14 December, 2019

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Creating A Non Partisan Presidency 

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

There were many reports last week that the ruling party, UNP, will contest the next presidential election in a major alliance based on national security, democracy and the economy. The UNP General Secretary stated that an agreement will be signed with the partner parties on the 5th of August. This will be in in preparation for the upcoming presidential election. The UNP has also made it clear that no one has still been picked to be the leader and this will not happen on August 5. One of the reports was that the candidate to be fielded for the presidential election would be the made the leader of the new alliance. In other words, if this is to happen those who wish to be the presidential candidate would need to be willing to give up their party membership to take on the leadership of the new alliance.

The implication is that the presidential candidate would not necessarily become the party leader of the UNP in the event of victory at the presidential election. The UNP constitution states that if a member of the party becomes president, that person will also hold the position of party leader. However, if the presidential candidate backed by the UNP comes from a larger political alliance which finds legal expression in a new political party, then the present party leader, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, will continue to remain the party leader even if he does not contest the presidential election. This could be considered to be a vote maximizing strategy on the part of the UNP.

On the one hand, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe is generally credited with giving policy leadership to the most positive aspects of the present government. These include winning the trust of the ethnic and religious minorities, opening up the space for political dissent to be carried out safely, ensuring security from government-backed violence, strengthening the institutions of state such as the judiciary, public service and Human Rights Commission. In addition together with likeminded ministers he has given leadership to establishing new institutions that are important for the long term good governance of the country. These include the Right to Information Commission, the Office on Missing Persons and the Office for Reparations. Therefore, the policy leadership of Prime Minister Wickemesinghe at the present time is crucial if the current policy direction of the government is to be sustained.

Powerful Presidency

On the other hand, it is also widely believed that appreciation of the policy leadership given by the prime minister does not percolate down to the masses of people who desire more tangible and immediate results. Therefore, a political figure of more appeal to the masses of voters might be deemed necessary for the purposes of the presidential election. Despite the successes in sustaining the space for political freedom, public attention has been focused on the failures of the government. Following the Easter Sunday bombings the credibility of the government’s commitment to national security has also taken a beating. While this is not a fair assessment, given the constitutional power of President Maithripala Sirisena to dominate the spheres of defence and policing, the prime minister has been unable to present the image of strength and decisiveness that makes the general population desires.

The over-use and abuse of presidential powers over the past three decades led to a general consensus in Sri Lankan society in the past that the executive presidency should either be abolished or its power significantly curtailed. The abolition of the executive presidency, and its transformation to a more ceremonial role, has been a campaign promise at several presidential elections. At previous presidential elections Presidents Chandrika Kumaratunga, Mahinda Rajapaksa and Maithripala Sirisena either promised to abolish the presidency or significantly reduce its powers. However, all presidents have found it to be too difficult and unrewarding to deliver on their promises.

The closest that any president has come to keeping the promise to abolish or diminish the presidency has been President Sirisena. It has been during his term of office that term of the president has been reduced from six to five years and several of the powers have been clipped by the 19th Amendment to the Constitution that he championed. This amendment directly reduced the power of the president and also increased the independence of institutions of state, such as the judiciary. Despite these reductions in power, the president continues to wield tremendous power as witnessed by the takeover of the police department and other departments of government by the president and his refusal to sign international agreements, even those that are primarily economic such as the US grant of USD 450 million through the Millennium Challenge Corporation.

Strong Leader

The most recent initiative to reduce the powers of the presidency is the 20th Amendment proposed by the JVP. This envisages the president being elected by parliament and not by the people at a presidential election. Another interesting feature of the JVP proposal is a non-partisan presidency. The amendment states that during the tenure of office the President should not hold any position of a political party nor could be a member of any political party. The ongoing political crisis in the country, the political deadlock, the weak governance, and the shocking security lapses that led to the Easter Sunday bombings are evidence enough of the disastrous impact that partisan politics can have, especially when played out at the highest levels of the polity.

