Can National List make way for academics?

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As a group of lawyers are seeking ways and means to sort out the people’s struggle to solve the political instability legally, the battle of the Sri Lankan populace continues unabated, with the cost of living and the desperate struggle to have three square meals that people enjoyed not so long ago, but the agitations appear to have fallen on deaf ears, while the rest of the world looks on. The aim is now a truly practical political solution to the present problem, so that any foreign government may rely on a system to help people who are suffering not because of their fault, but because of the incompetence of the lawmakers, the Parliament, and the Executive President.

It has reached a tipping point, with political observers saying that if the leadership does not step down, the country will descend further into chaos and insolvency.  

Every minute people are awake, the struggle is felt. The agitation begins at home when there is a power outage, a scarcity of kerosene, fuel or gas, and no cash in hand to buy their daily food items, or when they want to buy medicine while in the OPD. The frequent reminder of the fragile lives has caused people’s agitation to spread from communities to larger groups and a State-level hartal such as the one held yesterday (6), which may continue until a solution to the political crisis as well as a solution to the severe financial crisis is found.

Protestors are constantly on the lookout for politicians’ movements, and yesterday (6), SJB MPs attempting to leave the Parliament via Battaramulla were challenged by a group of protesters, forcing the MPs to back off. People were yelling that their power was bigger than political power and that they were nothing more than politicians who lived off the votes thrown to them. The Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) were referred to as dealmakers in order for them to gain authority, rather than as people’s representatives.

The Indian Government’s supply of fuel is observed in gaps, and people are forced to wait until a ship arrives with fuel, despite the fact that the people are not prepared to live a life reliant on such cheap moves taken by the Government.

This is what perhaps led the Opposition SJB to decline the challenge of taking over the Government, or for that matter by any other political parties. They have been only riding the Parliament on the accusations they have on their plates.

No one who thinks logically would want to take on a bankrupt government. Various factions have proposed an interim administration run by a group of people who are not among the 225, the Prime Minister, or the President. But that is at a crossroads. The demonstrators have only rejected the Government. The rest has to be decided by the lawmakers.

In this backdrop, a solution to the current political instability was also presented on 3 May 2022 by the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL). Among the 13-point proposal are repealing the 20th Amendment, abolishing the Executive Presidency, formation of a government of national unity with a Prime Minister capable of achieving bipartisan consensus, a 15-member Cabinet, a 15-member advisory council, and the adoption of a Common Minimum Programme. The Chairman of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, Vish Govindasamy, invited the BASL to present the proposals to representatives of the Joint Chambers of Commerce, the Organisation of Professional Associations (OPA), the Sri Lanka Medical Association, and the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Sri Lanka last week,” according to the statement.

Around these happenings, the BASL also filed two Fundamental Rights applications in the Supreme Court on the present economic crisis in the public interest. The applications were filed by President of the BASL, Saliya Pieris PC, Deputy President, Anura Meddegoda PC, Secretary, Rajeev Amarasuriya, Treasurer, Rajindh Perera, and Assistant Secretary, Pasindu Silva.

The Petitioners argue that their constitutional rights under Articles 11, 12(1), 13(4), 14(1)(g), 14(1)(h), and 14A are being violated or are in danger of being violated as a result of the conduct and/or inaction of the State, including the Respondents. The Attorney General, the Cabinet of Ministers, the Central Bank Governor, the Secretary to the Treasury, Secretaries to a number of Ministries, the Ceylon Electricity Board, the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation, and the State Pharmaceutical Corporation have all been named as Respondents in the Petitions.

The Petitioners have made the application as People of Sri Lanka in whom sovereignty is reposed and as People of Sri Lanka in whom is also imposed several Fundamental Duties, under Article 28 of the Constitution for and on behalf of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka, which is the apex professional body in Sri Lanka for Attorneys-at-Law and is committed to upholding the Rule of Law, Fundamental Rights, the Independence of the Judiciary and Justice in Sri Lanka, in the public interest. According to the petitions, the country is currently experiencing long lines for vital supplies, huge protests, and public unrest as a result of acute shortages and steep increases in the cost of products and services, such as food, petrol, and travel.

However, the people want none of the 225 members to continue serving as MPs, stating that they have all failed the people. Prior to the upheaval, only Ceylon Workers’ Congress MP Jeevan Thondaman resigned and said he would no longer support the Rajapaksas, no others did. Despite the fact that Thondaman should be held accountable for the country’s slide in progress, his immediate resignation should be followed by others, which is not happening.

In the current political atmosphere, the next best thing would be to replace the 29 National List MPs with academics and intellectuals who are familiar with Sri Lankan law and politics. There are many such persons known but ignored, and replacing the National List MPs is a possibility if the MPs make way for them, who would then hold critical roles to help lift the country out of its awful state.

Already, a list of names is being circulated on social media, indicating who will be replaced following the expulsion of 29 MPs off the National List. Dr. Ajith Colonne and Dr. Sapumal Taminimulla are their names. U. Hewage, Dr. Janaki Kuruppu, M.D. Dayan Rajapaksa, M.D. Ajantha Perera, Dr. Pallewatta Udugama, Professor Dr. Sarath Obeysekara and Attorney-at-Law Krishmal Warnasuriya, to name a few. This could be an example of how academics can integrate into the political system, but because these members are guaranteed to be nominated by political parties, they may be rejected as well.

If there are provisions in the Constitution for the 29 academics to participate without the intervention of a political party, altering the Constitution and voting by a majority in Parliament (they must) may be a step forward. In this situation, the President will only be a figurehead and will eventually stand down to make way for someone else at the right time.

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By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan