20 June, 2024

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Electing A New Parliament & Ending The Old Presidency

By Rajan Philips

Rajan Philips

A select band of 32 academics and attorneys, many of them also activists, have signed a public appeal calling 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,” and for “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.” 

It is encouraging to see such public calls for presidential and political reforms when the prospects for them were beginning to fade away. Dr Nihal Jayawickrama in a couple of articles has reignited the question and made the constitutional and political case for returning to parliamentary democracy after a 45-year presidential detour. A detour that exacerbated all the vices of Sri Lankan politics without enhancing any of its virtues. 

There is really no valid argument – political, administrative or constitutional – for keeping the presidency in its current form. The arguments for retaining it stem from either misplaced progressive positions or misplaced fears of majoritarian nationalism. Neither school has a significant political base but can create enough noise to push back on reform initiatives.         

As for current reform prospects, some of us were too quick to give up hope after seeing President Wickremesinghe’s political somersaults. Perhaps we placed our hopes on the wrong agency, President Wickremesinghe. It did not take long to realize that he is not at all interested in being a catalyst for political change to provide the framework for economic growth. Rather, he is all about using the economic crisis to become an elected president, even for one lonely term in the late evening of his life. 

To that end, the President has been playing every political trick out of his deep pocket – canceling local government elections, testing the public mood for an early presidential election, launching conflicting initiatives for electoral reforms, and finally playing the trump card of abolishing the executive presidency. The one power that the President can now easily exercise is to dissolve parliament and have new parliamentary elections. Mr. Wickremesinghe will not do that because he cannot put together a winning coalition, and the MPs who are supporting him in parliament now are too sacred of the people to face an election. 

The President is also said to have figured out that he is not likely to get more than 50% votes on the first count, and that he is not going to be high in the second or third preferences of those who are not going to vote for him in the first place. Put another way, Ranil Wickremesinghe is not the first, second or third best presidential candidate to a majority of Sri Lankan voters. Hence the move to abolish it, as the last resort. 

Ranil Wickremesinghe has played the abolition card before – in the dying days of the yahapalana government, when he suggested abolition after the UNP decided on Sajith Premadasa as its presidential candidate for the November 2019 presidential election. It became a laughing proposition then. Even Mangala Samaraweera laughed out loud. 

This time, Anura Kumara Dissanayake has made a brilliant counter proposition that a constitutional amendment to abolish the ‘executive presidency’ should be coupled with the dissolution of parliament leading to a new general election. That scuppered the President’s manoeuvre to abolish the presidency but without dissolving parliament. At the same time, Mr. Dissanayake’s rejoinder has opened a way to move parliament to adopt the twin measures of abolishing the presidency and dissolving parliament to elect a new parliament. 

Two possibilities. No more tricks

Who will take the initiative to reform the presidency, dissolve parliament and call for a general election coupled with a referendum question? That really is the question. It would be utopian to expect the government, the parliament and/or all the political parties to suddenly launch a process for presidential and political reforms. The agency for the initiative has to be more specific and the leadership totally reliable. There are two broad possibilities here.

First, the President can still take the initiative for the twin measures of reform and dissolution. He would do so if he were guided solely by enlightened self-interest. He should publicly agree to reform the presidency and dissolve parliament at the same time. The government can introduce a reform bill to amend the constitution with a referendum proposition that will be coupled to the general election for a new parliament. Once parliament passes the reform bill with the requisite two-thirds majority, the President can dissolve parliament and the voters will get their chance to both reform the presidency and elect a new parliament. All in one fell swoop, potentially.     

To be clear, abolishing the executive presidency means only removing the elected presidency and reducing its powers to those appropriate for a head of state in a parliamentary democracy. To be clear as well, such a reform of the presidency should not require a referendum, as argued expertly by Dr. Nihal Jayawickrama in his recent articles. Even so, there will be no harm in piggybacking a referendum question on presidential reform during a parliamentary election. A clear referendum result will put an end to a political question that has confounded the country for 45 years. 

The second possibility is for the opposition parties to take the initiative. Anura Kumara Dissanayake or Sajith Premadasa could take the initiative either jointly or severally. Although Mr. Dissanayake’s parliamentary strength is technically zero, his rising popularity in the country along with that of his JVP/NPP movement, and their commitment to ‘abolishing the presidency,’ creates a moral responsibility for the JVP leader to take the initiative in parliament. It is also a political opportunity that is simply too good to miss.

On the other hand, Sajith Premadasa who is trailing the JVP leader by some distance in opinion polling, may want to take this parliamentary initiative in order to wrest control of the broader political competition for electoral victory. Either way there has to be consensus among opposition forces to support and vote for the twin measures of presidential reform and parliamentary dissolution. Getting the support of the so called ‘government’ MPs is a different matter. 

As things are, an opposition initiative is not likely to find support among government MPs without intercession by the President. However, if the President were to agree with and support the opposition initiative, then it is back to the first scenario and a potential smooth sailing for the twin measures. In this combined scenario, the remnant support that the Rajapaksas can muster in parliament will get exposed in parliament, unless they too join to stand and vote in favour of reform and dissolution. That will leave Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekara to stand alone one more time in his habitual ignominy.

The more likely scenario is that of the President not agreeing with the opposition initiative and directing his (and Basil’s) MPs in parliament to defeat the opposition motion in parliament, or deny it the required two-thirds majority. Even so, the opposition parties would have scored a major political victory and would have created a momentum that they can carry into the upcoming elections, first presidential and then parliamentary. 

The JVP/NPP and other opposition parties can use the momentum to include presidential reform in their manifesto, and serve notice to everyone concerned including the Supreme Court that the results of the election will also serve as a referendum on reform. If the SJB or other opposition parties were to backtrack and exclude reform from their platforms, they will stand exposed and pay the political price for it.    

An opposition initiative will serve another purpose. It will bring enormous pressure on the President to stop playing any more tricks with election timing. It will force him to stay committed to the constitutional timelines for the presidential and parliamentary elections that he parroted on October 21, at the UNP Convention, at the Sugathadasa Stadium: presidential election in 2024, followed by parliamentary elections. 

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Latest comments

  • 2
    0

    Electing A New Parliament & Ending The Old Presidency
    Rather disturbing.
    Would we not end up with a new presidency like the new anti-terrorism act?

    • 7
      1

      It should be simply abolishing The Presidency

  • 11
    0

    Parliamentary systems in modern times have resulted in having presidential prime ministers. Some them were clowns like Boris Johnson who, it is reported, thought that Covid could be cured by blowing a hair-dryer up the nose. Very much like Trump’s belief that injecting bleach would cure Covid. It is not the system but the politicians who matter. All prime ministers we had were presidential rulers with yes men around them. From DS, to Dudley things were quiet. But turbulence started with Solomon West Midway Dias the presidential prime minister who took us down the pallamah with his minions like Themis (remember him). Then Sirimavo and others. Were they any different as leaders because they worked under a different parliamentary system? We have crooks and nitwits as politicians. The system does not matter. We have to get good competent people to lead the country.

    • 7
      0

      Cicero, is the electorate the problem? Or has the choice of candidates available to the electorate been the hurdle?

      Considering the history of leadership and parliamentary representation throughout SL’s history, I think it has been a consistent feedback loop.

      Ultimately, whether subtly or overtly, ethnocentric chauvinism has been the selling point. The 1978 Constitution of the Republic is a culmination of the majoritarian electorate’s desire to assure SB supremacy.

      Without assurances from the leadership candidates to safeguard SB supremacy, it has never been possible to win over the SB electorate; whilst, the ethnic minority electorate goes with the better of the evils.

  • 3
    0

    Electing a new parliament and ending the old presidency to bring back a new
    line of the same old Rats !

    • 1
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      WW and OC,
      /
      see MR led group promote their heagemony again.
      /
      https://youtu.be/rRKwveVTNqg?si=hfnonAY5m9KUn2bY

  • 0
    0

    Native, This guy is insulting all what you stand for ………. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k8iC8r-sfUU

    • 0
      0

      Sinhala_Man rejoice! ……. one less sleepless night for you in your quest to learn people’s identities!

      Native has finally broken his cover :))) …………… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Emq1FdBQtIc

      • 3
        0

        These Africans may not know how to pronounce “graphite” as impeccably as shoosh boosh English expert Sinhala_Man ……… but slowly but surely are learning to wring some benefit for their own country/people ……… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GR9adYHnvD4

        The people who are against the death-penalty ……… are the same bunch who are against death for exploiters of the ignorant poor ……..

        And the world keeps on turning …….. and Native is yet another day older ……..

