13 November, 2018

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Abolition Of Executive Presidency Has Become Viable 

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

The JVP is proposing a 20th Amendment to the constitution which will centre around the abolition of the executive presidency. This follows on the crisis in governance that culminated in the no-confidence motion in parliament against Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. The background to this was the open manifestation of a power struggle between President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe which highlighted the problem of having dual centres of executive power. On the one hand, the president who is directly elected by the people enjoys the position of head of state and head of government. On the other hand, the prime minister who has the support of the majority in parliament is also vested with executive powers.

The possibility of conflict between the president and prime minister increases when they are from different political parties, as at present. The previous occasion such a situation arose was during the period 2001 to 2004 when President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe were compelled to enter into a cohabitation arrangement due to people’s mandates being received by them at two separate elections. On that occasion too, the relationship was never smooth and always conflictual, and culminated in the sudden dismissal of the Wickremesinghe government in 2004 by the President. On this occasion, President Sirisena was prevented from sacking Prime Minister Wickremesinghe due to the 19th Amendment which took away this presidential power.

The recurrence of the problem of dual power whenever the President and Prime Minister are from two different parties points to the need to reform the system. The present system only works smoothly when the President and Prime Minister are from the same party. The problem of conflict arises when the president and prime minister are from different parties, and there is no line of authority. Since 1978, when the executive presidential system was first instituted, the longer period has been where both the president and prime minister were from the same party. In such a situation, the position of the prime minister was largely one of being a figure head. When he was prime minister to President J R Jayewardene, Ranasinghe Premadasa once quipped that he was no better than a peon. This was not due to any weakness on his part, but due to the nature of his office.

Opportune Movement 

The merits and demerits of the executive presidential system of government have been debated since its amalgamation with the Westminster system of parliamentary democracy in 1978. The abolition of the executive presidency has been promised at every presidential election since 1982. But on every occasion the winning candidate who had earlier promised to abolish the system has ended up reneging on the promise made and instead utilizing the powers of the presidency t the maximum. They have also sought to further strengthen the position they have enjoyed, such as by the 18th Amendment to the constitution passed during the period of the last president which gave the him the opportunity to contest the presidency an unlimited number of times.

At the presidential election of 2015, one of the key promises made was to abolish the presidential system and to revert back to the parliamentary system. It is to the credit of President Sirisena that he made an initial effort to fulfill that promise. But there were powerful forces within the government that held in favour of the presidency, on the grounds that a fragmented polity required a centralizing power, and therefore did not permit its abolition. Behind the opposition to abolishing the presidency was, and remains, the personal desire of many who believe that they might one day ascend to that position. Therefore, President Sirisena did the next best thing and reduced the powers of the presidency. He reinstated the two term limitation, took away the presidency’s powers of unilateral appointment to key state institutions, and also shared powers of government with the prime minister.

At the present time there is a correspondence between the needs of the country and the interests of the three main political leaders in the country. There is a sense of drift in all areas of governance. The dual system of power has failed in general. The only exception is the opening of space for dissent, which has been provided in full measure. However, the utilization of this space by groups such as trade unions and university students and ethnic nationalists, who are opposed to the government, and manipulated by the political opposition, has added to the general lack of direction that prevails in the country’s political and economic life. This has had negative consequences on the country’s development prospects, with Sri Lanka being close to the bottom of South Asian countries in terms of its growth rate.

It is in this context that the JVP is planning to present its proposal to abolish executive presidency as the 20th amendment to the Constitution when the new Parliamentary sessions commence on May 8. The chances of success this time around, at getting rid of the executive presidency are better than ever before. President Sirisena, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and former President Rajapaksa who leads the opposition to the government all have an interest in an alternative to the popularly elected presidency. This correspondence of interests is unlikely to occur again so if the presidential system is to be abolished or changed substantially, this is the best time. The JVP proposal for a 20th Amendment is therefore a response to a need at the present time.

Self Interest 

The clearest case of self interest in the abolishing of the executive presidency is that of former president Rajapaksa. The 19th Amendment has blocked anyone who has been President twice from contesting in the hope of a third term. This has meant the exclusion of the former president, who has contested and won two previous presidential elections, from contesting yet again to get to the highest political position. At best he will have to support one of his political allies to become the president, but the experience of President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe in managing their relationship will not be a reassuring one to the former president. Therefore, his best option would be an abolition of the executive presidency which will offer him the opportunity to wield total executive powers as a prime minister.

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe too has an interest in seeking to abolish the directly elected executive presidency. This is because it is a position that can most easily be won by charismatic and nationalist politicians who can make emotional and irrational appeals to the hearts and minds of the masses of voters. These are not campaign modes that Prime Minister Wickremesinghe favours. His appeal is to the intelligentsia, which Sri Lanka is only a small minority, though in 2005 he came within a hair’s breadth of winning the presidential election, and was only thwarted by the LTTE imposed boycott of northern Tamil voters. Prime Minister Wickremesinghe is more likely to build a coalition of political parties, especially the ethnic minority parties, which will secure a parliamentary majority in which he will have the leading place.

