22 October, 2021


Post 19A Political Scenario: Parliamentary Elections & After 

By Dayan Jayatilleka

Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

There was a struggle against the model of 19A first presented by Ranil Wickremesinghe, but there was no struggle against 19A as such—by which I mean the idea that the executive presidency required downward readjustment. The UNP-CBK-TNA-JVP Quartet had envisaged decapitation of the Executive presidency while the masses, the SLFP-UPFA and JHU envisaged trimming; downward revision. Thus, there was no struggle against 19A; there was a struggle over 19A; its scale and scope.

The struggle against Ranil-CBK’s 19A model was waged in several stages by several forces:

  • The civil society petitioners and lawyers who moved the Supreme Court and thereby succeeded in neutralizing the worst of the original draft;
  • Champika Ranawaka and Rajiva Wijesinha who fought the battle against Ranil’s subterfuge and kept the reform on the right track;
  • The UPFA whose fight-back forestalled an SLFP sellout and pulled the SLFP from CBK’s para-UNP stance onto the traditional anti-Ranil, anti-UNP track.

The UPFA’s game-plan was never to wreck the 19th amendment, because its own members had been decades-long opponents of the Jayewardene presidency and also because it harbors hopes of a Rajapaksa return as Prime Minister. Thus, wrecking 19A was sharply contrary to both its ideological sentiments as well as its project. However, the UPFA was determined to prevent a CBK-driven SLFP surrender to Ranil’s model of 19A and his surreptitious maneuvers to bring it to fruition. The SLFP-UPFA’s decades-long opposition to Ranil’s rightwing UNP brand was reactivated by his own arrogant political behavior and discourse, in the parliamentary chamber and backstage, during the entire 19A process.

In the battle for the soul of the SLFP, both Ranil and CBK lost, while the two tendencies of the mainline opposition, owing loyalty to Maithri and Mahinda respectively, overlapped, converged and prevailed. Thus, instead of a smooth and automatic passage for the version of 19A which the UNP sought, with CBK-TNA-JVP support, the outcome was a negotiated 19A which retained and protected the core of the executive presidential system. Ranil-CBK’s original 19A model sought to dismantle the “Gaullist System in Asia” as Prof AJ Wilson termed the Jayewardene Constitution, replacing it with a restoration of the Westminster model. Ironically yet fortunately, what the 19A as finally passed by Parliament did, was to hit the delete button on the imprudent Rajapaksa attempt to stretch that system with 18A, while reshaping the ’78 Constitution in such a manner that it is a far more faithful version of the Gaullist Presidential-Parliamentary Fifth Republic than it was before!

The PM indicated that he regarded 19A as a less than satisfactory compromise and entirely as an interim measure, which will last only until he wins a parliamentary election and converts the Parliament into a Constituent assembly which will fashion an entirely new Constitution, transferring executive power to the Cabinet and the PM. The PM’s perspective was presaged by a hard hitting speech by Deputy Minister Eran Wickremaratne.

The PM’s remarks proved that the 19th amendment as passed by the legislature was a retreat from the program that he was committed to and that he would resume the process upon winning the upcoming parliamentary election.

It also proved that in terms of the realities of power, the main political danger to President Sirisena comes, not so much from ex-President Rajapaksa whose supporters, by all accounts, strove to protect the executive presidency, but precisely from Prime Minister Wickremesinghe who reiterated his commitment to abolish it and transfer executive powers to the Prime Ministership.

Mahinda Rajapaksa does not seem to be making a bid for any real estate the President has. Or if he did, his supporters haven’t shown it. There is almost no pathway to achieve such an objective. It is out of his reach. If at all, he will be making a bid for a prime ministership, which, thanks to his supporters in the UPFA, has much less power than it would have, had Ranil’s model of 19A gone through as CBK and “civil society” advocated.

In sharp contradistinction to Mahinda Rajapaksa, Ranil Wickremesinghe wants a real transfer of executive power, which would turn President Sirisena into a lame duck. Indeed, had the Supreme Court not struck down several provisions, Champika and Rajiva not sniped away and the Opposition pushback stymied the rest, President Sirisena would already be a lame duck—not thanks to Rajapaksa and his loyalists, but to Wickremesinghe’s draft of 19A.

The commentators who depict 19A as a thwarting of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s return to the Presidency obviously endow him with quite extraordinary physical capacities, because he would be 75 years old at the time of the next presidential election! The simple fact of age always ruled him out as a presidential challenger in 2020. Even in the exceedingly unlikely event that he was fit enough for a grueling campaign he wouldn’t want to lose to Sajith Premadasa.

