The New Triumvirate of Power - How Parliament is Stymied and the Cabinet rendered Otiose.

R Chandrasoma

The Wesminister model of parliamentary governance is supposed to be the mother-stock from which our constitutional arrangements are derived. In brief, we have representational democracy based on a freely elected parliament, a cabinet of ministers and an executive president. These entities are supposed to act collegially at the behest of the people to do what is sound for the worldly weal and well-being of the nation. In flagrant opposition to this collegiality, let us suppose the President of Sri Lanka declares publicly 'I shall have my way regardless of constitutional niceties and the opinion of the elected representatives'. Not only has she arrogated to herself powers that have no constitutional warrant, she has struck at the heart of the system of governance she has pledged under oath to uphold.

Let us fill in some of the detail. Her sympathy for the Tamil cause is well known. Her overweening ambition has been to grant the Tamils full-featured autonomy in the North and East without the blood and thunder of Prabhakaran's Eelamism. In doing this, she is prepared to dismiss contemptuously both the unitary state and the historic dominancy of the Sinhala-Buddhist indigenes. While steadfastly pursued, the goal has always been elusive. Readers will recall the parliamentary fiasco that ended ingloriously her first attempt to ram through a constitution that would have created a 'union of regional states' in which the dispossessed Sinhalayas would be driven into a culturally neutral 'Bantustan'.

History works in cycles and we see today a phoenix-like rebirth of the infamous political dynamic that was so spectacularly thwarted a decade ago. It is again the President of Sri Lanka that is the chivalrous knight fighting to restore the rights of the Tamils in the face of implacable opposition from the benighted forces of the Sinhala South. What is different this time? This, indeed, is the crucial question. Let us try to give some answers. In public speeches, the President has said - in effect - that there are now three parties directly involved in the resolution of the current crisis over the 'reconstruction' of the North and East. ('Reconstruction' is a cover-word for 'governing authority') The International Donors, the Tamil Tigers and the Government of Sri Lanka constitute the Triumvirate of Power that currently oversees the destiny of our country. This is a sea-change from what prevailed earlier - a de facto revolution in the operation of the law of the land. How can foreigners be co-opted to execute a task which is quintessentially local and native? Is this not a harking back to the reviled colonialism of yesteryear? Today, we have the Norwegians, Japanese, EU potentates, the Canadians and many others advising, pressuring and even threatening the leaders of Sri Lanka to pursue a line of action that they unilaterally deem good for us. They cannot interact directly with parliament but they have enormous clout with the leaders of Parliament and with the Head of State.

No longer is parliament supreme - no longer does power ride on the mandate of a free people. It is the foreigner who calls the tune and it is an obsequious leadership that squirms in embarrassment when forced by the overlord to comply with demands that no sane parliament can endorse.
Let us turn to the last (and openly belligerent) division of the triumvirate - the LTTE or Tamil Tigers. This is an organization known for its indiscriminate killing, the commissioning of female suicide bombers, recruitment of child-soldiers, bumping off of political enemies and world-wide racketing in weapons and contraband. It has a standing army of brigands who kill like well-trained robots. It is this organization that the President of Sri Lanka regards as the essential partner in the 'rebuilding' of the North and East. So great is her ardour for reconciliation that she invented a political philosophy that owes much to that famous slave of the West, Ranil Wickremasinghe. Like the latter she regards 'Peace' as all-embracing and inviolable. Politics and governance are mere hand-maidens of the peace-process and if politics is skewed and justice perverted in the struggle to attain peace, so be it. This, dear friends is the political philosophy that has gained ascendancy in our local 'White House'. Parliament has become a sounding board operated by political windbags and the 'cabinet' a place of intrigue and deception. These are strong words but they portray fairly accurately the sorry pass to which our country has reached. Money rules politics in Sri Lanka and foreigners and powerful NGOs are keenly aware of this mournful fact. Indeed, it is money - on a colossal scale - that is being used to tempt the state to deal with the murderous LTTE and to barter for a song the inalienable rights of the people. There is an old-fashioned word to describe this melancholy state of affairs - treachery. A word that is hauntingly familiar to those who know the long and tortured history of Sri Lanka.



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