The UPFA is hoping for a two-thirds majority in the next parliament. However, we reported yesterday that according to the government`s calculations based on past election data, the best projected result would be 12 seats short of its target. Opinion may be divided on this prediction.
Whether people will grant the UPFA a two-thirds majority or not remains to be seen. However, our bitter experience with governments with steamroller majorities makes us wonder if any political party should be given so much of power.
The abuse of power by the SLFP-led United Front government, which gained a two-thirds majority in 1970, is a case in point. It not only introduced a new Constitution but also abused its mandate to extend its parliamentary term arbitrarily. The UNP government, which secured five-sixths of seats at the following election, took a leaf out of the SLFP`s book. It changed the Constitution and abused its majority in every conceivable way. The referendum of 1982, which replaced a general election, opened a new low in Sri Lankan politics. Under both regimes democracy took a heavy beating!
The UPFA has expressed its desire to change the Constitution. Yes, the present Constitution which came into being not to meet people`s aspirations but to pander to the whims and fancies of one man called J. R. Jayewardene, is riddled with serious flaws. Most of all, there is too much of power concentrated in the executive presidency. Even JRJ in retirement woke up to the need to curtail the unbridled presidential powers he himself had created and enjoyed. The electoral system is an unholy mess. It was only the other day that Elections Commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake frowned upon the 17th Amendment he said it was full of holes.
However, an inordinate hurry should be avoided in making a constitution, if its durability and workability are to be guaranteed. A two-thirds majority is not the be-all and end-all of constitution making. What is needed most is a broad consensus among all stake holders.
The first casualty of steamroller majorities in Parliament is consensus. Politicians who win handsomely at elections lose their heads shortly afterwards. Therefore, governments with huge majorities turn monolithic in no time and take to railroading Oppositions and the people into submission. During the JRJ regime, it was jokingly said that dentists were having hard times, for people did not dare open their mouths even for a tooth extraction!
The UPFA by virtue of having a vast majority of Local Government bodies, all Provincial Councils and the executive presidency under its control certainly has the edge over the Opposition where the next general election is concerned. However, it is said that there is many a slip twixt cup and the lip and whether the government will wisely make the most of its popularity or ruin its prospects by being preoccupied with settling scores, remains to be seen. Anyway, if the UPFA is not toying with the idea of slapping a fait accompli by way of a new Constitution on the country, there is no reason why it should be desperate for a two-thirds majority. For, if a draft constitution prepared with the concurrence of all stake holders, especially the main Opposition party, is presented to Parliament, even a government with a simple majority can rest assured of its passage.
President Chandrika Kumaratunga came very close to achieving that goal in 2000. She co-operated with the UNP in preparing a draft constitution but blundered by surreptitiously inserting some provisions into it at the eleventh hour and, in the process, provoking the UNP, which joined forces with the JVP to shoot down her constitutional reforms package in Parliament.
If the next government secures the co-operation of the Opposition in drafting a new constitution and desists from playing tricks on others, nothing is going to stand in the way of its implementation.