Does it make sense that Mahinda Rajapaksa’s supporters would try to demolish an amendment to shift power to the Prime Minister, when they hope that Rajapaksa will be the next PM and would perceive it to be very much in their interest to have an empowered Prime Ministership?

The only sense that can be made of the UPFA’s resistance is that their collective commitment to a strong state and their consequent opposition to a dismantling of the Executive Presidency as envisaged in the original model of 19A which the Ranil-CBK combo was pushing, was somewhat greater than their loyalty to the vision of Mahinda Rajapaksa as PM, and indeed their option for Mahinda stemmed precisely from their statist-populist ideology. (I say ‘statist’ rather than nationalist because Vasudeva’s conspicuous contribution in the struggle over 19A must be understood.)

The enhanced role of the Prime Ministership in post-19A politics means that the issue of the Prime ministerial candidacy assumes a salience that it would otherwise have not possessed. Who will be the Opposition’s alternative to Ranil Wickremesinghe? If the SLFP is not to succumb to the dark repressive age it plunged into in the 1980s, it would have to opt for Mahinda Rajapaksa. If the majority Sinhala nation is not to be plunged into the same situation it was under Ranil’s CFA (and CBK’s Sudu Nelum-Package-PTOMS years); if it is not to wind up in the same situation as in the pre-1956 period or worse, the colonial centuries; it would have to raise Mahindra Rajapksa to the prime ministership. The Sinhalese have to press the re-set button on the emerging socio-political, economic and external configuration. The increasingly marginalized majority has to re-balance the equation. That is what a Mahinda Rajapaksa Prime Ministership is about. It is not about a Rajapaksa presidency, that of Mahinda or any other family member.

Had the Ranil-CBK attempt succeed and if it were to succeed after a UNP victory at the upcoming parliamentary election, there would be no chance of Sajith Premadasa ever leading this country and resuming the grand developmentalist project of his father, who was utterly committed to the Presidential system as unparalleled agency of pro-people initiatives. The retention of the core of the executive presidency in the “19A Lite” that actually made it into law retains the possibility of yet another patriotic-populist President who can protect and uplift the nation.

If time stopped, President Sirisena would go down in history as a decent, moderate reformer. But time doesn’t stop and history’s verdict on President Sirisena will be determined by the success or failure of the radical reform project announced by Prime Minister Wickremesinghe in his parliamentary speech on the occasion of the passage of 19A.

I was in Moscow, together with Ranil Wickremesinghe and Vijaya Kumaratunga, in the summer of 1985, attending the World Festival of Youth and Students. Mikhail Gorbachev was regarded as a hero, almost an angel or saint. A mere five years later he was considered a villain or at best, a pathetic figure. The role of a modernizing reformist leader in history depends on where his reforms take his state and nation and leave it. Is it stronger or weaker vis-a-vis its rivals and challengers? A leader is finally judged not by his intentions but by the outcome of his actions: whether his state and nation are strengthened or weakened in terms of power; whether the unity of the state is strengthened or weakened. That is how Mahinda Rajapaksa his predecessors and his successors will be judged. That is why Mao and Deng, Stalin and Putin are heroes in the eyes of their nations, while Khrushchev and Gorbachev are not.

President Sirisena’s role in history will be judged positively if he stops the 19A process from going further as the Ranilist UNP explicitly envisages; whether he resists intrusive Western calls for war crimes accountability and protects national sovereignty; whether he resists the CBK surge towards a federal Constitution which, given the proximity of Tamil Nadu and resultant ideological osmosis, will tilt the balance on the island against the Sinhala community. President Sirisena cannot do any of these with a post-election Ranil Wickremesinghe Prime Ministership. Indeed he will be unable to protect his own Presidency from being turned merely titular by the threatened second wave of Constitution-making by a victorious UNP administration.

In order to protect his power base, Maithripala Sirisena has to reconstitute it with a broad anti-UNP government, which means the SLFP-UPFA simply has to win the election. He will need to play the Mahinda Rajapaksa card. His role in history will be judged by whether he re-balances the equation for the nation, by standing with rather than against the ’56 type backlash that is building – with or without the SLFP; within or outside it–to have Mahinda as our PM.

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Latest comments

  • 5


    Trying to make sour grapes sweet?
    The greatest achievement of 19A is that MaRa can never ever be President again! Nor could any of his siblings aspire to be one! Their fate has been sealed.
    Please see the reality and try to reform your thinking.

