Legislative jilmaat and ‘smuggling tunnels’

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The Executive President’s unbridled powers have drawn public attention once again owing to the ongoing protests against presidential pardons for convicted criminals. There has been a sustained campaign against the executive presidency, which its opponents blame for all ills of the country. But this powerful institution has become a fact of life. All those who secured it by pledging to abolish it have reneged on that promise. Some half-hearted attempts were made to curtail the powers vested therein, but the 20th Amendment has made it extremely powerful again. Since the introduction of the executive presidency, a rapist, a large number of terrorists, drug dealers and murderers have received presidential pardons. So, there is a pressing need to put the presidency in a constitutional straitjacket, as we argued in a previous comment.

Protests against questionable executive actions, however, should not distract the public from the dangers that the ‘smuggling tunnels’, as it were, in the Constitution and the Parliamentary Elections Act pose to democracy in general and the people’s franchise in particular. It has now been revealed that the laws pertaining to the National List (NL) appointments were tampered with after being ratified by Parliament under the J. R. Jayewardene government. Before the then Speaker E. L. Senanayake signed the Bills concerned into law, unauthorised provisions were inserted into them, enabling political parties and independent groups to abuse the NL to appoint virtually any party member to Parliament. It is believed that the JRJ government smuggled those sections into the Bills with the knowledge of Speaker Senanayake. The main news item in yesterday’s issue of this newspaper shed more light on this legislative jilmaat.

Decades have elapsed since the aforesaid unauthorised alteration of laws took place, but no remedial measures have been adopted. Political parties have chosen to ignore these ‘smuggling tunnels’, which allow misfits to be brought into Parliament in violation of people’s franchise, and are therefore beneficial to political leaders, who can appoint their favourites or themselves as MPs.

Almost all governments have abused the NL mechanism. The yahapalana administration had in its Cabinet several political rejects brought to Parliament through ‘smuggling tunnels’. Now, a defeated candidate who entered Parliament as a National List MP is reportedly eyeing the post of the Opposition Leader!

The real danger of the flawed laws related to the NL is that someone who has not faced a general election or has been rejected by the people at parliamentary polls can enter Parliament via the NL and get appointed as the Prime Minister. He or she would also be able to become the President in case of the elected President ceasing to hold office prematurely. This may be considered a highly improbable scenario, but the fact remains that the bad laws containing unauthorised sections provide for it.

Meanwhile, there is nothing inherently wrong with the NL mechanism. What needs to be done is to amend laws to make it mandatory that only the persons whom political parties and independent groups officially present to the public as their NL nominees prior to parliamentary polls be appointed NL MPs. The NL should be strictly reserved for prominent persons who are desirous of serving the public as MPs and Ministers but dislike active politics and the hustings. We have had some illustrious men and women as NL MPs. If new laws are made urgently to prevent the abuse of the NL, it will be possible to stop political dregs being smuggled into Parliament while the door is kept open for the deserving persons.

We suggest that a special Parliamentary Select Committee be appointed to look into the unauthorised amendments effected to vital laws related to people’s franchise, years ago. There are several senior political leaders who are au fait with the legislative jilmaat in question, and can educate the current Parliament on what really happened during the JRJ government. The constitutional ‘smuggling tunnels’ which help undesirables enter Parliament must be closed once and for all.

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Disclaimer: Legislative jilmaat and ‘smuggling tunnels’ - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Latheefarook.com point-of-view

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