New - Style President
I listened last night on the radio to Mr. J. R. Jayewardene's Presidential address to the people of our country. It was heart-breaking.
Let me not be misunderstood. There was no lack of noble sentiments in what I heard. The tone too was solemn and in accord with the occasion. But what I heard left me outraged.
How easy it is for practised speakers and writers to clothe noble sentiments in noble words! But how is one to square oneself with plain untruth in a speech made in the name of righteousness?
Mr. Jayawardena said he was the first elected President of Sri Lanka. He simply is not. He certainly is the first new - style President of our Republic. But elected President he is not.
Mr. Jayawardena went into the 1977 general elections asking to be made the Prime Minister of this country. The voters over Whelmingly gave him his request. But elect him. President they did not. He did not ask it and he could not ask it. All he did was to declare that he would change the Constitution to provide for a President with executive powers who would be elected by popular vote. He is entitled to claim that the people gave him a mandate to carry through the appropriate constitutional amendments. Upon completion of that task through the appropriate processes, his task in respect of the new-style Presidency was to organize the election of a President by popular vote. If, moreover, it was his ambition to be the first such elected President, then, he would have had to seek election under whatever electoral process the amendments to the Constitution provided. That undoubtedly was also the People's expectation. But that precisely is what Mr. Jayawardena has not done. He has neither provided for his own election by the People nor got himself elected by the People to the Presidency. He has simply imposed himself on the People by amendment of the Constitution. And imposed -himself- as the signs already show for six fateful years.
Let us look at the procedure adopted. The U.N.P. with Mr. Jayawardena at the head, won the general election of 23rd July, 1977. On that day, the People gave the U.N.P. 52 per cent of the vote and 140 out of the l68 seats in the National State Assembly. It was a famous victory: no doubt about that!
After the general election was over, Mr. Jayawardena was installed Prime Minister by President Gopallawa on July 25th. Incidentally, his partisans had already installed themselves destructively in the streets on the 24th itself, maiming, assaulting and otherwise harassing their political opponents of any and every hue, burning and otherwise laying waste their opponents' property –
all in an obviously pre-planned manner which could not be mistaken for spontaneity. There was sheer robbery on a mass scale. There was even murder and rape. The police and authority generally looked on generally benevolently, sometimes helplessly, often even assisting actively. The kinship with Fascism, of the display of thuggery and violence was unmistakable. Coming events cast their shadows before.
In the course of the following days, the U.N.P. was rapidly installed in monopoly power. A cabinet was chosen and met. An impressive display of triumph and power was staged in Kandy. And when the new N.S.A. met itself the second N.S.A. of the Republic and the first elected N.S.A. the U.N P 's monopoly power therein was plain for all to see The enveloping U N P majority in the Chamber were quick to demonstrate to the tiny Opposition , and especially to the S L.F.P. eight, where they got off – that is, whether they would be allowed to get off at all. Characteristically, the U.N.P. leadership assured the world that, in contrast with the days of Mrs. Bandaranaike's power, the Opposition and specifically the S.L.F.P. handful – would receive every facility, consideration and hearing from the Government benches. It was a hypocritical assurance. The performance belied the promise. In varying degrees and according to occasion, it continues to be so to this day.
On the question of creating a new - style Presidency, Mr. Jayawardena as Prime Minister, and his cabinet, acted speedily and ruthlessly. This writer has the clear impression that the substantial contents of "The Second Amendment" had been determined before the U.N.P. came to power on this occasion. However that may be, the contents of the Second Amendment Bill were determined by the U.N.P., in fact by its controlling group (for it was not brought even before the Government Party before presentation to Parliament, without any consultation with the People at all. A Bill was prepared. The Cabinet endorsed it to be "urgent in the national interest" and sent it through the Speaker direct to the Constitutional Court for its opinion (which it must give within 24 hours). The Constitutional Court did not in any manner fault the Bill which was then presented forthwith to the N.S.A. and taken up for debate. It was only when the Bill was thus presented to the N.S.A. that its contents first became known even to the Government M.P.'s and thereafter to the world outside the N.S.A. The large majority of people in this country do not know the contents even to this day.
The debate on the Bill was adjourned for a later sitting after Mr. Jayawardena had made the opening speech. That very adjournment made nonsense of the Cabinet's endorsement that the Bill was "urgent in the national interest." Some two weeks later, the Bill was, as expected, passed with the necessary majority in the U.N.P. monopolised House and certified by the Speaker on 20th October, 1977. And once again, the Prime Minister postponed bringing the Law into operation for fully 3 1/2 months, until February 4th. So much for "urgent in the public interest."!
There was more to the postponement than that. There was, within the postponement, resort to the same "device" for which Mr. J. R. Jayawardena had denounced Mrs. Bandaranaike in most
unmeasured terms. It was Mr. Jayawardena's contention that Mrs. Bandaranaike had increased her term of office illegally from five years to seven when the Constituent Assembly fixed the term of office of the first N.S.A. at 5 years, starting 22nd May, 1972. But that was by a Constituent Assembly which had not simply dratted a new Constitution but asserted the sovereignty and independence of our People, abolished not only our connection with the British Crown but also with the monarchical system itself, declaring Sri Lanka a Republic with its appropriate institutions. It was a new beginning, a complete severance from our subject past.
But here is Mr. Jayawardena, by the simple device of postponing the operation of some amendments to the Constitution which, among other things, appoint him as President with powers that already cause him to be greeted at Dalada Veediya with a thrana which was a large replica of the crown worn by the last King of Kandy, not only extending his own term of office from six years to over six and a half years but also making himself irremovable from office till February 4th 1984. As Prime Minister he could not have remained beyond July 23rd, 1983; and could also have fallen before that if defeated in the N.S.A. Now, the Government he heads can be defeated and the N.S.A. can be dissolved, but he remains. Even when the N.S.A. stands dissolved by effluxion of time, he remains. He remains - to choose the new Government, to be its Head and to preside over the Cabinet, although the U.N.P. may have lost the general election.
The man who denounced Mrs. Bandaranaike then should be denouncing himself now; but that is a righteousness that does not fit his needs, his party's needs and, indeed, the needs of the capitalist class. There must indeed be those among them who would have him irremovable for life. And that, as the U.N.P. M.P. who asked Mr. Jayawardena to crown himself no doubt realized, can certainly be achieved in that way. The example of Emperor Bokasso of
somewhere in Africa is now available. And Africa seems to be the source of the new - style President ideal.
Mr. Jayawardene has not been elected to the new - style presidential office by the people. He has been appointed to that office by the U.N.P., utilizing its steam roller majority in the N.S.A. That is the fact, however much he himself and his inspired partisans may assert otherwise. It is a bad beginning.
But that is not all. Mr. Jayawardena started his speech with a reference to "a state of violence and the shedding of blood" within the first two months of his becoming Prime Minister six months ago. He called it "regrettable" and he washed his hands of it all with the remark: "I do not know for what: reasons human beings sometimes without any reason at all act like animals. If a person does harm to another he must remember that the person who injures or kills may be the father, mother, or daughter of a fellow human being."
Now, what did Mr. Jayawardena refer to when voicing these pious sentiments? First of all, of course, to the utterly disgraceful and rankly foul behaviour of his victorious followers on the very morrow of the general elections. We have already referred to that Sri Lanka has never before seen post-election violence and brutality on that awful and intimidatory scale. It lasted fully three weeks. Its echoes still reverberate. Its effects persist. The worry is that its perpetrators intended the effects to persist. What they did was to warn those who had opposed them not to dare to risk opposing the U.N.P. next time – or ever.
But what of the dire and dark two weeks that followed, when the same forces around and behind the U.N.P. launched a pitiless onslaught of unprecedented brutality on the Tamils of our land? The deliberateness of it all was forbidding. The invasion of the plantations was an entirely new and barbaric development. And yet, all that Mr. Jayawardena has to say about this
soul-shattering outbreak is that he cannot understand it and that the government was able "to contain the situation" without the declaration of an emergency "and the consequences that flow after such a declaration." What a boast and what self-congratulation in relation to his utter failure to prevent the preventable and to tackle a situation which was a searching test of any claim of any government to "non-communalism"! It is not an approach that can lead to any kind of effective or realistic tackling of the problem of race-relations in our land.
