Feature Article

‘Can’t achieve anything with the Constitution’ – Victor Ivan

[TamilNet, Wednesday, 12 November 2003, 14:03 GMT]
“The situation is very critical and not very easy to resolve. This crisis will affect the peace process in a big way. Our constitution is the problem. It is wrong. We can’t achieve anything with it. It has to be reformed while a door is kept fully open for a solution to the ethnic conflict. The Prime Minister is a very smart leader but he is greedy for this constitution. He wants to keep it”, said Mr. Victor Ivan, editor of the influential Sinhala political weekly, Ravaya, in an interview with TamilNet Wednesday about the constitutional crisis in Colombo.

Victor IvanMr. Ivan was a leader of the Marxist insurrection to capture state power in 1971. He was imprisoned for many years for his role in the insurrection that was brutally suppressed by Colombo.

He became journalist after his release. He has authored several books. His latest, ‘An Unfinished Struggle’, is an investigative exposure of Sri Lanka’s judiciary and the country’s Chief Justice.

TamilNet interviewed him at the Ravaya office in Maharagama, an outer suburb of Colombo.

TamilNet: How would you explain the current stand off between the President and the Prime Minister?
Ivan: The main problem, as I see it, is that the President knows she is finished when her term ends in 2005. So she wants to change the constitution before that. The Prime Minister does not want to change the constitution because he knows that there is no one in the Sri Lanka Freedom Party to challenge him (at the next Presidential election in 2005). He likes this constitution. He likes the powers it would give him (when he becomes President). The Prime Minister is a very smart leader but he is greedy for this constitution. He wants to keep it.

The central problem is the constitution. It has to be reformed. In France, which has a similar system, the Prime Minister selects his cabinet. Here it is done at the sole discretion of the President. This is wrong. The French had a constitution like this. But they changed it in 1988. They were more civilized than us.

TamilNet: What do you think are the President’s options in this situation?
Ivan: (President) Chandrika precipitated this crisis because she thought that (Prime Minister) Ranil had a game plan and that he would outsmart her. She wanted to pre-empt him. President believed she could get some people (MPs) over to her side from the UNP, from the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress and even from the Tamil National Alliance.

It was on this assumption that she took over the three ministries. But she failed. Ranil (Prime Minister) is correct in demanding these ministries back.

There is no option for them now other than to work together. If not, either the President has to stop the Parliament or the Parliament has to stop the President. Chandrika’s dilemma now is if she gives the three ministries back to Ranil now, she will become the laughing stock of her party and her supporters.

If the Prime Minister does not work with her the President will think she has no option but to go with Sinhala chauvinists. He actions have made them strong. But if she is starts to work directly with the chauvinists it will make them very strong and it will be bad for the country as a whole.

TamilNet: Do you feel this crisis could have been averted at all?
Ivan: The Prime Minister should have clearly defined his powers and the President’s powers when he won the general election in 2001. But I think he did not want to do it because it would have cost him many of his powers.

TamilNet: The prorogation of Parliament ends on 19 November. Do you think it would bring about any change?
Ivan: As things stand now she cannot reconvene Parliament without coming to some agreement with Ranil’s government. It will be a mess for her – Parliament can, for example, cut allocations for the President’s office, they can refuse funds to run the ministries she has taken over. There has to be an escape route out of this crisis. But I do not see an easy one.

Victor IvanTamilNet: What do you see then as a way out of the impasse?
Ivan: The only solution is an election. But an election will mean a lot of trouble and bloodshed. An independent Elections Commission should have been set up under the 17th Amendment to the constitution. It is not the case. The Police are divided down the line. Whoever wins and comes to power will have blood on their hands.

On the other hand, the President and the PM can agree on reforms to the constitution and a solution to the ethnic problem. They can also include an agreement on changing the present system of elections. They can ensure a set up for clean elections and then go to polls. But it is a dim prospect as things stand now.

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