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The Constitutional Council has been dead for quite a while. In hindsight, it was destined to happen. It went against the basic tenets of the style and use of political power during the last three decades. An all-powerful presidency and independent institutions could never exist side by side. In a political culture of intolerance, allowing independent thinking to flourish would be seeking too much. In a country where a large majority ofpeople believe that politicians are elected to do as they wish, a miracle was needed for the 17th Amendment to the Constitution to survive let alone work effectively. In a country where petty despots masquerade as political leaders, it was a miracle that the 17th Amendment was ever passed through parliament. The fact that the Constitutional Council lasted for such a brief period should not come as a surprise to anyone.

The idea of institutions independent frompoliticians is not a new discovery. In most advanced democracies, independent institutions are the bedrock for good governance. But in Sri Lanka the trend has always been in reverse. The independent civil service left by the British was systematically undermined. The first nail was struck by none other than J.R Jayewardenewhen he appointed Ananda Tissa De Alwisas secretary to the Ministry of State in 1965. There is no doubt that De Alwis who later became minister of state in J.R. Jayewardene's 1977 government was an efficient secretary, but it set the precedent that politicians could appoint their lackeys to the top-most administrative post in a ministry. The 1970 government of Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike fast-forwarded the process by making the concept of permanent secretary non-permanent. Up to then a secretary to a ministry could not be changed even with the change of a government.

J.R. Jayewardene starting from 1977 in his disregard or to be more accurate his distaste of independent thinking took it to his logical conclusion. What independence that was remnant in the judiciary, the government service and the police were totally undermined and employees of those institutions made to be sycophants ofthe politicians.

Chandrika Kumaratunga despite promises to the contrary during her first election campaign was surely thrilled with the system and appointed all and sundry to key positions. Most of them neither suitably qualified nor competent.

This was the culture that the Constitutional Council tried to reverse. It was never in the agenda of the politicians. The pressure for it came from within a small group of people. The man picked to push the agenda was Karu Jayasuriya who, to his credit did an admirable job.

Interestingly there were no takers when a number of civil society organisations were requested to help draft the Constitutional Council Bill, perhaps because there was "no foreign funding" for a concept that looked highly unlikely to materialise. Once again it was left to a small group of individuals to get together to do the job.

The original proposalssubmitted to the political parties in parliament not only envisagedthat a majority of the members of the Constitutional Council be from civil society, but also stipulated that no appointment can be made without the majority support of those members. That idea was shot down by none other than the current Leader of the Opposition Ranil Wickremesinghe, who instead demanded that only politicians could appoint members to the Constitutional Council. It was no surprise when all other parties agreed "unanimously" to this idea. It became just another institution where politicians could settle their IOUs.

Chandrika Kumaratunga snuffed the Constitutional Council right at the start by refusing to appoint members to the Elections Commission on the flimsy excuse that one of the appointees, a former Supreme Court judge was the chairman of a village council many decades before.

President Mahinda Rajapakse who has neither the inclination nor the intelligence tomanoeuvre to gethis people to dominate the proceedings (that is exactly what Ranil Wickremesinghe did when he was prime minister) simplyshut it down. Ironically it is the same Chief Justice Sarath Silva now wishing to revive theConstitutional Council, who gave the legal cover to the Presidentto make it non operational by justifying the President's appointment of "his people" to the independent commissions.

The last attempt to revive the Constitutional Council was whenKaru Jayasuriya and his gang in the UNP were negotiating with President Rajapakse,to support the budget in 2006. They made the revival of the Constitutional Council a pre condition for their support. Ranil Wickremesinghe whose lack of foresight is now legendary, undermined that effort by giving the President unconditional support for his budget.

In fact, President Rajapakse and Ranil Wickremesinghe were on the same wavelength. At that time both were of the view that "major amendments" were necessary before the council can be appointed. It suited the President fine to run the country without the headache of dealing with independent institutions. It also suited Ranil Wickremesingheas Karu Jayasuriya and the gang's deal with the President to topple him from the leadership of the UNP could be stymied

More recently, the Prime Minister handed over a petition to President Rajapakse which objected to the appointment of Dr. Jayadeva Uyangoda to the Constitutional Council claiming Dr. Uyangoda had undergone a prison term of 12 years.

Dr. Uyangoda, Head of the Department of Political Science and Public Policy at the University of Colombo and Founder-Director of the Centre for Policy Research and Analysis, was arrested and imprisoned for his involvement as a leader in the rebellious Marxist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) movement in the '70s. He was however released three years later in November 1977 following a presidential pardon granted by late President J. R. Jayewardene.

Only a dunce could have used this as argument against Dr. Uyangoda's appointment to the Constitutional Council, knowingly. Recall, both D. S. Senanayake, Sri Lanka's first prime minister and his brother F. R. Senanayake served prison terms.

Don Stephen Senanayake was imprisoned without charges during the Sinhalese-Muslim riots (known as the 1915 riots) and faced the prospect of execution. Fredrick Richard Senanayake popularly referred to as F.R. Senanayake was a politician and independence activist. He too was a leading member of Sri Lanka's independence movement and was imprisoned as a result.

Therefore to use Jayadeva Uyangoda's spell in jail as grounds for his non-suitability to the Constitutional Council is a typical case of spitting on one's own doorstep!

Truth be told, the Constitutional Council is dead and buried. If history issues a charge sheet for the murder of the Constitutional Council, current leaders of all political parties would be culpable. Though repeated ad nauseum an old clich still holds good. "People get the leaders they deserve."









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