Mr. Jayawatdena proceeded to make a breath-taking claim for his six months as Prime Minister. Said he: "If we look at the democratic freedom of this country today, there is no other country in the world which has given "so much freedom." "So much freedom"? But yesterday, all political demonstrations have been banned – lot by law but by Mr. Jayawarden's fiat in breach of the law! Under our law, anyone is entitled to take out a procession with four hours notice to the police. Since Mr. Jayawardena's ban you can try to take out your procession – and have your heads broken by baton wielding policemen. Some freedom!
Since Mr. Jayawardena took over, you can sell an Opposition newspaper or a pamphlet in the streets, only at the risk of being "taken up for questioning" by the police. I had just been informed of such an occurrence in regard to a pamphlet I myself had written and could hardly relish the irony of Mr. I. R Jayawardena's freedom. We are free to be taken up and broken up. Mr. Jayawardena is free to take us up and break us up. Freedom indeed!
We are a free country the freest in the world. So free that our trade unionists have been transferred, victimised and even assaulted to please Mr. Jayawardena's local trade union leaders whose word is law so often to so many government and corporation officials. So free that our trade unions are under threat against political strikes and even any strikes at all!
So free, finally, that many an organisation of ours in many an area, if and when it meets, is honoured with a visit (or is it a visitation?) of the police. Their homes are inviolable. Ours are not!
We could add to the tale. But to what purpose? We have Mr. Jayawardena's assurance that we are the freest country in the world. And we should no doubt be content with that!
See how solemn is his promise. "I take this oath and promise the people from this sacred place that I will endeavour to carry out the responsibility of my office for the benefit of every person irrespective of caste, creed, community or religion; I am the leader of 14 million people and I will act without any bias towards anybody."
Great words. But men are judged by their deeds. But two days ago I was consulted on behalf of a whole set of co-operative employees in Agalawatte who are being driven away from their jobs. Their only fault seems to be that the U.N.P. has its knife into them. Not dozens but hundreds have been thrown out since the U.N.P. came in for the only fault that they were appointed during the time I was the member. But three days ago, the teachers met in protest against the victimisations involved in some 35,000 transfers, victimisation for which surely Mr. Jayawardena cannot brush off responsibility in the manner that one brushes off a troublesome fly.
"Without any bias" – just when they have announced the institutionalisation of political bias! A "job bank" has been announced…. to replace the infamous M.P.'s chit. To replace; but not abolish it; as claimed. Every U.N.P. M.P. will select 1,000 people in his electorate – he usually chooses them from his youth leagues which have expressly to answer the question: what has the person done for the U.N.P.? These lists will be consolidated and computerised – and, thereafter, all choices for jobs will be made from those lists, Wonderful abolition, isn't it? You abolish all chits by consolidating them into one 1,000 – name chit! Other people call that, not an abolition but a hoax. Dharmista! You abolish sins by consolidating them all into one big sin! Man of old had many devils before he invented one great DEVIL. Presumably that was as great a step forward as the replacement of gods with GOD. But, at least in the case of the Devil, everyone wants his abolition his abolition! And not his institutionalisation! - Truth! Not humbug!
Yes, truth, not humbug. Not breaches of promises made to get to power, but honest attempts to fulfil them after being placed in power in faith in those promises. Not eight generous pounds of grain before the elections and vicious ration cuts after the elections – not to mention taking the sugar ration away in addition. No price cuts before and price raises to match devaluation just after. Not…. It has been a melancholy series, which is still extending. An awful series which makes Mr. Jayawardena's dharmista regime stink to high heaven – the same high heaven to which the deprived and the deceived, and especially the trusting women who voted U.N.P in protest against hunger and shortages today stretch their imploring and protesting hands. Dharmista Jayawardena is already current and common coin.
We confess to a new worry amidst it all. "I am the leader of 14 million people." Ominous words which stir still frightening memories. Was it not Hitler who said: "I am the leader of the German people, of all Germans where ever they are!"? And all the world knows where he led them and into what hell he plunged the world. The slogan of the U.N.P. today is "One party, One policy, one Leader – and Leader is always with a capital 'L.' Are we heading for one party, one policy, one Leader, for the nation too?
It is a grim Presidential beginning…. The hour may have been auspicious for the President. But was it auspicious for the nation?