21 September, 2023


Minorities Suffered The Most Under Executive Presidency

By Javid Yusuf

Javid Yusuf

The debate on the Interim Report of the Steering Committee of the Constitutional Assembly is over and the focus of the Parliamentarians shifts, at least during  the next month, to the Budget debate. The Constitutional Assembly discussions which were originally scheduled for only three days were extended to five days in order to enable more Parliamentarians to participate in the debate.

While it is encouraging  that the peoples representatives were keen to have their say in shaping the Constitution Reform process the officials who would  have to figure out what to incorporate in the draft of the Constitution based on the views expressed in the Constitutional Assembly debate will not have an enviable task.

Their task would have been much easier if the Parliamentarians had  presented their views in line with the process envisaged in the resolution setting up the Constitutional Assembly. The Interim Report of the Steering Committee describes its contents as the “principles and formulations that reflect the deliberations of the Steering Committee” at its 73 meetings.

It also goes on to state that “included in this Interim Report are observations and comments by Members of the Steering Committee on the principles and formulations contained in the Report. “ These observations and comments are those set out in the Annexures to the Report.

In other words the Annexures contain the reservations and or further additions to the discussions in the Steering Committee. It would have made the task of the drafters easier if the Parliamentarians expressed their views on the alternative proposals and gave their own alternative suggestions in case they objected to any particular proposal. Unfortunately this did not happen.

One of the significant subjects that was missing in the five day debate in the Constitutional Assembly was the views of the minority parties with regard to the all important issue of the abolition of the Executive Presidency. The perception of the minorities will be a significant factor in the event a referendum is held to decide on a new Constitution.

One is therefore compelled to look for the views of the Political Parties representing the minorities in the observations contained in the Annexures to the Steering Committee Report.

The Tamil National Alliance does not comment on the Executive Presidency in its observations and can therefore be presumed to agree with the formulation in the Interim Report that “there was general consensus that the Executive Presidency as it exists today be abolished.” This is further buttressed by the TNAs statement in its observations on the Steering Committee Report  that “in the interests of reaching an acceptable consensus, the TNA wil be willing to consider agreement with the main principles articulated in the interim report if the same are acceptable to the two main parties.”

In what is described as the “Joint Proposal submitted by ACMC, EPDP, SLMC and TPA” under the names of the Leaders of the respective parties Rishard Bathiudeen, Douglas Devanada, Rauf Hakeem and Mano Ganesan and contained in the Annexures to the Interim Committee Report, the four Parties propose the election of the President directly by the People and do not endorse the abolition of the Executive Presidency.

Additionally the ACMC  has made a separate observation contained in the Annexures to the Interim Report where it specifically states that the Executive Presidency in the present format  should not be changed.

It is understood that the SLMC too has made further proposals at the commencement of the Constitutional Assembly debate.

Over the years there has been a myth spread  that the Executive Presidency helps  the minorities and ensures that the rights of the minorities are protected.

Our experience of the last 40 years of the existence of the Executive Presidency clearly shows that this is furthest from the truth. In fact the minorities have never suffered as much as they have done under the Executive Presidency.

The armed conflict which raged over the North and East saw its genesis after the Executive Presidency came into being and  during those three decades the conflict  took its toll on the Tamil community. The Muslim community also suffered immensely during the period of the armed conflict even though  not directly involved in the armed conflict but did not benefit from any protection from the Office of the Executive Presidency.

During  the previous regime since 2012, the Muslim community faced unprecedented harassment and attacks which the Institution of the Executive Presidency could not prevent. However much the Muslims remained patient and attempted to get their grievances addressed because of the powerful nature of the Executive Presidency they did not succeed.

The argument has been put forward  that because the entire country functions as one electorate during Presidential Elections, the minorities have the opportunity to participate in electing the Head of State and therefore this helps to ensure the rights of minorities. However Sri Lanka’s experience is that this does not ensure the minorities adequate protection from the time the President  is elected until the next Presidential Election.

If the fact that the minorities vote is important for the election of a President  is sufficient safeguard for the minorities, President Mahinda Rajapaksa who was seeking a third term would have ensured the Muslims were protected and spared of the agony of targeted attacks during the latter half of his second term.

