Interim Government and Interim Constitution

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Norway elects its 169-member Stortinget (Parliament) once in four years and during its term the House cannot be dissolved under any circumstance. The political parties represented in Parliament have to enter into coalition with each other in the event no party gets the absolute majority of 85 seats. There is no constitutional provision for dissolution of Parliament until the end of its 4-year term.

As a keen student on Norwegian politics, I found that other democratic countries could learn many good lessons from the Norwegian electoral system, though Oslo was a total failure in its peace mediation in Sri Lanka during which the mediator was totally biased towards the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a proven terrorist outfit.

Norway has a multi-party system, with numerous parties in which no one party often has a chance of gaining power alone, and parties must work with each other to form a coalition Government or a minority Cabinet of Ministers.

When I served in Norway from 2002 to 2005, the Prime Minister was Kjell Magne Bondevik and I was surprised to learn that Bondevik’s party, the Christian Democrats, had only 11 seats in Parliament and it was the 5th among the winners. Four major parties – Labour (61 seats), Progress (38), Conservative (23) and Socialist (15) – had more seats than Christian Democratic Party, but they failed to enter into and coalition due to policy differences.

Bondevik ruled Norway as Prime Minister until October 2005 with the support of the Progress Party and Conservative Party and as the government took all major decisions in consultation with opposition parties, there were no attempts to topple Bondevik’s minority government. With such consensual approach, Norway progressed to be the richest country as well as the best place to live in the world. Furthermore, in the World Bank’s index on Political Stability and Absence of Violence/Terrorism, Norway scored 94.34 % in 2020.

While Norway is a good example to Sri Lankan politicians about peaceful cohabitation between political parties, Sri Lanka can also take lessons from South Africa and Nepal on national stability and peaceful transition of power though Interim Governments and Interim Constitutions.

Interim governance arrangements are an institutional framework established to create a temporary arrangement when the existing governance body has been interrupted by political or violent crises. It is a short term arrangement towards a more peaceful, inclusive and democratic governance.

Interim governance bodies, usually with forms of power-sharing between the government and opposition, are often the central component of the transition. The structure, membership and portfolios will have to be arrived at through negotiations between different political parties and groups.

The leaders of political parties will have to be extremely cautious while adopting a give-and-take attitude in negotiations as the Cabinet membership, decision-making functions and institutional linkages of the interim Government will provide members with access to power, State resources, esteem and political relevance.

In addition to interim Government arrangements, some countries established Interim Constitutions until an acceptable new constitution could be drafted.

Nepal is such a country that formed an interim Constitution in 2007 to ensure peaceful transition of power after a decade of violent insurgency spearheaded by the Maoists who later entered the democratic mainstream by forming the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) and joined parliament. 

In 2007, the 330-member Nepal Parliament comprised 83 Maoist party members, 85 members of the then ruling Nepal Congress party, 83 seats by the United Marxist Leninists (CPN/UML), 48 seats by the Nepal Congress (Democratic), and the balance divided among several smaller parties. The interim arrangement was made until a new constitution was enacted.

After the end of apartheid rule in South Africa an interim Constitution as well as an interim Government were established for smooth transition of power with an agreement between the then ruling main political party of majority Africans and the African National Congress of Nelson Mandela. The interim Government included representatives of the white Prime Minister Pieter Willem Botha’s ruling party and the African National Congress.

South Africa’s interim Government was in place during the national elections that elected the new parliament, which also sat as Constitutional Assembly to adopt the new Constitution to replace the interim model.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is currently holding talks with several parties and groups regarding the proposed Interim Government. These negotiations are extremely complex as it is essential to establish a clear, shared vision among all parties about the goals, scope and mandate of the interim government. Given the need for domestic and external legitimacy and support, the common vision should be translated into a simple narrative for the public as the people of Sri Lanka, especially the intellectual youth segment watch these development with keen interest.

The top priority must be given to specific task of finding solutions to the major economic and fiscal issues faced by the country and to lessen the heavy burdens faced by the people due to unprecedented economic crisis. The next task is to restore stability and normalcy during the transition period so that a new parliament could be elected by holding free and fair general elections when the atmosphere is conducive for a national franchise.

By Sugeeswara Senadhira