2019 presidential election:
Civil society calls for far reaching political reforms, underlines ‘national security’


Civil society activits (L-R) K W Janaranjana, Lucien Bulathsinhala, Javid Yusuf, Gamini Viyangoda, Prof. Sarath Wijesuriya, Lal Wijenayake, S C Mayadunne and Palitha Lihiniyakumara

(L-R) Tissa Attanayake, Dayasiri Jayaekera, Karu Jayasuriya, Kumara Welgama, Sarath Fonseka and Mujibur Rahuman (pics by Gamini Munainghe)

The civil society has called for far reaching constitutional amendments to restore supremacy of the parliament. At an event held at the BMICH, yesterday, the civil society grouping that backed Maithripala Sirisena at the last presidential election in 2015 called that the center of power should be parliament.

The National Movement for Social Justice, Purawesi Balaya and Vame Kendraya issued the following statement titled ‘People’s Agenda for Presidential Election 2019’

1. Structure of the State

The experience of the 19th Amendment, 52-day constitutional coup and subsequent events emphasize the fact that there should be only one centre of power in the government and that centre of power should be the Parliament.

The Executive Presidency should be abolished in full. A Presidency will be established in the model that existed prior to 1977, with a Parliamentary system of government with a Cabinet of Ministers. Safeguards should be in place to restrict the Prime Minister and the Cabinet from using their powers arbitrarily.

In the future, the President shall be appointed, not by a direct national election, but by the Parliament and a Second House of Members. The President shall be the Head of the Cabinet, and he should carry out his duties as per instructions given to him by the Prime Minister and the Cabinet of Ministers.

The Constitution should be amended to introduce laws to curtail civil rights of persons who commit gross violations of the Constitution.

The President appointed by 2019 Presidential election should bring about these reforms within a year.

2. National Security

National Security must be recognized as a topmost priority of the government. Learning the right lessons from April 21 Easter Sunday attack, strengthening and taking necessary steps for national security must be emphasized not only as a responsibility of the Security Forces, (Armed Forces, Civil Police, Civil Defense Force, and other law enforcement officers), but also of all citizens.

Given the geographical position of Sri Lanka, the responsibility of protecting the country’s land, its ocean and ocean bed as well as the air space is the sole responsibility of the Security Forces. It is the responsibility of the Security Forces to ensure the protection of the country against any internal or external threat, risk or attack.

A National Security Council must be established by an amendment to the Constitution with all required powers to mitigate all short and long term threats to the national security of Sri Lanka, taking into account all intelligence inputs, regional and international developments, and obtaining any other relevant information from other state and non-state sources.

A National Security Advisory Council should be established on a legal basis and experts with non-military background appointed to its membership. This Council should maintain a healthy contact with the Prime Minister and the Cabinet of Ministers on a daily basis.

A legal basis must be adopted for the collection of intelligence information.

Armed forces, Civil Defense Force and Police Department and other law enforcement institutions should be trained according to the national security policy plan in order to improve the competence, capability and professionalism of the security forces. It must be ensured that all security personnel are knowledgeable in human rights and international humanitarian law.

Finally, upholding national security depends on ethnic and religious harmony in the entire society. Therefore, national security must be treated not as something required after insecurity has settled in, but a social condition that should prevail before insecurity creeps in.

As such, the foundation of national security should be the establishment of proper structures where the safety and security of all communities are taken into consideration.

3. Constitutional Council

As proposed in the draft of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, apart from the President, who is the Speaker of the Parliament, and the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, who are its members, other members should not be Members of Parliament.

4. Independence of

the Commissions

The independence, accountability and efficiency of the Commissions must be further strengthened. Shortage of staff and financial resources should be minimized.

Two more Independent Commissions should be established for mass media and minority relations.

University Grants Commission should be appointed on the recommendation of the Constitutional Council.

5. Electoral System

The present proportionate representation system should be continued after abolishing the preferential vote system. All electorates should have a people’s representative. Representation of women should be further increased, while taking the complications that arose during the last Local Government election into consideration.

Considering the concern that the abolishing of the Executive Presidency would lead to political instability, the political party that will have the chance to form a government following the upcoming General Election should be able to appoint additional members to the Parliament. There have been such provisions under the Soulbury Commission. Minimum qualifications should be identified for all appointed members including those through the National List. No member should be appointed outside the National List declared at the election.

If a certain MP uses his/her vote against the political party from which he/she was appointed, his/her Parliamentary Membership must be cancelled. Lower courts should not have the powers to issue injunction orders against such action.

A mechanism should be established allowing the people to recall the MPs they appoint, before their full term is complete. When a Member of Parliament loses his/her seat in that manner, a by-election must be held to fill that vacated seat.

All candidates at the General Election must, by way of an affidavit, should declare their educational qualifications, professional experience, and assets. They must also declare that they do not have business relations with the state, and also if there are/ are not any legal actions against them in criminal courts. Those affidavits should be published.

Independent individuals should be able to contest at Local Government elections.

