Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Seventeenth Amendment

"The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, elected by the people thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one vote. The electors in each State shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the State legislatures.
When vacancies happen in the representation of any State in the Senate, the executive authority of such State shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies: Provided, That the legislature of any State may empower the executive thereof to make temporary appointments until the people fill the vacancies by election as the legislature may direct.
This amendment shall not be so construed as to affect the election or term of any Senator chosen before it becomes valid as part of the Constitution."

This amendment basically explains the terms for our state senators, it is important that we vote senators in that we feel will best represent our state.


By Nanda Godage

This determination of the Opposition to do away with the quasi Presidential form of government which we have had since 1978 brings up the question as to whether this form of governance has failed our county and our people. Some of those who seek to abolish the Quasi-Presidential of government seek the re-establishment of Cabinet government and some among them seek to have an Executive Prime Minister. This present episode in our history smells of sour grapes.

There is indeed little doubt that this attempt to abolish the Executive Presidency is born out of spite and not out of any concern for the national interest There is no doubt that there has been nepotism and allegations of corruption, but that could very easily be checked if only our Parliamentarians pass a law giving citizens the right to information. Many countries have used this law to counter corruption in all its forms.

As for the JVP’s campaign, they who still celebrate the life of Wijeweera who sought to establish a Marxist dictatorship for which over fifty thousand misguided youth sacrificed their precious lives, now calling for the establishment of real Democracy is incredulous and ironical to say the least. Their agenda was and is to create chaos for they still believe in the proletarian revolution. They need not be taken seriously.

Let us pause to recall how we fared under the form of Cabinet government which we had from 1948 till 1978. We certainly had political stability of a sort between 1948 an ’56 but did we have economic development of any worth? there was absolutely nothing noteworthy, the governments of the times did not address the most immediate of problems, namely the problem of the minority communities, a problem which had first surfaced during the Donoughmore years; 1956 was of course a watershed year when political power passed from the ‘haves’ to the ‘havenots’, The years that passed from then on were essentially years of political instability and once again with no economic development. The nineteen sixties saw galloping development in the countries east of us whereas our country, seeking social justice by dividing the cake and not increasing its size also discouraging private foreign investment through its nationalization programme and inward looking socialist policies was unable to deliver we in fact regressed.

Cabinet government or Parliamentary democracy, neither brought stability nor development in any form; those Parliaments only killed off private initiative and incentive and set us back by decades. We were certainly a democracy meaning that we held free and fair elections till 1977, when, to my mind, this country held its last free and fair election. In this regard we need to flag the Parliamentary election of March 1960, when we had no cutouts or posters no loud speakers blaring political poppycock from street corners and people went to their respective polling booths voted and went home--- (we had no booth capturing or ballot rigging nor intimidation of voters --- all such practices were common after 1977) changing the government through the ballot box; In 1960 March even the Prime Minister that great democrat, Mr. W Dahanayake lost his seat and took a late night bus from outside Temple Trees back home to Galle! Those were indeed the good old days when we had real democracy. But, as stated before the form of governance did not deliver economic or social development.

So we had Cabinet government for 30 years and this quasi- Presidential form of government also for a period of 30 years. Despite its shortcoming have we not have had far more economic and social development in the second period and this despite the war? And the question that we need to honestly answer is as to whether we could have ever ended this war had we not had an Executive President? Could a parliamentary Cabinet form of government ever been able to achieve this? They were always unstable and weak even at the best of times.

I am surprised that many, who should know better, claim that if Gen. Fonseka wins this election they could do away with the Presidency; this is only possible through an amendment to the constitution and would need a two third majority and if the proponents of this think that they could find consensus in Parliament to muster a two third majority with our present electoral system, they would be dreaming.

The issue today results more from political party rivalry and the crude effort to seize sole power for the legislature, than from any concern that the country has suffered under this form of this quasi presidential form of government. This quasi- presidential system should no doubt be refined and the Executive Presidents powers curtailed and made accountable, but that is another issue.

Has there been a breaking down of the relationship between the governing institutions, I think not for the members of the legislature form the Cabinet which is presided over by the Executive President. This fact that this concentration unprecedented of power in the executive president is not in the national interest has been conceded but the fact remains that the Executive Presidency has lent enormous stability to this country.

In a presidential system, political and administrative powers are divided between the executive, legislative and judicial branches. Officials in these branches serve different terms of office and different constituencies.

In a parliamentary system, Parliament is sovereign and executive authority (exercised by the Prime Minister and Cabinet) is derived from the legislature. In our hybrid system, executive power is shared between a separately elected President and a Prime Minister.

Our political system is in many ways unique; whilst we appear to have a separation of powers we see more a fusion which weakens the separation of power This is why such systems are referred to as ‘Quasi - Presidential”. or a Hybrid system It has indeed led to conflict as we saw in 2002 when the UNP had a majority in Parliament and the President was from the SLFP. Let us examine the options available to us:

The first option would be to have a system of government as that of the United States of America where the separation of powers is distinct. The Executive President, as we know, appoints the Cabinet of Ministers from outside the Legislature; if we adopt that system the President would be able to appoint eminent persons, knowledgeable in their fields to form the Cabinet; we would then be certainly assured of better governance. The Legislature for its part would be able to examine the suitability of the person and of all appointments made by the President. This would obviate the need to have independent Commissions as envisaged in the 17th Amendment. This would also be a check on executive action. Under this system of governance the Legislature would have oversight powers and also control legislation for it is only the Legislature that has the power to legislate.

The second option would be to do away with the Executive Presidency and vest executive power once again in the Cabinet of Ministers or as someone has suggested have an Executive Prime Minister who would be answerable to Parliament; whilst this formula seems attractive for the Executive PM would be accountable to Parliament which is said to be sovereign, the system however failed in Israel where it was tried out.

.The third option is to revert back to Cabinet government which has without doubt failed this country.

The fourth option would be to continue the present system whilst reducing the powers of the President and removing the immunity provisions and also by introducing mechanisms to ensure accountability and transparency. We should also remove the power of th President to dissolve Parliament where the PM enjoys the confidence of the House as was done in 2003. There is no argument that the powers enjoyed by the President today should be revised. We should not allow room for instances such as. his not implementing the 17th Amendment though he has taken an oath to uphold the constitution. Parliament should assume the powers of the President in such an instance. Perhaps a compromise formula may be for the President to keep the portfolios of Defence and Foreign Affairs and transfer executive power relating to all else to the sovereign Parliament. This would ensure a balance of power. We would then not be throwing the baby out with the bathwater but let us ensure above all else that the RULE OF LAW is enthroned in our country.

Big Government is scary, and not how our founders intended it to be.

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