  • 10
    0

    Why not abolish the judiciary !

    Remember the Ranjan Ramanayake case ? A black mark of any system.

    Then our courts have allowed a dual citizen to remain in parliament and even be a Minister !

    The latest is that after one year our judges have declared that Dinesh Shafter was murdered ! How brilliant !

    They forgot to say he was actually dead !

    • 8
      0

      Let me recap the excellent performance of the Sri Lankan Judiciary in recent times @
      /
      One law for Ranjan Ramanayake, another law for Rajapaksa. ?
      One law for Diana S. Gamage, another law for Geeta Kumarasinghe?
      One law for Wimal Weerawansa and his abusive wife and another for Geeta and Diana?
      One law for the common people and another law for Basil Rajapaksa or similar political criminals
      One law for Rajapakse and Akshay henchmen like Rohit, Johnston, Wimal Buruwanse, another law for the common people?
      /
      Not a single person in Rajapaksa’s circle was jailed in the way that Ranjan was hurt… The Sri Lankan judiciary should give a better explanation to the world about the double standard.

      • 3
        0

        Did you forget to mention Sarath Fonseka, dear!

  • 3
    0

    “Electing A New Parliament & Ending The Old Presidency”

    Will it change Lankans’ character?

    Essence?

    • 1
      0

      NF and all,
      /
      Even if their contracts are given to GMO “genetically modified like US Monsanto” companies, the nature of Sri Lanka will not change. It can only be compared to the thoughts of zIONISTS in the world today. Zionist movement were well organized brainwashing the cross section of the jewish world. THe same is the case with SINHALA RADICALISM based and led by Rajapakshe sons of the bitches.
      /
      At this moment, the forces of Medamulana BISONS are coming to wake up the BRAIN WASHED people again by remembering how they defeated the LTTE terrorists with their heroic brother company, aside from the truth. This comes with dawn of the thoughts that BASIL the kaputa would become their PE candidate for the next round.
      /
      /https://youtu.be/rRKwveVTNqg?si=hfnonAY5m9KUn2bY

    • 1
      0

      NF and all,
      /
      Even if their contracts are given to GMO “genetically modified like US Monsanto” companies, the nature of Sri Lanka will not change. It can only be compared to the thoughts of zIONISTS in the world today. Zionist movement were well organized brainwashing the cross section of the jewish world. THe same is the case with SINHALA RADICALISM based and led by Rajapakshe sons of the bitches.
      /
      At this moment, the forces of Medamulana BISONS are coming to wake up the BRAIN WASHED people again by remembering how they defeated the LTTE terrorists with their heroic brother company, aside from the truth. This comes with dawn of the thoughts that BASIL the kaputa would become their PE candidate for the next round.
      /
      /https://youtu.be/rRKwveVTNqg?si=hfnonAY5m9KUn2bY
      /
      Good luck to our people !

  • 2
    0

    It is time for people to come to streets through out the country and demand for what they expect from politicians and people representatives..

  • 1
    0

    Electing a New Parliament and ending the Presidency is not the panacea for this country unless and until the entire POLITICAL CULTURE is OVERHAULED to place the Governance of the country in the hands of CIVILIZED (who hold Moral and Judicious values) representatives of the people.

    There are TWO parties to this exercise: (1) The Political Parties and (2) The PEOPLE. The Political Parties must strictly adhere to the requirement only to submit candidates of INTEGRITY and MORAL character for the people’s choice. If any such candidate nominated does not measure up to such standards must be REJECTED irrespective of party affiliations. If in the event a candidate does not measure to the Political Culture and Value System of the party, the PEOPLE must have to RIGHT to RECALL that candidate and hold the party responsible. All PERKS given to the representatives must be withdrawn and only a “Living Allowance” must be paid. If in the event a Representative is “Recalled”, he/she must be made LIABLE to Reimburse all payments received during the office to the STATE or if failed must be made to undergo a Jail Term and withdraw all Civil Rights.

    In a future election vote for a Political Party that complies with and embodies the above norms in their Manifesto. Reject ALL others. This is PRE-REQUISITE for a New Parliament and the abolition of the Presidency.

  • 0
    0

    Namal Batta who is against taxation should pass a motion in the Parliament and ask for a vote of
    no-confidence against the government and call for a general election. Has the Batta got the guts to do it?

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