16 December, 2019

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Questions About Speaker’s Candidacy For The Presidency? 

By Laksiri Fernando –

Dr. Laksiri Fernando

It is rather unfortunate that Mr. Karu Jayasuirya has issued a statement (17 September 2019), as the Speaker, ‘that he is willing and ready to contest the presidential election, on the request of some organizations and individuals, including Maha Sangha, however on certain conditions and objectives.’ The conditions and objectives are obviously political. 

The statement is on the Speaker’s parliamentary letterhead and he has signed as the Speaker! 

Misuse of Power and Position?

 It is not that he cannot legally contest the presidential election as a party nominee or a MP, but he cannot do so as the Speaker. Use of the official letterhead and signing as the Speaker can be construed as misuse of power and his official position to unduly influence the voters. He should have done so on his personal letterhead as a MP. 

He has rather started his political campaign misusing his present official position which is supposed to be independent and impartial, along with some other organizations. 

It is further unfortunate that some of the so far reputed civil society organizations and personalities have dragged him into this state of affairs for obvious political and partisan reasons. 

In a parliamentary democracy, the position of the Speaker is rather ‘sacred,’ to mean it should be impartial, neutral and above party politics, at least during the period that the person holds the office. Even after Sri Lanka opted for a presidential system, every effort was made to preserve the parliamentary traditions at least in the affairs of the Parliament. That is why my guru, Prof. A. J. Wilson, called it a mixed system or a Gaullist system. 

Traditions of Neutrality and Impartiality 

On the question of ‘impartiality’ of the Speaker and its importance, the following is what the reputed authority and scholar, Erskine May had stated. 

Confidence in the impartiality of the speaker is an indispensable condition for the successful working of the procedure, and many conventions exist which have their objective not only to ensure the impartiality of the speaker but also to ensure that his impartiality is generally recognized.” (‘Erskine May: Parliamentary Practice’). 

In the Speaker’s statement, he has stated that “Whatever the requests that have been made for me to contest for the presidency, I can consider them only on the basis of our consistent aim and working with the forces (Balavega) that were striving for the abolition of the executive presidential system since 1995.” 

This is what has been construed as fighting for ‘the single issue of Abolition.’ The Speaker has become quite militant in that sense. Be as it may, the following is most controversial for a Speaker to articulate in his letterhead and in an official media statement. 

However, it is my feeling that if I contest representing the main constituent parties of the United National Front it should be done according to the party constitution and with the blessings of all sections of the [party].” 

The above two paragraphs are most controversial in his statement, issued using his official capacity as the Speaker, not only to articulate but also to propagate political positions for partisan purposes. If he is not the Speaker, and if he has not issued such a statement, no one can object for him contesting for the presidency. He should have resigned first. 

Different International Traditions 

However, this is apparently not the first time that a Speaker of a House is contesting for the Presidency, although it is rare. Nevertheless, the traditions differ from presidential system to parliamentary system. In the US, the Vice-President after election becomes the President of the Senate, similar to the Speaker of the Lower House. However it is the tradition for him not to attend the debates, and the Senate elects a President pro tempore. It works fairly well. 

However, the Speaker of the Lower House in the US is not that. That Speaker is a political leader of the House of Representatives, and is simultaneously the House’s presiding officer, and also the de facto leader of the house’s majority party. The role is partial. Although talking about the abolition of the presidential system, our present Speaker, Karu Jayasuriya, apparently is following this American tradition it seems. That can be the reason why he had issued such a statement officially. I am aware of at least one instance where the then Speaker in 1912 in the US, James Camp Clark, entered the presidential race allegedly misusing the official position, but failed even to obtain the party candidacy. He remined the Speaker between 1911 and 1919. 

Parliamentary or Westminster traditions and principles however are different and absolutely better for democracy. Although India is not a presidential system, there is a prestigious and influential position of a President elected by an electoral college. There are views expressed in Sri Lanka that it could be a suitable model for our country. Then there is a Speaker of the Lok Sabha following the Westminster traditions, unlike our own politicians who talk about those traditions, but don’t follow them, for ignorance or for other reasons. 

