9 December, 2019

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Making Transition Easier Through Change With Continuity 

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

The presidential election fixed by the Election Commission for November 16 has the potential to bring about far reaching change to the country both in terms of political parties and the leadership at their helms. It is therefore a double transition that the Sri Lanka faces at the current juncture. Change is generally resisted. Ironically, the last minute attempt to abolish the executive presidential system, which is a radical change, can also be seen as a manifestation of resistance to change. In a meeting with civil society last week, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe cautioned that unless accompanied by electoral reform that permits the establishment of decisive majorities in parliament, the abolishing of the executive presidency by itself could lead to unstable government.

President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe who are the leading protagonists in the bid to abolish the executive presidency have been contradicting each other as to whose idea it was to summon the emergency cabinet meeting. A statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office states that the president made an early morning phone call to the prime minister regarding holding a special cabinet meeting on the day that the meeting took place and this led to the emergency meeting. However, whether initiated by the president or prime minister, the purpose of the meeting was to decide on the ways and means to abolish the executive presidency after the elections had been called.

The emergency cabinet meeting occurred in a context in which the three leaders of three of the main contending political parties have found themselves either unable or unlikely to be able to contest the presidential elections. There was a confluence of interests to abolish the most powerful and prestigious elected office in the country that could have motivated the meeting. However, the attempt failed because the move to abolish the presidency was delayed too long, and particularly ill-timed as the move came from out of the blue as it were after the Election Commission had fixed the date of the elections and called for nominations to be filed. The timing has also caused a doubt about the motivation of the move.

Leaders Interests 

There are four main contending parties at the forthcoming presidential elections. They are the SLFP headed by President Sirisena, the UNP headed by Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, the SLPP headed by Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa and the JVP headed by Anura Kumara Dissanayake. Three of these four leaders either cannot contest or have no chance of victory if they do contest. President Sirisena heads a party that has split into two leaving him with the smaller part. He has been unable to make himself a contestant with a reasonable chance of winning due to his inability to reach agreement with the larger part led by the opposition leader.

Opposition leader Mahidna Rajapaksa who heads the SLPP, which demonstrated that it had become the most formidable political party in the country at the local government elections held in February this year faces a problem of transition of leadership within his party. This is on account of the 19th Amendment to the constitution that was passed by those who defeated him at the 2015 presidential election, which reintroduced the two term limit on the presidency that existed in the original version of the constitution. The presidential candidate put forward by the SLPP, his younger brother Gotabaya, is today projected as the candidate most likely to win the forthcoming elections. He would thereafter become a natural leader of the party.

JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake has become a popular choice amongst those who want to see value-based change in the country as opposed to change that more narrowly focuses on national security and economic growth, as does the SLPP. But the JVP’s constituency has traditionally been small, and this election is unlikely to yield much of a difference. So the likelihood of victory is remote. Out of the four leaders only Prime Minister Wickremesinghe has a possibility to contest the elections and win. However, he finds himself being challenged for the position of presidential candidate by a substantial section from within his own party who see his deputy leader Sajith Premadasa as being more likely to be a winning candidate. This also corresponds to sentiment in the larger electorate.

People’s Desire 

Despite the condemnation of the institution of the executive presidency by many, and its being a campaign promise at successive presidential elections, the presidency continues to also have its supporters, not only from amongst those who are self-interested, but also from the perspective of the national interest. It is the one institution for which the entire voting population vote as one electorate. The executive presidency continues to be an institution of power that can dominate the course of government even with the reduction of its powers due to the 19th Amendment. The internal conflict within the ruling party regarding who should be its presidential candidate is due to the recognition of the continuing legal and moral powers of the presidency.

The last minute attempt to abolish the executive presidency prior to the presidential election was a leadership decision. Its failure was largely due to opposition from supporters of Sajith Premadasa. This shows that the problem of transition needs to be faced. It is important that the transition that takes place corresponds to the interests of the country. During the past four years there were many achievements that need to be recognized and appreciated. These include improvements in the legal framework for the protection of human rights, promotion of national reconciliation and the strengthening of practices of good governance. However, the changes on the ground are less visible, as compared to previous periods.

Democracy is about paying heed to the wishes of the people and especially about their choice of leaders. In a liberal democracy, the leaders need to ensure that they operate within the rule of law, which comprises respect for the rights and aspirations of minorities. In the run up to the presidential elections, the overwhelming desire on the part of both ethnic and religious majority and minorities is that there should be change on the ground that directly benefits the people. There is a desire that the policies and plans of those at the leadership level should be translated into visible actions on the ground. The SLPP candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa promises one type of change on the ground. The UNP needs to present the electorate with a candidate, or a team, who can match this.

