21 April, 2019

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Best Moment To Abolish The Presidency?  

By S. I. Keethaponcalan –

Dr. S. I. Keethaponcalan

Sri Lankans have been trying to abolish the executive presidential system for a long time. Ever since the system was introduced in 1977, a segment of the populace and many political parties were in the forefront of the campaign to do away with the system. The promises, proposals, and campaigns failed to produce results partly because many of the attempts were not entirely sincere. Many political leaders love the system obviously due to the unlimited powers it confers on the government of the day. 

Given the existing political environment and realities in Sri Lanka, I am inclined to believe that this is the best movement to abolish the presidency. I am also inclined to argue that this perhaps is the last opportunity to do so because failing to abolish it now would indicate how deeply we are entrenched in the system. I won’t make that argument. Sri Lanka has also become considerably unpredictable. However, it is safe to argue that if it is not abolished before the upcoming presidential election, the executive presidential system will stay here for a long time to come.

My belief that this is the best moment to abolish the presidency is founded on the electoral politics involving the presidential election and predicament of most powerful political leaders of the day: President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, and Opposition leader Mahinda Rajapaksa. All three of them could benefit from a transition to the Westminster system of government. 

Maithripala Sirisena 

First, Maithripala Sirisena is keen to secure a second term as president. However, he does not have enough votes to win the next election, which most probably will take place in January 2020. He won the presidency in 2015 with votes of the United National Party (UNP) and minority votes. The UNP certainly is not backing him up again, not necessarily due to the recent hostilities between Sirisena and the UNP, but the changing political realities. In 2015, Ranil Wickremesinghe’s level of confidence was low, and the party was looking for an unconventional candidate who could fetch Sinhala-Buddhist votes. Sirisena brought the additionally needed votes from the Sinhala heartland. Majority of the Tamil and Muslims also voted for him. 

This time around, realities are different. Majority of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) votes will go to Mahinda Rajapaksa’s new party, the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), the UNP votes will go to the party’s candidate, most probably Wickremesinghe and the Tamil votes will also not be available due to Sirisena’s increasing nationalist actions and language. The point is that Sirisena has no chance of winning the upcoming presidential election.

Can he continue in active politics after losing the presidential election? Doubtful. Without presidential powers, there is no guarantee that the SLFP will keep him as the leader of the party. In the absence of Mahinda Rajapaksa and Sirisena, Bandaranaike family could make a comeback and take control of the party. Losing the presidential election will severely dent the possibility of Sirisena continuing in politics as a powerful actor.

On the other hand, if Sri Lanka goes back to the Westminster system now, the SLFP could undoubtedly win a number of seats which will help Sirisena to continue in politics and be part of the political game. He could even form an alliance with the SLPP and become part of the government. Also, anything could happen in 2025.

I understand that there has been a proposal to make him the “nominal” president if the system is changed. It is not clear if Sirisena will be interested in a nominal position. However, the proposal adds another layer of benefit to the President if he comes forward to support the abolition.       

Ranil Wickremesinghe

Wickremesinghe conceded the candidacy to Sarath Fonseka and Sirisena in 2010 and 2015 respectively due to the belief that he cannot win enough votes to secure the presidency. This time around, it seems, he is the one to represent the UNP in the presidential election. It also appears that he had already kick-started his campaign. However, given the socio-economic condition of the country, the UNP can hardly anticipate a clear margin of victory in the presidential election. 

Wickremesinghe could rely on the majority of the Sri Lankan Tamil votes. Indian Tamils traditionally vote with the UNP in presidential elections. The Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC) voted in favor of the budget last week. The CWC’s vote on the budget increased the likelihood of Indian Tamils voting for the UNP candidate. Ranil Wickremesinghe’s challenge is to preserve about 32 percent of the votes the party gained in the local government election. If he can do this, he can reach the fifty percent votes required to win the election. 

Wickremesinghe’s fortunes also depend on the SLPP candidate. Now, it is almost clear that Gotabaya Rajapaksa will be the SLPP candidate. This is good news for the UNP and Wickremesinghe. One, his candidacy will magnify the Tamil votes for the UNP. Two, the UNP could use “democracy” or “possibility of authoritarianism” as a main slogan in the election as socio-economic factors could work against the UNP. In other words, Gotabaya’s candidacy will provide the UNP a useful election mantra. Nevertheless, Gotabaya will be a formidable candidate and cannot be underestimated.

