Colombo, May 9: Having failed to resolve the political crisis in Sri Lanka, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, his political allies, and the main opposition party, the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB), are considering the ideas put forward by the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) to set up an “Interim Government of National Unity” that will meet the political demands of the agitating public and also put the derailed Lankan economy back on the rails.
The President’s Office said in a press release that he would consider the BASL’s proposals in the light of the Lankan constitution. And the SJB said that it is in accord with the BASL’s proposals. The BASL’ proposals are radical, suggesting the abolition of the Executive Presidency within a timeframe and the repeal of the 20 th.Amendment of 2020 which gives the Executive President humongous powers leading to arbitrariness and misuse.
Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Revolt
Meanwhile, efforts are being made to get Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa to resign so that the cabinet is dissolved and a national government is formed with a new Prime Minister. But Mahinda Rajapaksa is refusing to quit. If sacked, he has sworn to move with his followers to the opposition in parliament. About 80 to 90 MPs from the 225-members of parliament, are expected to move out with him. He has sought the blessings of a Buddhist shrine in Anuradhapura and is planning a rally of his followers in Colombo on Monday.
President Gotabaya had tried to get SJB leader Sajith Premadasa to form a national government. But Premadasa turned down the offer because he could not be Prime Minister in a government headed by the discredited Gotabaya Rajapaksa who is the direct target of the on-going popular “Gota Go Home” campaign. Premadasa wants a commitment from the President to abolish the Executive Presidency and repeal the 20 th.Amendment. He has been wanting the President to accept the BASL’s proposals.
The BASL said in a statement that without political stability, it would be impossible to resolve the economic crisis. While India and the rest of the international community have announced aid and India is already delivering funds and material, political parties in the Sri Lankan parliament have not striven to find common ground to form an alternative, stable, government. All that is being done by them is advertising their demands, which conflict with each other.
BASL has warned that the existence of a token parliamentary majority and the appointment of new ministers will not end the present political instability. Neither can political stability be restored by the use of force or strong-arm tactics.
“The need of the hour for the country is for all political parties represented in parliament to act in the best interest of the country and forge a bi-artisan consensus on the national economy to carry out urgent domestic reforms and build confidence in bi-lateral and multi-lateral partners,” the lawyer’s body said.
Abolition of Executive Presidency
The BASL has recommended the abolition of the Executive Presidency as early as possible but not later than 15 months. An amendment to that effect should be passed in parliament no later than 30th November 2022, and must set the operative date by which the Executive Presidency will be abolished. The Executive Presidency should be replaced by a parliamentary form of government, where the Prime Minister, as the head of the government and the Cabinet of Ministers, is accountable to parliament.
An “Interim Government of National Unity” should be formed and it should consist of 15 Cabinet Ministers. The Prime Minister should be a Member of Parliament who is able to establish a consensus among all political parties in Parliament, on the national economy and to enact necessary reforms. If there is no Member of Parliament who meets this criterion due to the exigencies of the situation, a vacancy created by the resignation of a National List MP may be used to facilitate the entry into Parliament of an individual who meets these criteria. The BASL is informally canvassing for Karu Jayasuriya, a former cabinet minister and parliament Speaker.
Independent Advisory Council
The Interim Government, in consultation with all relevant independent, apolitical Professional/Trade/Civil Society organizations, should appoint an “Independent Advisory Council” consisting of 15 qualified professionals from disciplines corresponding to the 15 Ministries or relevant to the national economy. All major policy decisions of the Government should be taken in consultation with the Advisory Council in a transparent manner.
Common Minimum Program
The Cabinet of National Unity should prepare a Common Minimum Program (CMP), in consultation with the Advisory Council. The CMP should be tabled in parliament for its approval, and the implementation of the CMP should be the responsibility of the Cabinet of National Unity. The CMP should lay special emphasis on caring for the most vulnerable people of Sri Lanka.
The CMP should, inter alia, focus on: Debt restructuring, negotiating an IMF program and obtaining of bridging finance from bi-lateral partners pending the IMF program. It should immediately ensure an end to the shortages of essential goods and services. There should be transparency in divesture and privatization of State assets and in the award of tenders including ongoing procurements.
The CMP should uphold the Rule of Law, and in particular, ensure that State actors uphold the rights and freedoms of the people and advance Sri Lanka’s Human Rights situation. The government should adopt a foreign policy which supports national interests. There should be steps to make the Central Bank of Sri Lanka independent.
Professionals in Parliamentary Committees
The Consultative Committees of Parliament and Sectoral Oversight Committees should be strengthened by inviting professional organizations and trade associations to attend such meetings.
The CMP should consider the proposals of the BASL on amendments to the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) which had been submitted to the Minister of Foreign Affairs by a letter dated 22 December 2021. A budget presented by the Interim Government should be based on the CMP.
The Government of National Unity should remain for a maximum period of 18 months. It should exist for a further six weeks as a “Caretaker Government” to oversee elections. At the conclusion of 18 months, parliament should be dissolved and a General Election held on the expiry of six weeks. The Government of National Unity should cease to exist at the conclusion of the General Election, the BASL said.