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Latest comments

  • 1
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    the cabinet meeting proves that both the prez and the pm are both consummate liars
    [edited out]

    • 3
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      Dr. Jehan: It is patently clear that US puppet Ranil was given instructions by his American handlers, to get rid of the Executive Presidency in Sri Lanka, which has blocked the US SOFA and the MCC projects- to turn Lanka into a military base, for which Saudi and US Special Operations Forces (SOF) staged the Easter attacks using local Muslims.
      This is also the reason that the Provincial Councils were also debilitated by Bondscam Ranil on instructions from Wasington with help of Muslim Minister Faizer Mustapha. Muslims are the US Cats paw to wreak Lanka as was Bathudeen and Hizbulla who got Saudi funds for the Easter Carnage
      PCs also rejected the MCC Development Special Provisions Bill and the Land Grab bills and hence have been debilitated by RW who claims to protect minorities with TNA clapping!

      USA is desperate to block Sajith and there will be religious riots and mayhem to stop him coming to power if necessary. Already religion is being weaponized in the Eastern province where the US wants bases with Hindu Buddhist tensions being stoked in Mullaitivue.

      Sajith may be unloveable, and must dump Mangy, but at least he is not part of this corrupt doddering GENERATION,
      The future belongs to the Youth of Lanka.
      Finally, hats off to Yemen and Iran for speaking truth to power and doing what non of the cowardly politicians in Sri Lanka have done – telling the US-Saudi terrorists to go to hell!

      • 3
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        Yes weaponization of religion as at Easter is continuing today with the media also doing its bit to spread the hate! ADA Derana television with its fake American Accents showing events in Mullitivue to spread trouble..

        It is remarkable that when US puppet Ranil is in trouble, BBS Gnyanasara shows up with this saffron thugs to distract everyone, disturb the peace and save US puppet Bond Ranil’s skin.. by attacking minority Muslims or Tamils

        • 0
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          Bottom line, US puppet, Ranil should be impeached for corruption and treason, and share the same prison cell with US citizen and Avant Guard corruption specialist Goon Gota.

  • 0
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    Jehan! Jehan! Jehan! It’s interesting….
    He says “…. JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake has become a popular choice amongst those who want to see value-based change in the country as opposed to change that more narrowly focuses on national security and economic growth, as does the SLPP..”
    I did not know you have become a Marxist/Leninist to write JVP with so much admiration..
    When did you get this sudden wisdom to work for proletariat?
    What a guy! Writing some B… S… for dollars!
    So. Gota thinks narrowly only focusing national security and economic growth!
    I know what’s on your mind… DEMOCRACY and division of the country first choice and federalism second choice.. ..
    Guys like you who earned dollars from NGO’s only wants democracy and freedom to earn more. To do that keep the country in chaos so that nobody notices what you do for living…
    Then you say “…During the past four years there were many achievements that need to be recognized and appreciated. These include improvements in the legal framework for the protection of human rights, promotion of national reconciliation and the strengthening of practices of good governance….”
    Have you listened to Solicitor General, Dilrukshi Dias Wickramasinghe’s
    (very close friend of Ranil Wickramasinghe and was the former Director General of the Bribery Commission)
    telephone conversation where she says “We can make the Law -We can break the Law “?
    INDEPENDENT institutions! Aha! I thought only the parliament make the laws. Seems that this iron lady can make the laws!
    Is there any thing independent Jehan? You guys only wants somehow to prosecute opponents and put them in jail.. Nothing else! That is your democracy in your books. Jehan.
    There are some more achievements your government had delivered in past 4 years. Growth rate 6.5 to 2.

  • 0
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    Which one of the two is the liar? People by this time have known who the consummate liar is; and what the other is capable of. It looks Kabir, Palaani Mangala et al have made a 180 degree turn from their earlier religious commitment to the abolition of the EP system. What kind of lie is that? The present Parliament has more than six months before dissolution. Isn’t that enough time to move the Amendment? What has Presidential election got to do with that?

  • 0
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    “During the past four years there were many achievements…….” Yeah, ask Dilrukshi Dias…………

  • 0
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    Thanks Jehan, You have done a tremendous job to give the great majority some hope, with your predictions.

    But I am not sure about the so called Improvements that you mentioned.

    Solicitor General’s own admission on Tape gives us a indication how disgusting Dr Ranil’s Yahapalana Justice has become.

    They couldn’t fix Gota ,
    But the poor War Heroes who are maimed and the War Widows got shafted big time after Dr Ranil destroyed Avante Garde and sold it to his UNP mates

    JVP Anura Kumara helped Dr Ranil by doing the hard yards to spread untruths about the Avanate Garde operations. for a lousy 25 Lakhs.

    Hope Weerawansa do Seminars on JVP assistance by Anura Kumar for Dr Ranil on Avante Garde and other issues of Yahapalana Injustices , at least once a month leading up to the Elections both in November and in March.

    Giving the crooks in Kotte the absolute Power to rule us will go down as the biggest mistake of our inhabitants in the Mahavamsa History.
    II am talking about the poor rural Sinhala Buddhists who make up the majority..

    What saddens me is nobody ever mentions that it is the two thirds majority which any democratic country talks about to change the Constitution.

    Here in Yahapalana Srilanka we need only Dr Ranil , Maithri Sira and and Anura Kumara ..

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