6. The Second House

A Second House should be established with its members nominated from the Provincial Councils. The Parliament may appoint some additional members to the Second House. Minimum qualifications for members should be declared by law.

The participation of the Second House must be obtained when national policies relating to subjects pertaining to Provincial Councils are made. Laws passed by the Parliament on subjects pertaining to Provincial Councils must be approved by the Second House as well.

Reforms to the Constitution must also be approved by the Second House.

7. Provincial Councils

As proposed by Chief Ministers of Provincial Councils during the constitutional reform process that was launched in 2016, Provincial Councils must be made stronger and more efficient.

The Parliament should have the powers to dissolve a Provincial Council if that poses a threat to the territorial integrity or sovereignty of the country.

8. Fundamental Rights

The scope of civil and political rights should be broadened. Right to life should be recognized as a fundamental right. Death penalty should be removed from the Penal Code. Further, the following rights should be able to be enforced through courts: social, economic, and cultural rights; women’s rights; child rights; rights of the elderly and differently-abled people; and environmental rights.

The prevailing time limit to make applications for fundamental rights should be abolished, and applications made within a fair period of time must be accepted. The Constitution must recognize public welfare litigation.

Primary jurisdiction regarding fundamental rights must be vested with the Provincial Court of Appeal, and the Supreme Court may take up them with leave to appeal from the lower courts.

Implementation of recommendations of the Human Rights Commission must be made mandatory by legal provisions.

Human rights commission must be allowed to mediate in legal process by Attorney-General’s Department on cases involving torture.

9. The Judiciary

A new Constitutional Court should be established to interpret the Constitution. This court’s jurisdiction should involve post enactment judicial review of constitutionality of laws passed by the Parliament and Provincial Councils.

Hearings of the Court of Appeal must held at Provincial level. Jurisdiction over Writ and Appeals currently held by Provincial High Courts must be transferred to this new court.

Judges of the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal must be appointed by the President based on the nominations by the Constitutional Council. In such nominations, the Constitutional Council must have a channel to obtain the opinion of the Chief Justice, Attorney-General, and the Bar Association of Sri Lanka.

The process of removal of judges of the higher courts must be done outside the Parliament and in compliance with internationally recognized standards.

10. Eliminating Bribery, Corruption and Waste

As a further step of the still unaccomplished task of fighting bribery and corruption, laws should be passed to strengthen the functions of the Commission against Allegations of Bribery and Corruption (CIABOC). Efficiency of the staff of CIABOC must be improved. Its Director-General must be appointed by the Constitutional Council.

Financial resources must be allocated to support the full implementation of the Convention against Corruption, which Sri Lanka has signed as a party.

Measures must be taken to avert the waste of public resources in the name of development.

The criteria for procuring goods and services that has been prepared and, now stuck at the President’s Office, must be approved immediately.

11. Peace and Reconciliation

The short and long term tasks that should be implemented by the State to ensure peace and reconciliation have to be executed swiftly. Those steps must be based on a system that ensures the safety of all the communities and faiths.

All forms of discrimination among ethnic or religious communities should be ended, and steps must also be taken to mitigate any discrimination within ethnic and religious communities.

It is important to bring about necessary constitutional reforms to obtain the contribution of minority communities to governance.

An Independent Commission should be established according to the recommendations of the Constitutional Council to look into the affairs of minority communities.

12. The Economy

Our economic policy should not dominated by neo-liberalism, and it should aim at achieving a fine mix of global and local policies. In this context, what we need is a state of ‘shared prosperity’. It means a country where everyone can openly access and enjoy the benefits of development irrespective of ethnic, gender, religious, status or class differences.

Therefore, our development goals should be to empower the people with skills and capabilities to gainfully sell their labour in the open market or to commence one’s own business to sell products to the market.

This process should comprise urgent, mid-term, mid-to-long term measures. The extremely rapid steps should protect the relatively small revenue bases of small and medium entrepreneurs. The midterm steps should lay the foundation for the future economic development. Steps from midterm to long term must create the ability for the country to achieve its development goals while directing the country’s economy on the path of long term development.

The entire tax system should be re-evaluated and restructured to achieve the target of 40% indirect taxes, while increasing the share of direct taxes.

As various suppressive micro finance loan schemes have emerged, and women are more vulnerable to fall prey to them, a system needs to be identified by law to scrutinize such oppressive loan schemes. Unserviceable micro finance loans obtained until now must be waived off.

A powerful National Development and Planning Council must be established, with the President as its chair, to provide guidance to the economy.

An efficient and productive mechanism should be designed to expedite foreign investment projects worth USD 10 billion currently on hold due to various procedural reasons.

13. Foreign Policy

Reflecting an appropriate understanding of the global balance of power which can affect Sri Lanka as a country located in a strategically important position, the country’s foreign policy should emphasize on properly managing these factors and gain maximum benefits to the country and its people.