Additionally the Presidential Elections of 2005 and 2010 proved a President could be elected without the help of minority votes. The enforced boycott of the 2005 Presidential Election  by Tamil voters under LTTE directions saw Mahinda Rajapaksa emerge victorious without the benefit of  Tamil votes. Mahinda Rajapaksa was re elected President in 2010 after the armed conflict almost entirely by Sinhala voters.

The fact that Maithripala Sirisena was elected President with the help of minority votes does not invalidate the argument that the Executive Presidency does not help the minorities.

Two independent and respected Constitutional Law experts Dr. Rohan Edirisisnghe and Dr. Asanga Welikala have repeatedly argued that the so called protection afforded to minorities by the Executive Presidential System was a myth.

Dr. Asanga Welikala in one of his writings captures the argument very well.

He poses the question and answers it himself: “But does the overwhelming support of the minorities for President Sirisena in 2015, without which he would not have won, prove the opposite contention? I do not think so, for the reason that the minority vote came unconditionally to him, and what is more, the common opposition was careful to studiously avoid any reference whatsoever to the demands of the minorities let alone be seen to be promising anything to them, so as to ensure that sufficient numbers of the majority deserted Rajapaksa. All that the minorities are left with after the 2015 presidential election is the goodwill and decency of the new President and his government to treat them with some sort of respect, and when and if possible, to address their political and constitutional problems. Can this be even remotely regarded as an argument that the presidency ensures the protection of minority interests?”

The nature of the Institution of the Executive Presidency is such that after an Executive President is elected he is by the very nature of the Office insulated from the people. That is why President J. R. Jayewardene described the Executive Presidency as a system which is not subject to the whims and fancies of Parliament. Once installed in Office it is very difficult for the minorities or their representatives to access an Executive President to have their aspirations addressed.

This is the complete opposite of the Westminister Parliamentary form of Government. Under the Westminister system the minorities have the opportunity of influencing the election of Parliamentarians who in turn have ready access to the Prime Minister and Cabinet Ministers both in and out of Parliament. The minorities are able to influence their representatives continuously and not only during election time. These representatives are in turn  compelled to take it up with the Prime Minister and Ministers to whom they have much easier access.

This is a system which works well for the minorities because the Prime Minister and the Government through the Parliamentary representatives are compelled to keep their fingers on the pulse of the people including the minorities for their continued existence.

It is not surprising that the Muslim politicians in Parliament (other than those from  the UNP) are not in support of the call to abolish the Executive Presidency. All these politicians were comfortably ensconced in power during the Rajapaksa Presidency and during the difficult times faced by the Muslims and had no hand in the preparation of the manifestoes or campaigns in support of President Maithripala Sirisena. All of them pledged their support to Maithripala Sirisena only a few days before the Presidential Election after determining which way the wind was blowing. 

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Latest comments

  • 7

    Javid USUF: when muslims are 1.8 billion in the world, when Sri lankan – buddhists are just about 13 million, how do you make the assertion that muslims are a minority.
    How about in our buddhist country, Animals are killed millions of animals are abused, muslims women are treated like slaves, but we buddhists have no say ?.
    Is sri lanka a buddhist country or a muslims country ?.
    Why don’t you talk about how you muslims treat other muslims in the east and in Negambo area ?

    • 2

      What a stupid argument, The 1.8 billion Muslims in the world are not a homogenous group the belong to many Muslims sects most of whom hate each other. Speak many languages , belong to many races and ethnicities. Shias hate Sunni and now fundamental extremist Wahhabi and Salafist founded by Saudi Arabia are trying to import their extremist ideology and create chaos in the world , through groups like Taliban, Isis,. ETC. Arabs hate Turks Iranian ( Farsi) and vice versa and they all hate the Kurds despite all being predominantly Muslim. Malay Muslims treat the largely Tamil Indian Muslims like dirt in Malaysia. In Indonesia , Javanese hate Sumatran Achenese , and vise versa despite al l of them being Muslim and basically various Malay people. In the Subcontinent Muslims belonging to various sects and ethnic groups do not like each other. The Muslims in Sri Lanka have their own unique identity , they are part of the world Muslim population but have their own identity , just like Sinhalese Buddhists are part of the world Buddhist population of around a billion ( that you conveniently omitted) but have their own unique identity. The Sri Lankan Muslims are 99% Tamil speaking and are Dravidian Tamils with a dash of Arab or other western Asian in some families and other than the recent Wahhabi influence follow their own form of Sunni Islam that their immigrant ancestors brought from their South Indian homeland. Do not use stupid argument to justify your discrimination against them or the island’s Tamils

