13 December, 2018

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Remembering Colvin And Abolishing The Executive Presidency

By Jayampathy Wickramaratne

Dr. Jayampathy Wickramaratne PC

Dr. Jayampathy Wickramaratne PC

This week we remember Dr. Colvin R. de Silva, on the 25th anniversary of his death on 27 February 1989. The country lost a brilliant lawyer, a fine orator and an exemplary parliamentarian. Hardly a week passes without a newspaper article lamenting the absence of leaders of his ilk.

It was the Left that spearheaded the campaign against the introduction of the executive presidency in 1978 and today we remember Colvin when the country is feeling the full force of the executive presidency, strengthened to the utmost by the Eighteenth Amendment.

If there is one statement that epitomizes the Sri Lankan Left’s unswerving opposition to the executive presidency and its preference for the parliamentary form of government, it is one made by Dr. de Silva in the Constituent Assembly in 1971: “There is undoubtedly one virtue in this system of Parliament … and that is that the chief executive of the day in answerable directly to the representatives of the people continuously by reason of the fact that the Prime Minister can remain Prime Minister only so long as he can command the confidence of that assembly. …We do not want either Presidents or Prime Ministers who can ride roughshod over the people and, therefore, first of all, over the people’s representatives. There is no virtue in having a strong man against the people.” He was responding to a proposal by J.R. Jayewardene that the country should have an executive presidency. He explained: “We want an evolving society, and therefore we want a constitutional system that permits the evolution, that facilitates the evolution, that propels the evolution, and that itself evolves with the evolution. Nothing less would do.”

ColovinWhen Jayewardene introduced the executive presidency in 1978, Dr. de Silva, who warned in 1955 of the dangers of making Sinhala the only official language (‘one language, two nations; two languages, one nation’) was again at his prophetic best: “We confess to a new worry amidst it all. ‘I am the leader of 14 million people.’ Ominous words which stir still frightening memories. Was it not Hitler who said: ‘I am the leader of the German people, of all Germans where ever they are!’? And all the world knows where he led them and into what hell he plunged the world. The slogan of the U.N.P. today is ‘One party, One policy, one Leader – and Leader is always with a capital ‘L.’ Are we heading for one party, one policy, one Leader, for the nation too? It is a grim Presidential beginning…. The hour may have been auspicious for the President. But was it auspicious for the nation?” (Sri Lanka’s New Capitalism and the Erosion of Democracy, p. 34)

By the Third Amendment, President Jayewardene strengthened the presidency further by permitting a President in his first term of office to seek another term at any time after completing four years. The President can thus choose the date of election most advantageous to him. The Constitution now permits the President to call both Parliamentary and Presidential elections early.

Some restrictions were imposed on the executive presidency by the Seventeenth Amendment.  Appointments to certain high posts including the higher judiciary and the independent commissions were through a Constitutional Council.

The Eighteenth Amendment was introduced by President Rajapaksa, ironically the leader of a party (SLFP) that had been opposed to the executive presidency throughout. It removed the two-term limit and replaced the Constitutional Council with a Parliamentary Council. The President is only required to seek the ‘observations’ of the Parliamentary Council. The Eighteenth Amendment also took away some powers of the Election Commission.

The performance of the Left in relation to the Eighteenth Amendment was disappointing, to say the least. The three Left parties campaigned against the Amendment. The LSSP decided, not once but twice, that its two MPs should not participate in the vote. Finally however, all five Left MPs voted for the Amendment. The excuse given was that the Amendment would have received a two-thirds majority even without the Left members! The conduct of the Left members whose parties and departed leaders had been in the forefront of the opposition to the executive presidency was a classic instance of ‘kiri kalayata goma tikkak demma wage’ (‘putting a blob of cow-dung into a pot of milk’) as the Sinhala saying goes. The CP has since then admitted that voting for the Amendment was a mistake.

Reform or abolition?

An argument against the abolition of the executive presidency is that the presidency leads to stability. Proponents of the presidency say that in view of the political and economic challenges faced by a developing country such as Sri Lanka, a strong government freed from the whims and fancies of the legislators and which can take tough, unpopular decisions that are in the long-term interest of the country is needed.

Dealing with the ‘stability’ argument which Jayewardene put forward, and which is echoed today by apologists for the executive presidency in the present-day SLFP, Dr. de Silva stated in the Constituent Assembly: “I am very anxious to make this clear; this is an effort. This word ‘stability’ covers a multitude of wrong propositions. Stability! What kind of stability are we talking of? A stability that comes from the withdrawal of the central power from the influence of the masses? In other words, the people shall be kept outside, with only one function: as Marx said so long ago, ‘They choose once in five years who shall oppress them for the next five years’! That is not my concept of democracy, parliamentary or otherwise.”

It is also argued that the Sri Lankan state would not have defeated the separatist threat but for the executive presidency. In a parliamentary form of government too, the government has complete control over the armed forces. Executive power is exercised in the name of the President who must act on the advice of the Prime Minister. The executive presidency brings in no ‘magic’. What a Prime Minister cannot do to the extent that an executive president can is to manipulate the political process –‘political gilmart’.

