Need for flexibility at times of crisis

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At a time when the vast majority of people yearn for a government that could restore law and order and normalcy and solve the grave issues of shortages of essential food, gas and fuel to ensure continuous supply of electricity, it is unfortunate that the leaders of political parties continue to put party interests first without trying to find a consensual formula for cohabitation.

The hope of the people is that elected representatives would agree on sharing power in an interim government to deal with the political, economic and social crises of unprecedented magnitude faced by the country and the people at least by July 20 so that a power struggle could be avoided at the time of election of a new President and Prime Minister.

With the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the path is now clear for formation of an interim government either for the remaining half of his five-year term or until the conditions in the country become conducive for holding fresh election.

Forming a cohabitation government  

 Now the need of the hour is to establish an interim government under the system of cohabitation. Although a few Members of Parliament have declared their candidature, what the country needs at this crucial hour is an All Party Government with the President from one party and the Prime Minister from another party.

Cohabitation is a system of government comprising several parties with diverse policies. This was found in several European countries such as France and Norway. In France, whenever the president is from a different political party than the majority of the members of parliament, the President’s party and the leading party of Parliament cohabitate to govern in a consensual manner. It occurs because such a system forces the president to name a prime minister who will be acceptable to the majority party within parliament. Thus, cohabitation occurs because of the duality of the executive: an independently elected president and a prime minister.

Norway is an excellent example of a cohabitation government. In Norway, general elections are held once in four years and there is no provision for dissolving parliament before the end of its four-year term. If no party gets an absolute majority, the parties have to cohabitate and rule for four years whether they like it or not.

During the current crises in Sri Lanka, leaders of the Aragalaya protest movement as well as most of the political parties stressed the need for constitutional reform and the need to establish a new political order as top priority of the interim government. They pointed out that the people have determined that a new political order is required because of the negative experiences from the past, where legislative and executive powers opposed each other resulting in instability.

There are many practical reasons why the present system needs a change.

 Dire need for change

 There is a dire need which is recognised across the spectrum that the constitutional division of powers needs to be fundamentally changed, while retaining a healthy balance between the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary.

Not only constitutional experts but anybody with common sense is aware that the existing Constitution has given rise to many problems at the present time because of its inherent ambiguities and confusions.

The second Republican Constitution introduced the system of Executive Presidency in 1978 and in four decades the Constitution was amended 20 times, either to enhance executive powers or to devolve some executive powers to Parliament.

Today, the country has a great opportunity for a system change. Generally, it is believed that the political future of an incumbent government in a democracy depends on how well it has governed the country and fulfilled the aspirations of all citizens. No government can afford to shy away from its responsibility to maintain law and order, and address the issues of corruption, nepotism, economic decline and poor governance in any country. While a single party government might not take on such risks that could harm its political future, a cohabitation government comprising several parties could take up those actions if they have the courage to take those political risks for the sake of the country and its people.

In order to ensure proper cohabitation, political parties should understand that good governance is not just using rhetoric against corruption, economic irregularities and lack of human rights in the country. Good governance denotes creating a favourable political, legal and economic environment and creating opportunity for all citizens to freely participate in the development and growth of the country.

By Sugeeswara Senadhira