      • 3

        Fake Siva Sankarana RAMA: If Muslims are Tamils why did you guys kill them in hoards and chased them out of JAffanishthan.
        Muslims are not old 2600 years. when portugeuse were killing muslims, we buddhists gave them space. Now, they want more.

        • 2

          They were chased out for spying for the Sinhalese and hiding arms that the Sinhalese gave them to create trouble. just like what happened in the south and east. None of them were killed, they were asked to leave the north. Get your facts correct liar. There were only around 60000 Muslims who lived in the north not hundreds of thousands and Jaffna had only around 3000 the most. On contrary despite being ethnically Tamil it was the Muslims, in the name of their religion and an imagined Arab origin the, Island’s Muslims joined hands with the Sinhalese racists and killed thousands of innocent Tamils in the south and burn and looted their homes and Muslim home guards did the same in the east and ethically cleansed thousands of Tamils in the east. This is the reason when the LTTE caught them spying and hiding arms provided by the Sri Lankan armed forces, they did not want a repeat of what happened in the south or in the east. Prior to this they were treated very well. Stop lying when the Portuguese persecuted the Muslims along the west coast, they fled to Sinhalese areas in the Kandyan provinces and the Sinhalese did not want them and started to persecute them too. In desperation King Senarath of Kandy requested the Tamil chiefs of the east to provide asylum and refuge to these Tamil Muslims and they obliged., they not only gave them lands but even Tamil women to marry, as most the Muslims fleeing were young men, Just like what is happening in the west. Do not try and rewrite history. This why the eastern Muslims follow the eastern Tamil Mukkuva law and the matriarchic system.

        • 1

          The Muslims fought fr the Sinhala kings.
          Several villages in the Central Province were granted to them for their loyal support.
          They are not a fraction as racist as some of the Tamil-Hindu and Sinhala-Buddhist commentators here.

  • 3

    The main point the author wishes to make is that the Executive Presidential system does not offer any sort of benefit or protection to the minorities. He is absolutely right about this! In fact, the sufferings of the minorities reached new heights after the introduction of the (expletive deleted) Executive Presidential system. No Sinhalese can command and handle the power of the Executive Presidency. The ability and maturity to handle so much power does not exist in the genes of the lion race. They can and will only use this power to destroy other races.

  • 4

    Dear S.Sharma. You need to clean your head from your racism about any other groups. |First you need to sort out your ugly caste system.No world community is racist as Hindus today: you have divided people into low and upper caste. Who gave right to your Brahmins to do this? some are born from feet, some are born from heads and some are born from chest.. you have divided people into different groups: Some of people in India and jaffna really live in aparthied as white suprimacy in South Africa: some people can not go to same schools, can not eat in same plates, can not drink in same cups, can not marry from some casts, can not live in same village and can not go to same temple. In Sinhalese community we do not have such barbrabism and racism. Do not bring this ugly talk to us. You clean you caste and come and talk. No one has got blue blood as you claims. if Tamils get home land first think they will do is kill each other in the name of cast. why more Tamils live in Colombo than Jaffna? why? Jaffna Tamil will kill Batica Tamils and Batica Tamils will kills Trinco Tamils. So ugly racism is this. Clean up this and talk about other community.