What this indicates is that Ranil Wickremesinghe’s chances are dependent on too many complicated factors and a victory cannot be guaranteed. On the other hand, losing the election will also bring immense pressure on him to relinquish leadership of the party. In the past, Wickremesinghe has successfully withstood this type of pressure. This time around it could be different. It seems that Sajith Premadasa is ready to accept the mantle. One could expect added pressure on Wickremesinghe if the party is defeated in the presidential election. 

On the other hand, if the system is changed, electoral outcomes are not the responsibility of one person. Under the Westminster system of governance, a general election defeat in 2020, will not help oust Wickremesinghe from the party. Hence, Wickremesinghe also stands to benefit  from the abolition of the presidency and transition to the parliamentary system.

Mahinda Rajapaksa 

What is preventing Mahinda Rajapaksa from contesting the forthcoming presidential election? It is the presidential system itself. The world has evolved to believe that executive presidents should have limited terms. Hence, when Sri Lanka introduced the executive presidential system, it entailed a term limit. The term limit was removed by President Rajapaksa but was reintroduced without much resistance in 2015. Presidents can serve only two terms, and Rajapaksa has served two terms already. Hence, he cannot contest another presidential election under the current constitution. 

Although handicapped by the prevailing system, he is undoubtedly one of the most powerful politicians in Sri Lanka today. His party, the SLPP, won the local government election convincingly. He will decide and announce the SLPP candidate and could also engineer a victory for the SLPP candidate in the presidential election. He can be a kingmaker in January 2020.  

After making a Rajapaksa the president, will he allow the new president to govern on his own or will he control the government from behind the scene? If the SLPP candidate wins the presidential election, the SLPP would most likely win the general election, and Mahinda Rajapaksa could become prime minister and “legally” be expected to work under the president. Will he work “under” an SLPP president or dominate the government? 

These questions have the capacity to complicate governance if the SLPP wins in 2020. Supporting the abolition now and contesting the general election under the new system will resolve many personal dilemmas of Mahinda Rajapaksa. If his party wins, he can govern as the “legitimate” prime minister. 

20th Amendment

It is clear that all three powerful political personalities could benefit from abolishing the executive presidential system before the upcoming presidential election. The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) will have no reservation in amending the constitution to reintroduce the Westminster system. Therefore, an action plan to transform the system will receive the required majority in Parliament if all three of them are behind the move. The people’s approval in a national referendum could also be won when all major parties support the change.    

What they need to do is revive the proposal for the 20th Amendment submitted by the JVP and approve it with or without changes. It seems, if Sri Lankans are to achieve the long-standing goal of abolishing the executive presidential system, this is the best moment to do so.      

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Latest comments

  • 9
    0

    They will never do it .
    These leaders do not like democracy they like oligarchy..
    They like to rule till they die ..

    • 5
      1

      L9:
      Your right on. The guy who came to power promising to abolish the Presidency now looking at a way to stay longer.

      “Prez to seek SC ruling on date his tenure ends”

    • 5
      0

      Keethaponcolan,,

      There is no will power and it is all about self-interest.That is how JR enacted the executive presidency, and all want to taste power and want to take turns.

  • 0
    9

    Best way to eliminate Terrorists who appointed themselves as SunGods and Dictators of Tamil people by claiming to be the sole representatives is to eliminate them physically. Rest is democracy.

    • 5
      1

      Karthigesu

      I am sorry I believe the terrorists and their sungods have been comprehensively dealt with in 2009, are you waiting for the born again Sun Gods?

    • 3
      0

      You are not Thamizh but a Chingkallam posting under a Thamizh identity. Have to right to speak on our behalf

  • 1
    1

    i also agree.The use by date of the presidency is over with the demise of prabhaharan.Now we will only have to face its assault ,not the tigers.Any way after the 19th amendment you can’t have 2 leaders running the country,people can’t hold anyone responsible,president and PM will be blaming each other for all the country’s woes.fuck hakeem and badiudeen who oppose and get on with abolishing it.

  • 0
    0

    Do not expect our Sri Lankan turkeys to vote for Christmas.