Then there is one instance in India out of past 16 Speakers after independence who contested for the Presidency, and that was Sanjiva Reddy in 1977 during Indira Gandhi’s time. As a reputed scholar N. S. Gehlot reports (‘Office of the Speaker in India’), however as soon as he got the intention to run for the presidency, Reddy resigned from the Speaker position graciously. Even this contest for the Presidency by the Speaker, Gehlot considers a black mark on the Speaker’s independence and impartiality that Erskine May talked about. Sanjiva Reddy held the Speaker position for two terms before, between 1967 and 1977. As he was elected to the Speaker position, he resigned from his party and that was the Congress Party. He kept his political neutrality throughout his career both as the Speaker and the President of India. 

Outside Positions? 

There is one more issue or matter that I like to raise in this rather hurriedly written article having come to know the ongoing calamity in my original country, Sri Lanka. In his statement, the Speaker has stated that in contesting for the presidency, he would be working “only with the parties who work for the optimum democratic reforms that were introduced by the 17th Amendment and reinforced by the 19th Amendment.” Here he is referring particularly to the Independent Commissions on which I don’t have any disagreement or issue. 

However, it is questionable whether the present Constitutional Council is constituted independent enough (or truly independent) and whether the Speaker’s role as the Chairman is consistent with the independence and impartiality of his position as the Speaker in Parliament, if we were to be committed to parliamentary or Westminster traditions. The following is what I can quote from a comparative study and report by the Inter-Parliamentary Union on such a question.   

The Speaker is the undisputed authority within the House over which he presides and does not usually play any other role in the State, as can be seen from relatively modest rank he occupies in the hierarchy; he is not called upon to sit on bodies outside Parliament nor to appoint some of their members. His role in fact focuses essentially, if not exclusively, on guiding the House, notably chairing sittings.” (‘Presiding Officers of National Parliamentary Assemblies: A World Comparative Study,’ Georges Bergougnous, IPU, p. 104). (My emphasis).   

I am not expressing a strong opinion on this matter, but above is food for thought, considering the Speaker’s sometimes controversial role in the Constitutional Council and other matters. However, the immediate concern of the country and concerned people should be on the official statement that he has issued, indicating his willingness to contest for the position of the President. 

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Latest comments

  • 8
    7

    “I would only consider this request if all mainstream political forces unify on the main issue of abolition of the executive presidency, which is a position we have consistently maintained since 1995,”

    To construe this statement as being wiling and ready to seek the presidency is a stretch.. The most dangerous of all falsehoods is distorted truth.

    • 9
      1

      Dr Laksiri Fernando,

      Why are you so fixated with a letterhead, when Mahinda and his buddies carries out an unconstitutional coup and disrupted the country’s economy to the tune of billions.

      People of great learning give their opinions …….. all around the world.

      So, in your learned opinion, is the misuse of a parliamentary letterhead, a greater crime than an unconstitutional parliamentary coup?

      Silence is not an answer/option ………. we are all waiting for your answer with bated breath!


      Please please please …………. even say hmm!

      • 4
        0

        Nimal Fernando:
        You make a very good point: the difference between appearances and the ultimate reality.
        The attempt to dignify a set of the most violent and unscrupulous politicians ever to rule Sri Lanka by digging up some inconsequential technicality speaks for itself

  • 7
    5

    what can you expect
    he is too old to cut the mustard

  • 4
    4

    Dr. Laksiri
    Cud u help me out of this confusion?
    In order to abolish Executive Presidency agreement of the existing President is a constitutional requirement or the Parliament can do it anyway with 2/3 followed by a referendum irrespective of existing President’s consent? If 2/3 followed by a referendum is an absolute must what is the sigficance of a pre election promise of a particular candidate? What difference does it make whether Sajith or even Gotabhaya is there for this abolishion project?

    Soma

    • 2
      2

      Soma,
      There is no constitutional requirement to have agreement of the existing President to abolish the presidential system. Such an agreement or understanding can be a political requirement. Because he/she can make obstructions. But this possibility is also constitutionally (not politically) reduced after 19A. What is constitutionally required is to have 2/3 in Parliament and then a Referendum. Well, on the second question, a pre-election promise by a presidential candidate might be important to strengthen the process towards abolition. What is most important under the present context is campaign and ‘promise’ at a parliamentary election. If all parties commit, obviously the process would be smooth. Otherwise, rugged, if not impossible under certain circumstances. This is my view and concerned interpretation and don’t claim as the ‘truth’!
      Laksiri

      • 1
        4

        Thanks a lot obliging to my humble request. It is clear to me KJ’s platform promise will carry no political weight extending beyond UNP led coalition and as such 2/3 will be a pipe dream.