    • 2

      You are no Sinhalese Pundit but a racist Sinhalese Buruwa( donkey) , Stop lying. What has caste system go to do with state sponsored discrimination against the island’s Tamils and Tamil Muslims, as this author clearly points out. The Sinhalese are more casteist than the Tamils. Go and look at the marriage columns where Sinhalese upper castes only want upper caste partners for their children,. only the lower castes will say caste immaterial as they cannot go lower only higher or it will be from some dirt poor family , otherwise some scandal in the family so they badly want to palm of the daughter or son even to a lower caste , otherwise only upper castes. Sinhalese will only elect an upper caste. Tamils will elect a leader who has some merit irrespective of caste or religion. Buddhism states no class or caste but Sinhalese Buddhism is caste ridden certain orders will ordain low castes and until recently banned them from their temples. Even now the Mahanaykes of the Malwatte and Asgiriya chapters have be from upper caste Kandyan Sinhalese families not even upper caste low country Sinhalese, whom even the lower caste Kandyans , consider below them. As for the low castes like Karawa or Durawa or Salagama forget about them. They forced to form their own orders and build their own temples as the upper castes did not want them in their Buddhist temples. Lord Buddah would have cried at this perversion. Why are Brahmins responsible for this too.

  • 0

    The local Muslim population don’t seen to ask the Question ? ” how did Islam Arrive on a Island. The answer is ” By Force ”

    Muslims seen to have forgotten that Sinhalese went to War with the Arabs.

    • 1

      Islam never arrived in the island by force. It came through trade and immigration. A few hundred Arabs mostly humble seamen over a span of a few centuries arrived here and during their stay formed relationships with local Tamil women from the lower castes. Classes and had children through them( these Arab men left their wives in their homeland and like most sailors had a woman at every port) . This is how Islam first arrived. However these Tamil speaking part Arab/part Tamil Muslim children of these Arab sailors would have only numbered a few hundred or thousand the most. These half castes would have been swallowed up the huge sea of Dravidian Tamil Muslims who migrated to the island a few centuries ago , either as traders immigrants or as refugees fleeing Hindu persecution . This Dravidian Tamil Muslims from India in reality are now the backbone and core population of the Sri Lankan Muslims or Moors as they call themselves with only a few hundred families having partial Arab or other western Asian ancestry of these original traders. Even these families are also predominantly Tamil by ethnicity around 80-85% and the rest Arab. Basically the Sri Lankan Muslims are Tamil by ethnicity with a few hundred families with a dash of Arab. However for political and economic advantage and to find favour with the Sinhalese, they deny their overwhelmingly Tamil origin and only harp and highlight the miniscule amount of Arab in them. It looks like the Sinhalese only used this to conveniently to divide and rule the Tamils and now since they think they are victorious over the Tamils, they now do need the Muslims and have turned against them too. If the Muslims from the beginning took a stand with the rest of the Tamils the Sinhalese would have backed off and would not have become too powerful but for petty benefits, they betrayed the rest of the Tamils and are now reaping what they helped the Sinhalese to sow and crying foul.

    • 0


  • 2

    Javid Yusuf ~ “Minorities Suffered The Most Under Executive Presidency”

    Javid, By ‘minorities’ do you mean Tamils, Muslims and non-Buddhists?
    From the pre-independence era, a privileged class evolved and today is well established. The privileged Tamils, Muslims and non-Buddhists have done well – some better than others.
    Those who missed out (suffered as you put it) are those without connection. The Executive Presidency has not affected this section of population at all. They are ones who have a family member slaving overseas (particularly in Mideast). This hand-to-mouth existence affects something like one in three Lankan HOUSEHOLDS. They in fact are the underprivileged majority.
    Javid makes a song and dance of the submissions by ACMC, EPDP, SLMC and TPA. The leaders of these outfits will look after their privileges first.

  • 1

    Ignore the racist ranting. You have made out a good case for the abolition of Presidential system – from the minority perspective. I believe, only a structural change -from Unitary to Federal – could afford some sort of protection to the minorities.
    BTW, I like to know your views on the MMDA reforms -ACJU bigotry. Initiatives /inputs should come from progressive sections of the Muslim community. (I promptly sent you an email message. Haven’t heard from you. Take care)

  • 1

    Minorities suffered the most under Executive Presidency says Javid Yusuf.
    Are you sure ? The Tamils suffered ,not the Muslims. They [Muslims] reaped the whirl Wind! Muslims have a tendency to complain at the expense of the Tamils,to curry favour: In fact they know how to get about by placating the Tamils.
    Thambike Thoppiya!

  • 0

    So minorities sufferers the most Eh? Does it include a group called Muslims who are so intolerant when they are in the majority. In Saudi Arabia possession of Holy Bible is an offence.How come the Muslims are buying up land in Colombo.? Tell us another one!

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