By Javid Yusuf –
With the Easter Sunday attacks and the fallout of terrorism holding the attention of the country in the past few weeks, a critical aspect of the country’s Governance has once again been relegated to a footnote in the discussions that relate to Sri Lanka’s future. The issue of the Executive Presidency which occupied centre stage in the 2015 Presidential Election campaign and figured on and off in the national debate thereafter is once again off the National Agenda.
The main argument by the proponents of the Executive Presidency that it is required to ensure the protection of the security of the state and the safety of the people was blown sky high by the Easter Sunday attacks. The terrorist attacks once again demonstrated that the Executive Presidency is utterly incapable of ensuring the protection of the day to day lives of the people.
The Easter Sunday attacks only confirmed what the country knew and had experienced in the past.
When the seeds of the LTTE insurrection manifested itself in 1975 with the killing of Jaffna Mayor Alfred Duraiappah there were only 13 members in the LTTE. Under the Executive Presidency which was introduced in 1978 the LTTE grew exponentially and became a powerful terrorist movement that wrought havoc on the country and on all sections of society.
It was during the Executive Presidency that the attacks on the Central Bank, the Dalada Maligawa, the Sri Mahabodhi as well as the worshippers in the mosques in Eravur and Katankuddy took place. Even the Army headquarters was infiltrated and a suicide bomber attempted to kill the Army Commander Sarath Fonseka. The then Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa too narrowly escaped an attack by the LTTE.
During the period of the Executive Presidency several political leaders were killed including President R. Premadasa, Lalith Athulathmudali, Gamini Dissanayake, Appapillai Amirthalingam, Sam Tambimuttu and M. H. M. Ashraff to name a few. President Chandrika Kumaratunaga was another victim and was badly injured in the terror attacks of the LTTE. The list is endless and is a further testimony that the Executive Presidency cannot ensure the safety and security of even its leaders let alone the people.
The final defeat of the LTTE in 2009 could in no way be attributed to the Executive Presidency and was due to a multitude of other reasons unconnected to the Executive Presidency. The international climate against terrorism after the 9/11 attacks in the USA and the LTTE’s own failed strategy of over extending themselves were two of the many reasons that helped the Government to defeat the LLTTE. This could even have been achieved by a Parliamentary form of Government and did not require an Executive Presidency.
There are many similar achievements of Governments with a Parliamentary system in world history. The example that immediately comes to mind is the victory achieved by Great Britain in World War 2 under a collective Parliamentary system of Government headed by Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
Another factor that is problematic in the Executive Presidency is that it creates two centres of power namely the President and the Prime Minister continuously creating conflicts in Governance. April 21, 2019 proved this at an unfortunate cost to the country.
The Executive Presidency becomes strong only if both the President and Prime Minister are from the same party. In such a situation the position of Prime Minister is superfluous because he will have no powers. One recalls the lament of Prime Minister R. Premadasa under President J.R. Jayewardene when he complained that he did not have the power of even a peon. On the other hand if a strong Prime Minister emerges from a party other than that of the President it will be a national catastrophe.