In order to remain as a dignified nation, Sri Lanka should enter into required international treaties and conventions, and existing laws should be amended as and when it is necessary for citizens to reap full benefits of treaties which Sri Lanka is already a party to.

14. Education

For the country’s economic and social development, a 6% from the Gross National Income should be invested in the education sector.

Every child in the country should be ensured with access to early childhood development, protection and a one-year standard pre-primary education.

The 13-year completely free, quality and all-inclusive compulsory school education which is equal and comprises primary, secondary and tertiary education should be ensured to all students.

High quality technical, vocational and tertiary education (including university education) should be ensured to every youth free of charge. Skills development, vocational and technology education should be commenced from the tertiary level at schools.

Above educational initiatives should ensure inclusive access to male, female, while reaching out to differently-able, indigenous, irrespective of age, class or social strata.

Above educational initiatives should ensure the promotion of sustainable development, upholding and promotion of human rights, gender parity, peace and non-violence, global citizenship and cultural differences.

At least one fully-fledged school equipped with all the necessary facilities should be established in each electorate after consideration of population density.

Learning of Sinhala, Tamil and English languages should  be made mandatory. Especially, steps should be taken to develop English language learning opportunities.

International schools, private tuition institutes and special educational centres such as ‘Madrasa’ should be regulated by the government.

Independency of universities will be ensured and the authority to appoint Vice Chancellors should be transferred from the President to the University Grants Commission.

Appointment of Chairman and the members of the University Grants Commission should be done in accordance with the recommendations of the Constitutional Council.

A mechanism to encourage research at Bachelors and Post-Graduate levels at government universities should be implemented. Opportunity should be given to pursue full-time Post-Graduate courses at government universities.

The competitive examination system which creates an unnecessary pressure on children should be reviewed.

The maximum productivity should be reached by utilizing school building after school hours for activities such as training on vocational subjects.

Opportunities at both public and private sectors should be made available to provide university education to all students who are qualified after G.C.E. A/L.

Establishment of non-profit universities should be encouraged. 5% of the student enrolment at such universities should be based on the Z-score and those students should be awarded fully-funded scholarships. A method should be implemented to fund another 5% by the government.

15. Health

The provision of free medical services should be guaranteed to every patient in any part of the country irrespective of any difference.

The equal access to required medical facilities for every patient should be ensured.

Facilities given to every patient should be equal in quality and standard.

Facilities provided by the private sector and their charges should be subjected to government regulations.

16. Agriculture

The small-scale agro-producers are unable to receive a fair price for their products due to the very low level of competition at all agricultural markets. In order to prevent this imbalanced situation, a healthy competition should be created in markets. The intervention of the government should be strengthened until the competition reaches a healthy level through the increase in the number of market players.

The government should be involved in establishing community companies of voluntary producers in order to empower agro-producers and to increase the market competition.

Fertilizers should be supplied free of charge for 5 acres of paddy cultivation and 10 acres of tea, rubber, coconut and sugarcane cultivation.

An efficient and productive mechanism should be implemented to rehabilitate all the tanks and reservoirs in the country.

17. Labour Rights and

Trade Unions

Special steps should be taken to resolve issues pertaining to independent commissions which are directly related to the government service, especially the Human Rights Commission and Public Service Commission.

A definite timeframe should be set up for the procedure of arriving at decisions with regard to the complaints received by the Public Service Commission. There should be a legal provision for the government officials and the trade unions to express their concerns to the Public Service Commission.

Discussions should be held with trade unions to implement a fixed and transparent mechanism with regard to the pension issues of public servants.

A Board comprising experts and representatives of trade unions should be set up to manage the Widows and Orphans Pensions Scheme in a more effective manner. Steps should be taken to provide a permanent solution to the uncertainty with regard to the payment of pension in the future, by effectively investing of funds deducted from the employees’ salary.

Training sections should be set up at every government institute to provide a formal and methodical training to entire staff at the time of recruitment.

A mechanism should be established to obtain the contribution of all the trade unions when amending government regulations, the Constitution and in policy formulation.

A committee comprising representatives of trade unions should be set up to review the progress of developmental activities carried out by government institutions.

A national-level committee should be appointed in order to ensure the transparency and accuracy of the sale, transfer and lease of government properties. Trade union representatives should be represented in that committee. Appointments of representatives to the said committees and positions related to trade unions should be done not limiting to the government trade unions; instead a common agreement must be reached with all trade unions.

18. Transport

Based on the requirements of the passengers, a national policy should be formulated together with the Central government and Provincial Councils to increase the quality of the transport service.

Infrastructure facilities should be provided for the development of public transportation.

An appropriate pension scheme should be formulated for the benefit of 45,000 workers engaged in private transport sector.

19. Art and culture

Culture denotes a complex system comprising of knowledge, beliefs, art, law and ethics inherited by the members of a society. This may have led the UNESCO to define culture as "Ways of Living Together".

The objective of the state cultural policy should be to create an environment where the identity of Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim, Veddah and gypsy communities can live together in a way their identities are secured.


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