Accordingly, the presidency, being a foremost national institution, voted for by the entire electorate, should be unfettered from partisan party politics and not be mired in it as at present. The use of presidential powers for narrow and partisan purposes needs to be dissuaded. While the president needs 50 percent plus one votes of the national electorate to be elected, the president needs to govern the country with all 100 percent of the population in mind and in heart. In the context of the ongoing debate in parliament on the topic of constitutional reform, it is opportune to consider a constitutional amendment that would further build on the 19th Amendment’s commitment to the de-politicising of key national institutions.

There is a yearning today in Sri Lankan society for a strong leader in reaction to the problem of the present time where the president and prime minister, being from two different political parties, are not cooperating with each other and blocking each other. This desire for a strong leader needs to be assessed in the light of the danger that the presidency can also become a “one man show” as it did during the past when the president and parliamentary majority were from the same party. The 20th Amendment to the constitution by which any person elected as the president would be required by law to step down from all party political positions and be a non-partisan president who works for the wellbeing of all is therefore a salutary one.

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Latest comments

  • 7
    2

    stop whistling in the wind
    ranils plan to keep the leadership of the unp is to form an alliance as he is a loser if he contests so please stop singing his praises and that of the guy who burned the country
    are you writng this stuff to please your donors

    • 5
      2

      Jehan Perera have you lost your marbles? It is time for US puppet bondscm Ranil to step down and let the younger generation of the UNP take over and lead. What has happened to all the talk of YOUTH empowerment and leadership of the Colombo USAID funded NGOs?! WIndow dressing.

      US puppet Bondscam Ranil is the UNP dictator and should have been impeached for looting the Central Bank with his buddy Mahendran.
      Now Ranil is working with the US to turn Lanka into a giant military base where US garbage from its other illegal bases can be dumped in the Indian Ocean.
      Ranil has been unable to win elections he should have resigned a long time ago.
      Time as come for the Younger generation to take over and lead.
      Get lost JP, find another job and stop taking funds from USAID to write this Tosh!

      • 3
        2

        Yesterday was 3 months after the Easter Crime and the NationaL Peace Council and the Colombo NGOs that are big on Memorials and war memory for Victims forgot to hold a national vigil for inter-religious peace.
        Shame on NPC and hope that next month on 21st August – 4 months after the Easter Disaster NGOs and civil society will organize an inter-religious peace vigil to remember the victims.
        But this fact that NGOs like NPC forgot the 3 month anniversary of the Easter violence indicates how intellectually and morally bankrupt these so called civil society groups of activists and actors who also came to protect Ranil during Sira’s coup are.
        The fact that the Colombo NGOs and artists who celebrate Back July every year forgot to organize any memorial for the Easter victims to avoid embarrassment for the US Ambassador in Sri Lanka as the Easter Crime was committed by the US Special Operations Forces (SOF) that own and operate Islamic State (IS) and IS narrative, shows the extent to which all the NGO war and human rights Memory Work and the whole NGO ladies industry for memory funded by US and EU to advance their de-stabilization project.

        Natio

      • 0
        0

        Ranil resigning! Perhaps the answer is in the following:
        The then President Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines was asked why he is not resigning when confronted with large scale countrywide demonstrations asking for his resignation. He simply told I will resign if Americans ask me to do so”.

  • 1
    3

    Dr Jehan needn’t worry, Dr Ranil has the one hundred percent backing of the Muslims Parties from Extremists to Wahabis, and the SLMC Muslims..

    Vellala Clan lead by Samapathar saved Dr Ranil for the second time in less than 12 months, even though Dr Ranil’s Police helped the Suicide Attacks on the Catholic Church by not arresting the Zaharan boys even after the Boys killed two UNP ‘s own Police and destroyed two Buddha Statues , according to the Sunday Times Investigative Reporters….

    Dr Ranil’s new Chief coordinator of the Bathudeen, Sally . Hezbulla, Hakeem Muslims Wahabi Parties, , Vellala TNA and the Elite Faction of the UNP, Dr Rajitha boasted that he will offer this Holy , Alliance to the Punters on the 5th August.

