30 May, 2024

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Abolition Of The Executive Presidency

There has been a continuing and growing demand to abolish the executive presidency in Sri Lanka since its introduction in 1978. This demand gained considerable momentum during the recent protest movement witnessed throughout the country. One of the unequivocal demands of the Aragalaya was the immediate abolition of the executive presidency. The people acknowledge the strong nexus between the concentration of power in the executive president and Sri Lanka’s multiple crises of accountability, governance, and economic management. 

We, the undersigned, recall that the demand for abolishing the executive presidency has a long history in Sri Lanka. All major political parties representing a broad cross-section of society have, over the years, called for such abolition. In fact, the people’s demand for the abolition of the executive presidency and the constitutional system built around it is as old as the present constitution itself. The current call for abolition is, therefore, not merely a reaction to the ongoing crises but a reiteration of the same demand witnessed ever since the promulgation of the present Sri Lankan Constitution.

Even prior to the formal introduction of the Constitution in 1978, parties in the Opposition, including the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and several Left-oriented parties, including the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), vehemently opposed the proposal to establish the executive presidency.

Beginning with the 1994 presidential election, presidential candidates have repeatedly pledged to abolish this system. President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga vowed to abolish the executive presidency and received a clear mandate to do so both in 1994 and 1999. In 2000, the proposed Bill for a new constitution was poised to abolish the executive presidency but was eventually rejected by the United National Party (UNP) led by current President Ranil Wickremesinghe. In fact, the UNP’s grievance with respect to the Bill did not concern the abolition of the presidency but related to the transitional period in which the then-President Kumaratunga would continue to hold office.

The UNP also affirmed its commitment to abolish the executive presidency at its Hambantota conference in 2010. At times, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa also talked about the need to abolish the executive presidency.

The promise to abolish the executive presidency was one of the central election pledges of President Maithripala Sirisena in 2015. The Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which reduced the powers of the executive president, was the first step taken by the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe coalition government to work towards the abolition of the executive presidency.

The political representatives of all ethnic and religious communities, including the Tamil, Muslim and Malaiyaha Tamil communities, have supported the reform agenda for abolition. Most notably, all communities participated in and supported the reform process undertaken from 2015 to 2019, which featured a Constitutional Assembly and culminated in a Steering Committee Interim Report that recommended the abolition of the executive presidency. 

More recently, both the JVP in 2019 and the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) in 2022 tabled constitutional amendments in Parliament to abolish the executive presidency.

Therefore, it is clear that every single major political party and political leader in active politics has, at some point or another, endorsed the people’s demand to abolish the executive presidency. Today, only a few political leaders appear to oppose its abolition purely due to their ambitions to capture the executive presidency for themselves. 

Over the past four and a half decades, the people of Sri Lanka and their political representatives have come to the correct understanding that the executive presidency has been abused by successive occupants of that office to the detriment of the people. It has continued to remain an abhorrent feature of Sri Lanka’s constitutional framework. It is the general belief among the people that the executive presidency, with its excessive powers concentrated in the hands of one individual, has been singularly responsible for weakening Sri Lanka’s democracy. It has also been the cornerstone of the system of arbitrary executive governance imposed on the Sri Lankan people. The multiple crises that have presently befallen the country and the continuing erosion of the framework of democratic governance are a stark reminder of the dire consequences of this wholly negative feature of our constitution. Its abolition has been delayed far too long. 

We also wish to emphasize that any attempt at abolishing the executive presidency should not be tied up with the partisan and immediate interests of any political party, coalition or individual. We stress that this genuinely democratic demand of the people should not be used as a tool of political manipulation either. Rather, it should be an integral component of an agenda for far-reaching political reforms, reflecting the people’s desire for accountable government and for re-democratising Sri Lanka’s state, constitution, and government.

It is in this context that we, the undersigned, call upon the Government of Sri Lanka and Parliament to immediately launch a meaningful and sincere process to abolish the executive presidency as part of a package of democratising reforms. We also call upon all political parties in parliament to sponsor and vote for such a Bill and to unveil to the citizens their overall agenda with a time frame for restoring democratic government in Sri Lanka. Indeed, the Sri Lankan people’s call for ‘system change’ requires the abolition of the executive presidential system and fresh parliamentary elections. The message has never been clearer. Its fulfilment should not be blemished by the tactics and manipulatory schemes of those in power.

ENDORSED BY:

  1. Hilmy Ahamed
  2. Silma Ahamed 
  3. Geoffrey Alagaratnam, President’s Counsel
  4. Dr. Vinya Ariyaratne
  5. Professor Navaratna Banndara
  6. Dr Lionel Bopage, President of the Australian Advocacy for Good Governance in Sri Lanka Inc.
  7. Hans Billimoria – The Grassrooted Trust
  8. K. J. Brito Fernando, Families Of the Disappeared
  9. Anushya Coomaraswamy
  10. Centre for Policy Alternatives
  11. Sarala Emmanuel
  12. Duleep de Chickera, former Bishop, Anglican Church of SL.
  13. Suren Fernando (Attorneys at law)
  14. Inshira Faliq, (Attorney at Law)
  15. Bhavani Fonseka
  16. Rosanna Flamer-Caldera, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, Pronoun:  She/Her
  17. Dr. Rajni Gamage 
  18. Dr Mario Gomez, International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES)
  19. Sharmaine Gunaratne, (Attorney at law)
  20. Bishop Kumara Illangasinghe
  21. Jayanthi Kuru-Utumpala, women’s rights activist’
  22. Dr. Devanesan Nesiah
  23. Professor Vasuki Nesiah
  24. Professor Gameela Samarasinghe
  25. Dr P. Saravanamuttu,
  26. Dr Kalana Senaratne
  27. M A Sumanthiran, President’s Counsel 
  28. Mahendran Thiruvarangan, Academic, University of Jaffna
  29. Professor Deepika Udagama
  30. Professor Jayadeva Uyangoda 
  31. Dr Jayampathy Wickramaratne, President’s Counsel
  32. Lal Wijenayake (Attorney at Law)
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Latest comments