        Soma

  • 6
    10

    Karu Jayasuriya is the least impartial speaker in my memory.

    Soma

    • 4
      3

      soman

      “Karu Jayasuriya is the least impartial speaker in my memory.”

      How true.
      Karu was in the Ceylon Army Volunteer Force (Ceylon National Guard)
      between 1965 – 1972 holding the rank of Second Lieutenant, fought JVP in 1971.
      Karu was a minister in Mahinda’s government between 2007 and 2008.

      His opponent the the National Hangman Lt Colonel Gota fought the JVP between 1987 and 1991, and was the key advisor to Mahinda and effectively holding the state
      to ransom.

      As part of the corrupt political and security systems I see little or no impartiality between the two aspiring candidates.

      Both fought the JVP, both served Mahinda, … both want to be the president.

  • 15
    1

    Now, Now, Now … … Laksiri is really getting on my nerves with his fetishism over a letterhead. You are blind to the murders, rapes, disappearances, political deals and cross-overs, mega scams, human rights violations, obstruction of justice and subversion of the constitution, and media manipulations. But come out swinging against an open disclosure just because the wrong stationery was used. This puts your entire credibility on the line.
    .
    But I don’t see anything wrong. Actually what Karu is doing is the right way to go about it. If he is considering running for the Presidency while holding the office of the Speaker, then he should inform the public openly as the Speaker using the official letterhead. Informing the public using his personal letterhead would give the wrong impression that he is furtively chasing after the presidency while remaining the Speaker. If he does become a candidate then of course he should keep his campaign completely out of the office of the Speaker. Even better, he should resign and contest as an ordinary citizen.

  • 14
    1

    “Laksiri for Mara and Gota”. Give them more honorary doctorates Laksiri rather than writing misleading articles.

  • 15
    2

    Don’t the MPs write letters on letterheads recommending people for jobs? If this is a widely used practice, I don’t think speaker’s letter is a big issue, particularly as it provides transparency. Karu’s decision to contest is still subject to party or coalition deliberations, hence it cannot be considered as campaigning to derive a personal advantage.

    Given the problems the country is facing and the prospect of a dictatorship of some sort being in the offing, this is the time that a level headed person becomes the President. Karu’s experience as the speaker is one of the strengths he has to come to the fray especially with a commitment to abolish executive Presidency-though such promises cannot be fully relied on by the voter.(given past experience with such promises)

    • 0
      9

      Siri,
      Just because the misuse of letterheads is a ‘widely used practice,’ it cannot be condoned. That kind of logic or argument is strange. Particularly in the case of the Speaker (in parliamentary traditions), high ethical standards are necessary and expected. I have no objection for KJ contesting, but not misusing the position. Also he has now exhausted capacity. The following was what I said on 21 November 2014 even after Maithripala Sirisena’s name was proposed.

      “My proposition, even under the new circumstances, would be for KJ to be the common presidential candidate, strongly supported by RW, MS and others, and for the latter two to prepare at the same time to form a new UNP-SLFP government. While KJ’s task is to defeat MR, the other two are more pivotal in abolishing the presidential system and bring about a new democratic constitution where all ethnic and religious communities live in peace and harmony. Priority also should be given to the upliftment of the poor and the marginalized.” (‘New Prospects for the Opposition,’ CT, 21 November 2014).

      Things have now changed because of so many ‘betrayals.’ Anyway, a President cannot abolish the presidential system. This I said even then. It is a task for the Parliament. Abolition per se is also not a priority today particularly after 19A. I emphasize today more of what I said in the last sentence in the quote above: “Priority also should be given to the upliftment of the poor and the marginalized.”