    Sengodan. M

  • 2

    It seems that Dayan’s detractors need to revise their reading skills.

    • 4

      Dayan has lost all credibility. His writing isn’t worth a read anymore.
      He is under the spell of MaRas. It is he who has to revise his thinking.
      Unfortunately his mind is warped and his efforts wasted.

  • 2

    A fair analysis until DJ plays his trump card in the final para.

    “In order to protect his power base, Maithripala Sirisena has to reconstitute it with a broad anti-UNP government, which means the SLFP-UPFA simply has to win the election. He will need to play the Mahinda Rajapaksa card. “

    An independent analysis of the recent events will show that

    1. Basically UPFA (Mahinda faction) wanted to disrupt the 19A assuming MR could return as the President, either unaware of the age factor or believing that MR is next to God with super powers (and slave mentality).

    2. Ranil W and the UNP wanted to disrupt the 19A and blame the SLFP for the failure after the Supreme Court quashed the attempt to make President a lame duck and for the PM to grab power through the back door.

    3. The most salient feature DJ forget to acknowledge is the fact that PRESIDENT SIRISENA WAS THE ONLY POLITICIAN WHO MANAGED TO GET THE TRUST OF ALL THE FACTIONS to vote for the 19A.

    4. I think Chapika Ranawaka hit the nail in the head when he said `we wanted to clip the wings of Presidency while some others wanted to cut the throat. Ultimately the final result was a mere removal of a few feathers of Presidential powers.

    Moving forward it will be essential for the SLFP/UPFA to back their stance on the 19A in the next election manifesto and difficult to for President Sirisena to back the UNP position of abolishing Presidency.

    DJ IS ALSO STRANGELY SILENT ON THE AUTOCRATIC, CORRUPT AND LAWLESS MANNER in which MR governed the Country (in spite of his war victory), as acknowledged by MR himself recently, which resulted in erosion of his vote base by LOOSING TRUST on his leadership.

    Thus the way forward for President Sirisena will be to form coalition of politicians who could obtain the TRUST of the voters to genuinely PROTECT THE COUNTRY, ALL COMMUNITIES & HUMAN RIGHTS.

    However it will be difficult for the President to back Ranil in this endeavor as RW’s genuineness & trustworthiness, already questioned by the voters was further dented by the infamous `Central Bank Governor’ fiasco in the last 100 days.


  • 9

    Dayan, oh Dayan!

    The usual blather!

    Blah, blah, blah MAHINDA, blah, blah, blah DAMN RANIL, blah, blah blah, DAMN CHANDRTIKA….blah, blah, blah, blah MAHINDA……!!

    You have become such a filthy dishrag you are now ready for the dirt-bin.

    Don’t you realise that you have metamorphosed from that greedy Wannabe to a pathetic Has-been?

    Please stop boring us with your drivel.

  • 2

    Go and sit with SOMAWANSHA

  • 8


    You are one of the strangest and unique personalities I have ever come across, in that no one trusts you (that’s not easy to do!) even the man you so tirelessly champion; Mahinda Rajapakse. As much as getting Rajapakse back in power, it is equally important for you to devise a plan how to survive a long stint without getting discarded (like the last time) in a position you crave. If you are smart you’ll study Palitha Kohonna and Sajin Vass Gunawardene. I hope you are smart enough to get my drift. :))

  • 2


    Let me give you a brotherly advice and take up the following offer and enrol
    on the Course to learn the art of writing and it is never too late.
    You will be taught by Prof. Rajiva. The blind leading the blind.

    By Mangala Samaraweera –

    Mangala Samaraweera -Minister of External Affairs
    The Bandaranaike International Diplomatic Training Institute is the training ground for our future ambassadors to the world. Started twenty one years ago, its courses have rightly emphasized the importance of professional competence in our diplomatic corps – focussing on training in negotiations, public speaking, economic diplomacy and policy analysis. These are key tools that every diplomat aspires to perfect. It is with this in mind that I’d like to briefly outline some ideas on the theme “Sri Lanka at the cross-roads of the Asian Century” that could serve as an opportunity for you to exercise your newly acquired skills.

    Go for it [Edited out]

  • 0


    [Edited out]

  • 0

    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2/

  • 0

    I think SC guided the line. Champika also saw the danger. Later SLFP was also enlightened an asserted a new stance. Why cant Mahinda support the SLFP and make a new small group leaders.

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