  • 2
    0

    S I Keethaponcalan is suggesting that abolishing the Executive Presidency will sort our all our problems/predicaments. He goes on to say that the best moment is NOW.
    He goes on to say “The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) will have no reservation in amending the constitution to reintroduce the Westminster system”.
    We got into this vortex of chaos under a Westminster system.
    On the way we picked up the Executive Presidency, list MPs, horse-trading etc. which are band-aids.
    The ‘Culture’ of corruption/nepotism/impunity is now accepted matter-of-factly.
    How will reverting back to Westminster help?
    A new mindset is required.

  • 2
    1

    Dear Writer,

    You are a political science Guru and I do not understand what you write about the Presidential system and democracy. You people have double meaning when you interpret the democracy. You and other political master’s in Colombo, day and day out preach about democracy and negative consequences of Presidential system of Sri Lanka. Then you mention about Gotabaya and says, if he get elected as a President, he become an Authoritarian . I am not a political scientist like you but coming from Morawak Korale , where legend says that top class “modayas” or naive men live. But I checked the meaning of democracy through google and got the following:
    “Definition of democracy. 1a : government by the people especially : rule of the majority. b : a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections.”

    Now my question to you political guru is: If the Gotabaya is elected by the people of Sri Lanka as per the constitutional requirements, whether he will be or he will not be a democratically elected President? What is the wrong with that? President will be appointed by the People of Sri Lanka.

    I have other comment as well. Mahinda Rajapakse and his government had all the elections on time. But under the Yahapalanaya government, they are in the habit of postponing elections. Is that the democracy that you preach.

    Man please do not write articles as a University Academic that does not compatible with the principles of democracy.

    • 6
      0

      Sri Lanka is not a “Democracy”.

      Its just “Demons Gone Crazy”

  • 2
    6

    Yep, at this very moment when even British commentators are saying “the system is broken” about Westminster, and the French Presidential system has prevented political instability even though there is social revolt, it is by far “the best time” to abolish Sri Lanka’s Presidency and revert to the Westminster model…but the “best time” FOR WHOM?

    • 5
      0

      “but the “best time” FOR WHOM?”
      Definitely not for an ‘OPPERTUNIST’ like you.

    • 3
      0

      Just a Castro PhD doesn’t help to understand democracy. Here is a country is trying to implement democratically a people’s referendum. But everything is so far is in Parliament, the ruling body. That is all what we call as parliamentary democracy. That is what the other people too want. The other country’s governmental process falling into question and people trying to take back the ruling on their hand. There is lot of disturbance to ruling process.
      One time a bat was late to return back to nest and was able to see a crow sitting on the branch straight. He asked the crow “Man why are sitting up side down? Sit properly like me on the branch. ” That is what you call Castro Communism or Lankawe democracy.
      Bravo!

    • 6
      0

      Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

      “but the “best time” FOR WHOM?”

      Perhaps for Mahinda Rajapaksa.
      Perhaps not good for Gota the national hangman.

      Irrespective of the nature of system the shameless opportunists, racists, corrupts, …. find any time being the best time. All they have to do is switch allegiance swiftly to suit the situation. Since very rarely principles are called into question you could easily float into where you want to be.

    • 4
      0

      Hey DJ,
      Sri Lanka has none of the characteristics of Britain nor France. SL is a theo-mobo-cracy. So at this stage, it doesn’t matter whether SL has executive Presidency or a Westminster model. It has to lose the Theo and the Mobo first.

    • 6
      0

      Dayan

      Best Time for all concerned . The writer is getting carried away. GOTHAS ambition has been nipped in the bud. Why did he go to US I think fate took him there as I am sure he didnt know what was lurking underneath untill he was approached by the Agents in the Californian Car Park and served notice. As an American ctizen his US Passport will now be ordered to be surrended pending inquiries and Court Hearing. MR , BASIL who are all perona non grata cant visit him so he will die in American Jail and I am sure he woud have said his last goodbye.

    • 4
      0

      Our DISC JOCKEY the bogus Dr, public racist and warmonger rides again!

    • 0
      0

      Is india too big to block your view? France. lol.

