By Hema Senanayake –
This is what UPFA parliamentarian Vasantha Senanayake proposes. “Think from the end.” This is what I like to do on certain things. When it comes to the subject of constitutional reforms I prefer to think from the end. What kind of government we want to have at the end? In this regard Wasantha’s proposal made me curious.
It seems that everybody wants to abolish the executive presidency. Chandrika promised to do it. Under Mahinda Chinthana the abolition of executive presidency has been envisioned. So called left political parties and JVP are for the abolition of it since the introduction of it. Finally, the UNP, which political party introduced the executive presidential system want to do away with it. All these sentiments have been well echoed by Ven. Maduluwave Sobitha recently and has said, “Whole country has rejected executive presidential system.”
Still I am not convinced. So is Vasantha Senanayake who is a great-grand-child of D.S. Senanayake. He is a Member of Parliament elected from Gampaha District under UPFA. He does want to retain the Executive Presidency but not in the current form. In this regard he has submitted a few important suggestions directly to the President Mahinda Rajapaksa too.
No one wants to abolish the executive branch of the government. Under any kind of reforms, the executive branch will prevail. But Vasantha Senanayake proposes to abolish any system in which the head of the executive branch could “purchase” opposition members of the legislature. While preserving the simple cross overs on policy reasons, the whole nation needs to prevent the head of state virtually buying opposition parliamentarians based on monetary or any other considerations.
Mere abolition of executive presidency will not achieve this goal. There is only one sensible way to do it; that is to abolish the system of appointing elected officials to Cabinet and other paid positions of the government. This means no member of parliament will be appointed to any Ministerial Position under the proposed system. This is the system the United State has.
Accordingly, Vasantha Senanayake proposes as follows:
“Members of the Cabinet shall not be members of Parliament or any other legislative body/council, and shall not undertake any other employment. Any member of Parliament or other elected body who assumes a Cabinet portfolio shall ceases to be a member of such body” (Paragraph 3 under the section of “Executive” of Vasantha’s proposal).
How this works? Let us take an example from the United States. Formerly, Hillary Clinton was elected to the U.S. Senate from New York. Later she decided to take a Cabinet position in the executive branch of president Obama’s administration. In order to take up the Cabinet portfolio she had to resign from the Senate, which is an elected body.
With this arrangement the United States separates the legislature to be an independent branch of the government. Under our presidential system executive branch and the legislature are unified. Even under the parliamentary system the executive branch and the legislature remains unified if the Prime Minister can appoint the Cabinet from elected members of the Parliament. Under the Parliamentary system, we do not see any true separation of powers among the three branches of the government. This is where Vasantha Senanayake’s above proposal makes sense to me.
Vasantha has made a few more interesting points under his proposal for which our constitutional pundits should pay attention. Yet, I may limit this article only to the said point above and invite our intellectual writers to enlighten us as to why we want to unify the executive and legislature in a Parliamentary system or as to why we should not truly separate powers as proposed by Vasantha Senanayake.