamentary Investigatory committees (Electoral Matters Committee) to investigate into the appropriateness of the MMP system. Appropriate action will be taken based on the recommendations of the committee report.
All political donations over and above a certain limit (for example Rs 5,000) should be declared with donor details by each individual parliamentarian or candidate/campaign director to the Election Commissioner’s office within one week of receiving the donation.
Responsibilities of Jurisdictions
Once the powers and responsibilities of the Provincial Council are established, that should be enshrined in the Constitution as independent jurisdictions.
A government of ours will revisit this issue to ensure the responsibilities allocated for each level of government is appropriate. Eventually, responsibilities of each level of government will be codified in the Constitution.
A body which will be temporarily named as Council of Governing Entities of Sri Lanka (COGESL) needs to be enshrined in the Constitution for the National Government and Provincial Councils to work together.
The main forum of the COGESL will be the Chief Ministers and the Prime Minister’s forum chaired by the Prime Minister. However, there will be a number of other ministerial forums and public servants’ forums. The main task of the COGESL is to funnel money to provincial jurisdictions for projects since the principal tax collector is the national government.
A government of ours will make provision, for the provincial councils to carry out investment and trade with foreign jurisdictions after obtaining prior permission from COGESL. Although all COGESL members will be briefed about such matters, only the national government can approve, reject or takeover the accomplishment of this task on their behalf. However, on request other Provincial Councils can partner with such projects.
It is vital to set up Bipartisan Parliamentary Investigatory Committees to investigate on current issues and understand what the citizens of the country expect of the Parliament and Government. The ministers and the Parliament can provide references for each committee to work on. These committees can be enshrined in the Constitution or more appropriately enacted as acts of Parliament. The details of the committee structures and roles will be open for discussion. For example, there could be committees investigating on Road Safety issues, Drug and Alcohol issues, Electoral Matters, Family and Community issues et cetera.
While Provincial Councils can enact their own legislation, such legislation where responsibilities overlap, need to comply with national law. Otherwise national law will override provincial law if they are in the same space.
The Chief Ministers should have the responsibilities to appoint the Provincial Governors for an agreed period of time.
Fixed Terms and Compulsory Voting
We consider a fixed parliamentary term comprising ideally 4 years to be long enough for a government to deliver on its commitments.
This will provide certainty to government departments, private sector, worker co-operatives and potential foreign investors. This will end party leaders and governments manipulating election dates to their advantage.
Voting at elections is a civic responsibility of all citizens. There is no excuse for not taking the trouble to turn up at the polling booth to express their voting preference. If a particular voter is unhappy of all candidates or political parties seeking election, he or she can vote informally. That will indicate their preference or rather disapproval of all candidates/political parties on offer.
If there is no such commitment from the people, it is hard to establish a participatory democracy.
Legislation should be passed to make hindering the voting process in any way shape or form to be a criminal offence and punishable with imprisonment.