President Sirisena too has an interest in finding an alternative to a presidency that is obtained after a popular election. In 2015, he won due to the votes of UNP supporters, but his conduct towards the Prime Minister in the recent past has alienated them and the split in the SLFP will deny him their votes as well. The best option for the president would be a president who is elected by parliament, as in India. But whereas the presidency in India is mostly symbolic, taking into account the specific conditions in Sri Lanka, the president may be given additional powers. Indications are that President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe are in the process of negotiating with each other about how best to restore their relationship. If that task is accomplished, it will be possible for the executive presidency as it presently exists to be changed substantially if not abolished in its present form.

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Latest comments

  • 1
    0

    “The chances of success this time around, at getting rid of the executive presidency, are better than ever before.”
    This seems to be very optimistic assessment. The first hurdle in the Parliament is to get the two third majority for this proposal, which will not be easy since most of the minority parties are likely to be against this proposal. Judging from the statements of JO supporters, JO too will not vote for this. SLFP MPs will not support this since they want the President to contest for the post. Under these circumstances how can one be optimistic about the two third majority? The second hurdle is the referendum which will be still more difficult to get a favourable verdict, under the present political realities. If the JO gives unconditional support to this proposal, perhaps the chances of success will be better. Will this happen?

    • 3
      1

      Sri Lanka needs a complete restructuring, not part and partial solutions to power struggles of individuals or Families. Joint Opposition wants Mahinda Rajapakse family as head of this nation. UNP wants Ranil to be head of Nation. SLFP wants Sirisena as head of the nation. This is a power struggle between individuals (Families) within Sinhalese. None of these do not bother about people, nation, rule of law, justice or democracy.
      Sri lanks is a mother land for multi race communities speaking different languages, following different faith systems (religions) but with common cultural (clothing, food habits) practices. These races are immigrants from India and each and every community consider this land as their mother land. The constitution of this land should reflect to these facts and the rule of law, justice and governance should be equal to all those who belongs to this land. (continue)

  • 2
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    Dear Mr.Jehan Perera ,

    I really do not get it ,Why is that even The JVP only wants to amend the failed Constitution ?

    Mr.Jehan Perera with due respect to the political knowledge you hold ,can you please be kind enough to enlighten me why we can not completely dump the old useless constitution in to the waste paper basket and come up with a new one that will provide provision for various cultures to go about in preferred location there by avoiding culture clash and for those who prefer to be in a Cosmopolitan society to be in one and justice to the third gender and others ,and at the same time to have a a peoples power to safeguard the nation being robbed , prevent its environment,& its resources being exploited ?

    Why is it not possible for us to come up with a Swiss system of Constitution?

    Why is it that Hon.Min.Mahinde Samerasinghe ,whom I believe knows better than anyone else how good a Swiss system will be for Sri Lanka encourage it ?
    It is disgusting to see this constitution being done with patchwork to suit the politicians and no benefit at all to Tue people

    Sad truth is if the power is not fully handed over to the people ,the future generation may not even have a country the way things are going .

  • 1
    1

    Jehan PhD probably is thinking that he has successfully killed Secret Solution by repeatedly writing his double talks. Sadly it is not the case. Secret Solution was aborted even before the conception (Jan, 2015). We told to TNA that the woman (Sinhala Government) was a well-known infertile prostitute; she wanted company only for her opportunistic matters, not for family affairs. We told TNA to think back about aborted Banda-Chelva and Dudley-Chelva pacts. But TNA still sought the marriage with the woman they divorced, again and advertised that in North –East as it was healthy family relations.

    Jehan PhD is saying it will be voted in Parliament this time. Aren’t these the same Parliamentarians voted for 18A and hoped that they had made a lifetime President position like Stalin? (Even Cuba didn’t give Castro for life time and Castro family willingly rescinding their leadership), Then can Jehan Ph.D. Explain why are they voting this time to even to remove the EP? Is Jehan PhD suggesting that risking on referendum for this alone is worth because this will cut off the nagging TNA for Devolution?

  • 1
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    If CIA agents say abolish it, IT is not going to work. JVP is also saying the same thing, I can not udnrstand why whether JVP got money from the west. JO is saying we are for it. We can understand it as Mahinda Rajapakse wants to become Executive Prime minister. Ranil aso likes that as PResident post is unreachable to him

    • 1
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      CIA agent Mahinda Rajapakse promised in several occasions to abolish the executive presidency.

      • 0
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        MAhinda Rajapakse was ahppened to be in the right place at the right time and his brother ws former Army man.so he was lucky. Otherwise, the Indian in the foreign country says for 70 years we enjoyed god relations. american Missionary schools are screwing up Tamils. Politicians are screwing up both. there are educated scholars for employent purpsoes screw the whole country.