  • 2
    0

    Seems once tasting the power, it can’t be enough. Wonder what excuse CBK gave for changing her pledge. Only the JVP/NPP are left to see if they would also change their mind after a taste.
    Apart from having extensive powers on all matters of state & immunity from prosecution, the office of the President is too much of a burden on the poor tax payer & we have a PM as well, duplicating the work. It’s time the citizens become educated & demand going back to the old Westminster system that seem to work OK. Unfortunately, the larger vote base is gullible, even sentimental, when it comes to politics, otherwise who in their right mind would continue to elect known thugs, criminals & murderers & living in denial?

  • 2
    0

    The ‘Abolition of the Executive Presidency’ must not be a mere change in nomenclature where for the most part the abuse witnessed in the ‘Executive Presidency’ is replicated under a ‘Prime Minister’ in a Parliamentary system.
    .

    It is unfortunate that the signatories many of whom are capable of PROPOSING an appropriate ‘Chief Executive’ under a Parliamentary system have stopped short of doing so.
    .

    Amrit Muttukumaru

    • 1
      0

      Abolition of executive presidency should not lead to executive presidency being replaced by executive president, the executive presidency should be replaced by a parliamentary system, the prime minister should only be the first among the equals among the cabinet.

      We could also think of sharing power at the center with regional, racial, gender, caste representatives

      • 1
        0

        This exercise should not be assigned to the present corrupt parliamentarians or to the political parties but to a revolutionary council away from the present constitution

        • 1
          0

          “but to a revolutionary council away from the present constitution”
          Nice, but where can we find it?

  • 2
    0

    Innumerable essays have appeared on these pages regarding the abolition of the Executive Presidency. Every political party that is returned to govern go back on their promise to abolish the Presidency.

    Perhaps Aragalaya is the only hope…………..

  • 0
    3

    Executive President is a good thing. It should not be abolished. We need strong and honest leadership to turn this country round. Otherwise we will forever be burdened by vote seeking political parties whose continuous agenda is to plan for the next elections.

    What we now need is ACCOUNTABILITY of all elected representatives and Government officials including the President. The President term should be strictly restricted to two terms. All elected representatives should have minimum educational qualifications and/or income tax payers and should retire at 65 years. None of them should have any immunity from the law; and Parliamentary privileges should be controlled and cannot be decided by themselves. All such privileges should be decided by an independent Public Service Commission.

    • 0
      0

      Are you saying that the executive Presidential candidates should be independent of any political party? As of yet, as you surely must know, that’s not how it has been.

      How do you ensure that the executive president is non-partisan and impartial, i.e., free from underhanded collusion?

      To date, have we elected a “strong and honest” president to turn this country round?

      • 0
        0

        Ensuring accountability and removing immunity and the privileges is likely to bring honest and capable people to the forefront.

    • 1
      0

      “Executive president is good “
      Executive president has been in this land for nearly 50 years. During this period corruption becomes unavoidable and that brought bankruptcy and politics become a play ground for making money by few criminals. The country need now cleaning up of existing politicians and systems.

  • 2
    0

    Abolition of EP is not the only change expected. Vast reduction of powers to the politicians and passing them to statutory bodies which should function without political interference, management of finances by statutory bodies, control of police by non political bodies, are a few..

    Above all politicians should not draft laws.

    • 3
      0

      “Abolition of EP is not the only change expected. “
      True.
      But it is the main obstacle to all other changes.

  • 1
    0

    Having a President is not the issue. Balancing the power is the issue. Our law is vague and this creates many loopholes for the corrupt to abuse power.
    ….
    Clearly define Presidential powers and boundaries and make him or her answerable to the Law.
    ….
    President will look into reconciliation, peace and sovereignty.
    ….
    Parliament will look into Law reforms and financial management.
    ….
    Judiciary will enforce the Laws through the respective departments.
    ….
    Auditor General’s Office will investigate every nook and corner and report to the parliament.
    ….
    Central bank will do their research and advise the parliament.
    ….
    Auditor General’s Office and Central bank will work independently but will be answerable to the Law.
    ….
    Judiciary committee will do all the appointments of Judges. Judiciary committee will only have the speaker, opposition leader and the prime minister from the parliament from the total of 10. Appointment interview will be broadcasted for everyone to see.
    ….
    Judiciary will be under the parliament. President will be under the Judiciary. Parliament will be under the president.
    ….
    The above is not a new plan but the plan which never got addressed.
    ….
    Getting rid of the President and giving that power to the parliament will be a disaster in my view.

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