    And Assath Sally boasted that the Minority Ethnics are now 30 % of the Population.
    And warned the rest to watch out..

    Can’t wait to see the Face of this Candidate whom Dr Rajitha will offer to us on the 5th at the Sugathadasa Stadium..
    Or do they still call it Premadasa Stadium?..

  • 1
    1

    Jehan Perera: when Mahinda Rajapakse should be the least popular after two govts, when the elections came, Ranil and his UNP won only 42 electoral districts. If they contested electorates they may not have won even that number of seats. IT is pretty sure, Ranil is doing a fine job by fulfilling the CIA/MCC/NATO agenda. When he goes to talk about country’s problem only things he talk is lies and those of useless things. It is the Forces and police which did a good job to take Wahhabis under control. Ranil is talking that for now three months. IS that why we need a PM like that.I hope Voters will vote intelligently. Great Philanthropist who offered his presidential candidate slot once he lost in 2005 to Fonseka and Maithripala Won’t be contesting this time. HE is just screaming to say, he is in control the Party Leadership. On the other hand, unless Ranil loses the electoral district, he will stay the party Leader which means no one from UNF becomes the President. Both Karu Jayasuriya and Sajith Pemadasa are dividing the Sinhala vote which is the majority.

  • 7
    0

    The development of a yearning for a strong-man leader by the proletariat in Sri Lanka is unfortunate. They do not seem to understand the value of strong national institutions that cannot be swayed by political will. This is a defining difference between mature, progressive societies and stagnant, regressive and immature ones like Sri Lanka’s. The people have been conditioned to expect a strong man to single-handedly solve people’s individual problems, a notion foisted on the gullible masses during the previous regime. Instead, the national institutions must ensure a smooth and reliable operation of the country’s systems, like in modern societies elsewhere. SL will never become modern if these political parasites continue to play football with the lives of the people.

  • 5
    0

    “The closest that any president has come to keeping the promise to abolish or diminish the presidency has been President Sirisena”
    .
    An intriguing statement. Because the truth is much more complex than that. Yes, Sirisena did take some steps initially to fulfill the promise to ABOLISH executive presidency. Then he started going off on a tangent, maybe due to interference by the Rajapaksa Deep State to derail Yahapalanaya in order to avoid facing charges for their many crimes. Then gradually power went to his head and he put a halt to the process and started talking about a second term. Then, maybe due to a mental breakdown, he veered off completely believing himself to be an absolute ruler like Napoleon. He did a 180 and staged a coup completely undermining the 2015 January mandate for democratic governance. DIMINISH presidency? Yes, here the writer is absolutely correct. Sira has breached the law getting involved in several mega deals along with his family members, has violated the constitution on many occasions, has interfered into the judicial process obstructing justice and covering up heinous crimes. The consensus in the country is he should be impeached and thrown into jail as soon as he is out of office. Luckily for him most people in the country are against the death sentence. There is no question he has diminished the presidency.

  • 1
    6

    IT is true, A partisan president is a disadvantage to the country.. But, the president must serve the majority, if not he should be uprooted. He must keep majority needs at the front and President must not be one who is talking about Foreign powers’ needs and one serving the international community needs. At present, Sri lankan parliament is there to serve the International community and to fulfill the western goals in the Indian Ocean. Sri lankan people are really at disadvantage if they vote UNP and RANIL.

  • 1
    1

    When I got to the bit that went . . . Prime Minister Wickremesinghe is generally credited with giving policy leadership to . . . I just chocked. Yes, he did; to Governor Mahendran, and to old Royalist hangers-on.

    RW is really afraid of contesting another Presidential election, so he has turned arch manipulator, and will look to using his position as party leader to maintain status.

    What a sad state of affairs!

  • 1
    1

    Another weak attempt to white wash the inept and treacherous PM.

    The article explains how these buggers plan to deceive voters again like they did in 2015.

  • 2
    0

    Check Heritage Foindation, and Sri lanka in google and see what they talk. They say Ranil is a saint, just like the same Ranil just before the bond scam.But, Ranil has a custom fraud case I thin during the last time. Ask Nagananda.

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