  • 2
    0

    Dr. Keethaponcalan: You have missed to read the “Mind Set” of both the “Political Leadership” of Mahinda, Ranil & MY3. and the PEOPLE. At present the “Political Leadership” , I mentioned, make a “FAKE” show of “Willingness” to abolish the Presidency” but do not have the REAL WILL to do it . Then on the part of the “PEOPLE”, they are not just “BOTHERED” and there is no public DISCOURSE , but going about speculating who should be the person to be voted. That “SPECULATION” has been engineered by the very “Political Leadership” who have very correctly identified the “THIRST” of the people to have a “MAHA RAJANO”; in short the “Slave” mind set of the people. Remember, that “Political Leadership’ along with their cohorts will never allow “Democracy” to prevail and grow in the country. JVP too “FAILED” to read this “Mind Set” of the both the “Political Leadership” and the “People” in bringing the “20th Amendment”. But now, JVP too has realized the mistake and has started to talk of a “Nomination” , “IF” their “20th Amendment” does not go through by “30th May”. What is there to speak of a “IF”, JVP must know it will not be passed as laid down in the Constitution. In the end JVP will say: we ALSO RAN in the contest.

  • 4
    5

    AKD who appeared in ‘Salakuna’ program in Hiru TV told, based on the discussions JVP held with Ranil on 20th Amendment, that Ranil does not want to abolish EP. He said Ranil is still dreaming of becoming the President.
    ————
    Since independence this country has tried Parliamentary system and Presidential system. There is a general feeling that both systems have failed. Why not try Army rule for a change. People in the country are desperately looking for someone who could restore law and order and bring stability. ‘Yahapalana’ Government promised that but failed miserably. I suppose Army will be able to do that. Sri Lanka has a fine Army.

  • 3
    4

    Democracy has thrived in this country after independence. That is why the descendants of slaves brought to this country illegally by colonial rulers got the freedom to demand a Separate State and our dumb politicians tolerating that.
    ——-
    According to the 6thAmendment to the Constitution:
    “No person shall directly or indirectly, in or outside Sri Lanka, support, espouse, promote, finance, encourage or advocate the establishment of a separate State within the territory of Sri Lanka”.
    The penalty for violating this Constitutional Amendment is severe. It includes confiscation of movable or immovable property. But to my knowledge no such punishment has been given to anyone who has been demanding a separate State. It is high time that the Government act based on the Constitution and confiscate all the movable and immovable property of Demala politicians who talk about a separate State.

    • 5
      0

      Blind Eye

      What rubbish are you talking about. Democracy hasnt thrived in this country but NEO MAHINTHAISM has been checkmated by the Tamil vote and if not for that we would have had one party rule for centuries to come. But the CROOK MS has ignoed the mandate and gone back to the THUG. .

  • 3
    0

    Do not be in a hurry. The most appropriate time is when 13 Amendment is nullified and Electoral reforms are introduced. And it is not when LTTE rump wants it

  • 0
    0

    Fantastic article

  • 0
    0

    A good moderate Thamilan this bloke is

  • 0
    0

    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2

  • 1
    0

    I do not wish to generalize that the author represents or sympathizes with the view of certain minority political parties. But it is interesting to note that way back in 1980’s while a good section of the population of the majority community were animated by the slogan “Bahubootha Vyawasthawa” (Nonsensical Constitution), condemning the executive presidency, the vocal minorities at that time wanted an executive president with real control so that he could be made to represent Sri Lanka in its entirety for purposes of political bargaining and negotiations. One “Yes” from HIS EXCELLENCY and that is it. It was very helpful in getting the forces to retreat or not to attack the “BOYS” and the crown jewel was the enactment of the 13th amendment. Had a parliamentary system existed even India could not have applied the required pressure to enact the 13th Amendment. But the author of the slogan vilifying the constitution, herself, became the President for 2 terms and did nothing about it while, as usual, cronies circulated around every “Executive President” to suck the benefits at the expense of the nation. We have tasted the abuses of a one lady rule from 1972 to 1977 under a Parliamentary system and subsequently abuses by many under a Presidential system. What is opportune at this stage is to assert the sovereign rights of the people, which was and is ornamental whether under the 1972 constitution or the 1978 constitution. Corruption is rife because of the lack of accountability to people. The author, I believe lives in foreign lands and as such he should be aware that even in the UK, where the sovereignty lies with the Monarch, it is possible to recall and MP from parliament under certain circumstances, asserting the will of the electorate. Here ……?

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