  • 11
    0

    Laksiri
    For you “Hunch woman’s shadow too is crooked”
    I need not elaborate the traditions of electing of presidents in India.
    However after Presad, – Radakrishnan- Husan were elected while being VP .
    Dasai, Reddy clan did dirty politics to prevent Giri getting elected in 1969 as he was Indira favoured “so called independent” nominee.
    Looks you are in a mighty Haste, Shopping for (alleged Counterfeit currency Racketeer
    Mind you there are many ways if skinning a cat, that too changes with time.

    • 0
      8

      Sisira,
      Appears you have become too literate. I sincerely cannot understand your idioms and phrases. May be you are an expert on Indian politics and constitutionalism as well. Sorry, I only quoted the single incident of one Speaker contesting for the Presidency in India as an example. I don’t have an apparent expertise like you unfortunately. Therefore I am hesitant to comment on the personalities and incidents that you have mentioned. By the way, who is the currency racketeer!

  • 0
    2

    As a matter of fact he’s gone beyond his ethical limits as the speaker.

    We still don’t know for sure whether people refuse executive presidency or not though political analysts see it as an obstacle for country’s progress.

    If it’s impossible for anybody to form a government with clear 2/3 majority, the so called constitutional changes shouldn’t be done.

    Coalition governments should not go to the extent of changing the constitution (as happened to make 19 that jeopardized political smooth flow of the country.) as it’s detrimental to democratic principles.

  • 7
    1

    Laksri

    With all due respect you have got your knickers in a twist. Let me pick some holes and bofore that let me repeat the theme.

    ***
    Contrary to popular belief and their ( MR & Gotha) claim for Fame & Fortune for winning the war they didnt win the war. It was India the traitor who won the war using WMD.

    I am not a fan of Karu as he made some controversial decisions during the debacle following the appointment of MR . As for your analysis that Karu misused power and position you are compeltely wrong He only made a Statment on the headed paper as a sitting speaker and I am sure he is entitled to. But he has quite categorically made it clear at the bottom of the Statement ” However if I am co come forward as a candidate representing the alliance led by the United National Front it must be according to the Party Constitution and with the blessing of the Party.

    So he hasnt misused the power as a speaker.

    What about Gotha your man he flouted every rule in the book from obtaing Sri Lankan Citizenship by default to avoiding arrest in the USA by escaping.
    Be reasonable and proportionate.

    Karu ride on Kali is with you . More the merrier

  • 1
    1

    Apparently there was an emergency Cabinet Meting last night, and a private discussion between the PM, Dr Ranil and My3 Sira to bring in the 20th Amendment-

    With many MPs staring into forced retirement after a possible Hurricane Nandasena. many of them will be tempted with that offer of LKR 50 Million upwards to 500 Million LKR maximum,which is the figure Sira himself mentioned for a Yes vote in Parliament…

    Even if the MPs agreed to give the 2/3rd to Uncle Karu., not only the Uncle but Dr Ranil, and My3 Sira will be home and hosed..

    Uncle Kau as Prez then re jog the Parliament and fullfil all outstanding Yahaplaana commitments in the original MOUs signed in 2015..

    Now I know why why the TNA MP Abraham Sumanthiran gleefully told the Colombo Press that the Talks between his Boss Sampathar and Dr Ranil were extremely good.
    Meaning their Vote will be with Dr Ranil.
    And Dr Ranil was reported in the Media , promising Mr Samapathar that his New Constitution will be brought in soon.

    This is Adios to Keselwatta Kid for sure

    But Nandasena I am not sure.
    Again it is up to our irate 70 % .
    But then the Floating Voters among the 70% can upset Nandeseana’s Apple Cart in a big way with Buriyani and Mendis Special from Aloysious Brewery .

    • 2
      2

      KASmaalam K.A.Sumanasekera

      “Meaning their Vote will be with Dr Ranil.”

      Trinco Sam with his 60 years of experience knows whether the Tamils voted for Ranil or Dr Gota (National Hangman) it would not make much difference.

      However Sam might consider the possibility/danger of Gota being elected as the president of this island and the consequences of introduction of white vans, one party (family/clan) rule, appropriation of Economic surplus among the members of clan and their b***s carriers, ……………………………. on Sinhala population.


      “But Nandasena I am not sure.”

      Don’t you think floating voters are better than the floating bodies in the Kalyani (Kelani) River?

      • 1
        0

        Dear Native,-

        I took Chiv’s advice and dropped Vellala Word.
        I think you got a point.

