Way Forward to Break the Current Political Impasse

Sri Lanka is now going through its worst economic and political crisis. The situation is deteriorating every day, as supplies fail, and youth-led protests spread to general strikes. Further intensification of the protests can cause a total economic collapse, leading to a humanitarian crisis and anarchy. Some form of interim stability is therefore necessary to ensure at least the minimum stability required to manage the economic crisis and restore normalcy.

Any proposed Interim Governance Arrangement should be based on an institutional framework to transition from the present government (whose legitimacy and acceptance has seriously deteriorated) to a more peaceful, inclusive, and democratic government, with higher public approval.

This concept note briefly synthesises proposals made by various stakeholders and attempts to identify a common minimum programme.

So far, a near consensus has been reached on removing the executive presidency by way of conditional provisions or a constitutional reform process. The timelines and exact path to be taken remains to be deliberated.

The scope of the proposed Interim Governance Arrangement may continue up to 18 months and will involve:

1.      Restoring acceptance (legitimacy) to the governing structures.

2.      Facilitating the IMF process, debt restructuring, securing interim financial arrangements, and national economic reforms.

3.      Revitalizing the deteriorating economy by ensuring an uninterrupted supply of interim goods.

4.      Obtaining, ensuring, and providing resources for humanitarian assistance to the public to fulfil their basic needs, and distributing public goods and welfare effectively and equitably.

5.      Amending the existing constitution to ensure inclusive decision-making in political (including power-sharing and other structural rearrangements) and economic spheres.

6.      Paving the way for holding parliamentary elections at the end of the interim governance period.

The process towards interim stability:

The proposed Interim Governance Arrangement has three main elements:

(a)   A temporary body responsible for governing the country for the interim period;

(b)   reform processes to be overseen by this body to provide the conditions necessary for a peaceful transition to normalcy; and

(c)   a specified transitional period, with clear time limits.

Nature of the interim governing body:

The structure, membership, and portfolios of an interim governing body are among the key issues which must be agreed upon by the political parties and key stakeholders. The formation and consolidation of the interim executive is one of the first tasks to be undertaken in this direction. Membership, decision-making functions, and institutional linkages will likely be heavily contested since they provide members with access to power, state resources, prestige, and political relevance.

Alongside the aforementioned strategy, the current thinking of pro-interim government political formations is identified in the following manner:

The body of interim functioning will include: 

(a)   A Prime Minister and a cabinet of ministers appointed by the President.

(b)   Empowering the existing oversight committee system of the parliament with multiparty participation that elects its own chairperson who gains executive (cabinet) powers through the President.

(c)   A multiparty oversight committee system that is governed through national executive councils, comprised of leaders of political parties representing the parliament, established by the President (there are already provisions for 16 oversight committees).

The executive, in this context, is a head of the government but not the national executive (the President). This strategy is based on the immediate constraints for replacing the executive presidency through constitutional reforms. Accordingly, the executive of the interim government would be headed by an interim Prime Minister, elected from among the chairpersons of oversight committees and recognised by the President, or the National Executive Council which will be governed by the oversight committees of the parliament.

The scope of the oversight committees is defined through amending certain clauses of the Parliamentary Privileges Act, which allows an executive committee to implement executive decisions, call subject experts to respective committees, and take into account citizens’ opinions when taking executive decisions through public petitions.

The processes related to the establishment of an Interim Governance Arrangement include:

1.      A mandate to establish an Interim Governance Arrangement, which can be achieved through parliamentary approval or through a non-binding referendum.

2.      Amending the Parliamentary Privileges Act to ensure smooth functioning of the interim oversight committees.

3.      Delegating the President’s powers of appointment of Ministry Secretaries and District Secretaries to the oversight committees through a Presidential proclamation.

4.      Linking the National Executive Committee/interim cabinet with Central Bank, Finance Ministry, and Treasury, as well as the National Planning Department.

5.      Initiating a provisional budget proposal through parliament.

The ‘way forward’ outlined in this concept note has attempted to incorporate and synthesise various positions and proposals made by stakeholders, and therefore, has the scope to evolve based on further deliberations.

One-Text Initiative

April 2022

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