By Latheef Farook –
Numerous Muslim political and civil society groups have joined mainstream national political forces in their campaign to abolish or reform the dictatorial executive presidency, replace it with a presidency accountable to parliament and reintroduce democracy.
Growing feeling within the Muslim community, especially during the past three to four years, has been that the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, (SLMC) though a constituent member of the government, has miserably failed to effectively deal with burning issues facing Muslims.
As a result the general feeling within the community, as demonstrated in the Uva provincial elections, is that the SLMC presence in the government has become irrelevant especially in the context of a vicious campaign unleashed by racist elements with the patronage of the very government of which SLMC is a constituent party.
The result was the formation of political groups for good governance. They wanted to join hands with elements in the majority community which believe in communal harmony to move ahead together in peace.
The first such move was the establishment of” National Front for Good Governance” in Kattankudi in 2006 when the NFGG won provincial council seats. Their campaign continued and now they have joined hands with forces demanding the abolition of the executive presidency. This also includes the Jathika Hela Urumaya known for its hostility towards Muslims.
They wanted to turn the parliament, which was virtually made a powerless talking shop under existing executive presidency, once again into the most powerful body and thus restore the power to people.
Late President J.R. Jayewardene exploited the stream rolling majority in the parliament, introduced the 1978 constitution which paved the way for the all powerful dictatorial presidency which was virtually an elected dictatorship.
Since then President Jayewardene misused his power, perhaps to satisfy his racist megalomania, and paved the way for the erosion of democracy.
This trend continued during the tenure of presidents R Premadasa, D.B Wijethunga and Chandrika Kumaratunga (CBK) until it reached today’s stage with allegations of undemocratic rule, rampant corruption, breakdown in the law and order situation and the unprecedented crime rate besides racist elements pitting communities against each other.
There were calls for the abolition of the executive presidency in the past. However, after 36 years , it has reached a stage where the country as a whole is calling for the abolition of executive presidency proved unsuitable to a multi racial, multi religious, multi cultural and multi lingual country with a populating of around 20 million-less than one fourth the population of Indian state of Tamilnadu.
The latest move to abolish the executive presidency was initiated by Ven Maduluwawe Sobitha Thero who convened the National movement for Social Justice. He was later joined by Jathika Hela Urumaya parliamentarian Ven Athuraliya Rathna Thera who is heading the National Council for Clean Tomorrow-NCCT.
They both now spearhead this campaign which started gathering momentum with all communities supporting the initiative.
Added to this already Colombo District MP Wijeyadasa Rajapakhse handed over a private member’s bill to Secretary General of Parliament on 28 October 2014 seeking to amend the Constitution to abolish the executive presidency. The draft bill provides for the election of a president from among the members of Parliament through secret ballot.
Section of Muslims who work for good governance and communal harmony too attended a meeting held in this regard on 11 Monday 2014 at Pitakotte presided over by Ven Sobitha Thero whose Movement for Social Justice organized it.
Later PMSJ together with National Council for a Clean Tomorrow have organized a separate meeting at the Muttiah Playgrounds on Wednesday 12 November 2014 to push for far reaching constitutional reforms to abolish the executive presidency or at least to do away with dictatorial features in the constitution.
The meeting was organized by Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thero. In the stage were UNP National Leader Rail Wickremesinghe, UNP Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa, UNP MP Karu Jayasuriya, Mangala Samaraweera, UNP Parliamentarian Ravi Karunanayake, Ven thuraliye Rathana Thera, Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera, former Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva, JVP MP K. D. Lal Kantha and Democratic National Alliance (DNA) Parliamentarian Arjuna Ranatunga and all UNP Parliamentarians.
Addressing the gathering 2014 Najah Muhammad, General Secretary of the National Front for Good Governance said this campaign is not something against President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
He said “It is certainly not against an individual but a move to reform the presidency. This is essential in view of the political chaos caused by the executive presidency in the country during the past three and half decade. This is the need of the hour and every one, irrespective of race, religion, language and other differences, should join this campaign in the interest of all communities and the country as a whole. In fact this is something we all owe to the next generation.
He appealed to all Muslim political parties, including Muslim Congress parties, to support the move. In the event of their failing to do so the NFGG will start an island wide campaign mobilize support of the Muslim community.
However it is unlikely that the SLMC will join the campaign as they were absorbed into the government with positions and perks which they find it difficult to part with for the sake of the community. Their mouths are sealed .One should remember that it was this very same SLMC voted for 18th amendment to the constitution and created the current political environment.
Wisdom came to SLMC General Secretary Hassan Ali who justified this decision only when he described supporting the 18th amendment to the constitution as the biggest mistake he and his party made. Though repenting now, Hassan Ali and his party parliamentary colleagues were not Montessori students when they voted the 18th Amendment for the constitution. They knew very well what they were doing. Yet they did it.