  • 2
    2

    UNP and SLFP are two major political parties governed this nation since 1948 . Both of them failed in protecting the people, nation and most importantly the democracy, rule of law and justice. The power given through the constitution are misused, public finance was wasted and the nation’s image is destroyed, people are divided, continuous violence (communal), large number of unlawful deaths and deterioration of economy and people have lost their confidence in the governing system. So, the country and political system should be completely restructured with strictly adopted procedures and standards upon the institutions and individuals within the institutions. For example, the executive power given to the President or Prime Minister in the constitution should not mean that the individual should be accountable for any misuse of power and the law should be applied equally to a citizen of this land.
    Currently there is a need for a new political institution to replace both UNP & SLFP(including SLPP) with the forward thinking.

  • 1
    1

    We started experimenting with democracy for the past seventy years. FPP, Executive Presidency, list MPs and now abolition of Executive Presidency. One outcome of all this is our realisation that the politicians are in it to enhance their own wealth. Finally three teams emerged – MR team, MS team and RW team. A coalition of MS/RW team is being experimented right now.
    Our meanderings started the day language/religion-divide was introduced at hustings. Unfortunately this is still a vote bank currency as shown by SLPP at the recent LC elections.
    .
    Thank you Jehan Perera for leading a frontline battle to imbibe sanity into our political system but “Abolition Of Executive Presidency Has Become Viable” is simply not good enough.
    We need ‘Ape Anduva’ less the infamous divide.

  • 3
    1

    Yes this is the best and only time to get rid of this junk, the Executive Presidency. I am glad CT is on our side in this regard.

  • 6
    2

    Abolish the Mahanaykes first the rest will fall in line

  • 3
    1

    Abolish the Executive Presidency. Have a ceremonial nominated President like in Singapore where they serve a fixed period and take turns amongst the three larger communities. Executive powers should be vested in the Prime Minister.

    • 1
      1

      Steve:-
      Why do we need even a Ceremonial President? Senanayake and Kotelawala as Prime Ministers, managed very well without One!

      • 1
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        There was a Governor General under the previous system. The nominated President in Singapore who takes turns between the Chinese, Malays, and Tamils appears to play a huge role in racial harmony and being one country.

  • 1
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    Singapore system won’t work in Sri Lanka , Sri Lankans need the freedom ,we are are a complete different political culture

    We are more like Malaysia ,peace can be found only by recognition of all Sinhalese and the Tamils of north and east , as bumbi puthras along with Vedas and the rest as legal descended Citizens .
    Which is okay I feel .as the Sinhalese ,Vedas and Tamils of North and east were here long before any western Colonization. Now I am not very sure of my own race the Ceylon Moors how long they been ,but there is no doubt. The Ceylon Moors do have a remarkable difference in many ways ,and it should be okay with Us to accept our foreign ancestry ,until otherwise proven by DNA. But the rest like The burghers , Malays , Indian Tamils and Indian and Pakistan Muslims its easy to qualify as per the documented proof. There is no harm ,if this will bring peace and prosperity to the nation ,it us not a huge compromise as long as our basics rights to live on is not denied ., after all we are all going to die one day ,let us create a better abode for the future generations

    Malaysian federation may also be a good thought .

  • 0
    1

    The JVP is always on the spot; creating the right thinking and doing the right thinking, on the good interest of the people and country. Will the people ever understand this positive of the JVP or continue to remain with the same old mentality of keeping in power the same old rotten lot in turns.

  • 1
    0

    Sri Lanka population ,should not give all ears to any Politicians .

    Every Single Sri Lankan can read and write , everyone have access to the internet based knowledge ,without reading and polluting the minds with fabricated hate ,they should take time to sit and read a little at a time of constitutions of Switzerland, Malaysia, and Sweden. I agree we just can not copy their Constitution and paste it, but atleast it would give us a better understanding to come up with similar concept in problem solving with a home grown one.

    People must educate themselves ,do their own research , investigate and question every single thing that is told to then ,no matter who tells them,even if it is by their own patents

    You have a black on white proof the patched worked constitution with all the Kings horses and all the kings men who could not put Humpty Dumpty together again for the last 70 years .So now its the people who need to decide by coming together to suggest a sincere solution.

  • 1
    0

    Abolition of Presidency has become viable ?? You are then stating that the Presidency and it’s continuation is not based on merit but on political circumstances of the day. What a narrow mind for a political commentator. Go poke your head in a bucket of shit.

  • 0
    0

    Without changing the constitution fully to one that gives more rights to all people ,protection and complete transparency,abolishing the Executive President at this moment will be suicide .
    The President needs to restructure the Unity government with The PM and his reliable alliances.

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