        Muththiah is giving our punters a real time situation report from the North..
        Kauna Aman , is canvassing for the SLPP in the South.
        Pilayan and the ex CM ( what’s his name) have become the joint organisers of the Tamil vote in the East.

        Is Trinco Sam still sitting on the Fence ,watching the Keselwatta Kid Vs Dr Ranil UNP Championship Fight on the Boulder..

        BTW my elders told me the Dentist lost two teeth at the hands of the ex good Catholic Boy of Dr Ranil in the last emergency Cabinet Meeting…
        Is it true Native?…

      • 1
        2

        KASmaalam K.A.Sumanasekera

        It appear Trinco Sam was close to Pappa Premadasa than Baby Premadasa.
        Trinco Sam also knows Ranil is too foxy to handle which means nothing will come out of his proposed constitution nor he would let foreign investigation into war criminals of this island.

        In other words for all crooks, war criminals, the clan, ….and their b***s carriers Dr Ranil is the best bet if they want to protect themselves from long arm of the law both domestic or foreign.

  • 1
    0

    Sumane, I hate to say this , I may have to agree with your last comment except for the wordings. See for your self. Drop Vellala word , from your vocabulary and you too can be a political analyst.

    • 1
      0

      Chiv,-

      Thanks , mate, I will try my best …..
      I hope Mr Poorten won’t have a go at you.

  • 1
    0

    Laksiri,
    Do you think this is the first time power is misused in Srilanka. You supported the misuse of power to capture power by Rajapakse during October. There is none one in the world misused power other than Mahinda.

    • 0
      0

      Why don’t we all focus on a candidate with a reformist agenda? There is a very good, promising interview by AKD in 360 (see Infolanka).

    • 0
      2

      Ajith,
      Of course you are right, this is not the first time that power and position were misused. I didn’t support any Coup. Please carefully read my articles. I interpreted certain things right or wrong. As the PM had misused power and was inept, I said perhaps a person like Lakshman Kiriella could be appointed. However, I expressed ‘support’ (if you want to say so) for the dissolution of Parliament, as a political imperative. By that time both the government and the parliament had exposed its potential. I am not convinced about a fixed term system for a country like Sri Lanka. Having read the local government election results in February 2018, it would have been opportune to do so to prevent further political drift to the SLPP. I asked for presidential election also. Right or wrong, my reading of the 19A or the constitution also indicated that the move was constitutional under prorogation of parliament. I still believe my interpretation was correct or at least it was one way of interpreting (contradictory) constitutional provisions. The SC gave a verdict mainly based on fundamental rights issues. 122 parliamentarians, including the JVP and the TNA also passed a confidence motion! The SC took a month (!). The fixed term provision was the main basis of the decision. I am not saying I can be always correct, but I follow my own way of interpreting things considering what is better for the country (people), available information and perhaps my own values, where there can be some unconscious biases ( but not conscious ones!).

  • 1
    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

  • 3
    0

    Another geriatric (79) power hungry cretin. Please alert AF Raymond.

  • 2
    0

    Aspirations for kingship are high but popular support nil. Best for this senile old fool to retire before he is unceremoniously kicked out. Son-in-law is another uncharismatic idiot who thinks he has a birthright to be president.

  • 2
    1

    Laksiri, if this topic is on “abusing the public services ” , then the real masters are Rajapaksas. They abused Lankan CTB, Telecom, Mihin/Srilankan airways (remember the poor puppy which traveled alone in business class), public servants put on election canvassing/campaigning, “sil cloth” scandal, ‘free bees for votes, Rupavahini, “, billboards and hoardings, Avant Garde , Lankan Banks —-etc the list is endless. By the way, our Lankan voters are so smart , all they voted since independence is for 1) first 30 years to screw the minorities and create civil war, 2) next 30 years fighting the war they created, 3) last 15 years or so was all about one family “Rajapaksas , and keeping them in power. 4) Last was getting rid of a menace called Rajapaksas ,which they created, 5) next will be ????? A F- – – – – G revolving door, leading to insanity.

  • 0
    0

    Laksiri, could you clarify Daily Mirror article on Gotha,s NIC , past illegal voter registration. Also his reply for the allegations.

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