Dr. Colvin R. De Silva’s description of the system of government under the 1978 Constitution as a constitutional presidential dictatorship dressed in the raiment of a parliamentary democracy has proved to be true. With no term limit and the Seventeenth Amendment out of the way, the executive presidency in Sri Lanka has certainly become one of the strongest and vilest, if not the strongest and vilest, presidential systems in the ‘democratic’ world.

What the future holds

What of the future of the executive presidency? The UNP which defended the executive presidency until it felt the full force of its own proud product has at last made up its mind on its abolition. Tamil and Muslim parties no more have illusions that it gives their communities any protection. Ironically, it is only the present SLFP leadership and hardliners supporting it that are today unequivocally for its retention.

While President Jayewardene was able to impose his will on the UNP in the post-Senanayake period, President Rajapakse has not been able to do the same with the SLFP, being a party that suffered immensely under the executive presidency of both Presidents Jayewardene and Premadasa. Speaking at the 76th anniversary of the LSSP, Chamal Rajapaksa, the President’s elder brother and Speaker of Parliament, commended the LSSP for its stand on the executive presidency and added that a single person should not be given all powers and that the executive presidency should be abolished, adding the caveat ‘in the future, after making use of it’ obviously not wanting to offend his sibling.

While President Rajapaksa is in no mood to abolish the executive presidency, doing so under pressure cannot be ruled out altogether. Already, there is talk of a ‘single-issue’ common candidate, the single issue that could unite the entire opposition and catalyze dissent within the SLFP to turn into revolt being the abolition of the executive presidency. If there is a serious challenge to his position, Rajapaksa may well take the wind off the sails of the opposition by abolishing the executive presidency. However if he maintains his current stand, there is every likelihood that abolition would become a rallying point for the opposition and dissidents within the SLFP.

The Left parties recently called for abolition without holding another Presidential election and this has been welcomed, including by members of the SLFP. However, there are some in the Left who argue that if President Rajapaksa does not abolish the executive presidency and the call for abolition is taken up by a broad electoral coalition that puts forward a common candidate, the country would move to the right! One may only ask: Is there any more room on the right?

It is best that we let Dr. de Silva reply to these ‘leftists’. He explained in 1971 that what the Right wanted was not parliamentary democracy but autocracy, to the extent that the people can be made to tolerate it. “It is not an accident that the views of the United National Party have undergone this evolution. It reflects the evolution of the increasing peril to the capitalist class in the social system of Ceylon. Therefore they want a constitution … where they are sure of one thing: get away from the common man, and thus the repository of wisdom known as the capitalist class can rule in stability!” Now that the present leadership of the SLFP (as opposed to its wider membership) has come around to the views, and politics, of J.R. Jayewardene, what Dr. de Silva said applies to it as well.

*Dr. Jayampathy Wickramaratne – President’s Counsel

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Latest comments

  • 1
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    Chamal Rajapakse on being invited to the LSSP Anniversary had to say something sensible. Butwhy is he still with his brothers then?
    ALL the Rajapakse siblings are so shameless.

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      Davidson,
      With regards to Tamils – All Sinhalese parties are the same. Bu there are good Sinhalese people.

    • 3
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      Dear Dr. Jayampathy Wickramaratne, P.C.

      “This week we remember Dr. Colvin R. de Silva, on the 25th anniversary of his death on 27 February 1989. The country lost a brilliant lawyer, a fine orator and an exemplary parliamentarian. Hardly a week passes without a newspaper article lamenting the absence of leaders of his ilk.”

      “It was the Left that spearheaded the campaign against the introduction of the executive presidency in 1978 and today we remember Colvin when the country is feeling the full force of the executive presidency, strengthened to the utmost by the Eighteenth Amendment.”

      Yes, Colvin did object to the Executive Presidency in 1978. Was it because he was out of the Govt. and not a Minister? Look at all the licks who are in the current regime.

      Colvin was part of the changed constitution, in 1972, when the Separation of Church and State was removed, and Buddhism was introduced. In addition, no proper mechanism waset up for the Tamil discrimination.

      Colin and his unprincipled buddies, NM, Lesley and Cholomandally all sold out their principles for posts, like the current crop of politicians politicians.

      Want to remember History. Read below.

      This was the catalysts that started the Tamil Insurgency. Sinhala Mahanama Buddhist Racism Imaginations are the curse of Lanka. Lanka needs Separation of Religion and State.

      LSSP selling out it’s principles. Read below.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lanka_Sama_Samaja_Party

      In 1964 the LSSP held a conference, at which the majority agreed with a theoretical categorisation of the SLFP by Hector Abhayavardhana as a petty bourgeois party, leaving the door open to a united front with it. A minority faction, led by Colvin R de Silva and Leslie Goonewardena, opposed the move but opted to stay within the Party. Another minority faction led by Edmund Samarakkody, Merryl Fernando, V Karalasingham and Bala Tampoe, left the party and formed the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (Revolutionary)- LSSP(R).

      Later that year, the LSSP joined the coalition government of Sirimavo Bandaranaike. Three of its MPs became Ministers; Dr N. M. Perera (Finance), Cholomondely Goonewardena (Public Works) and Anil Moonesinghe (Communications). The LSSP was expelled from the Fourth International, and the membership was passed on to LSSP(R).

      • 2
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        Amarasiri:
        Thank you for that information that Jayampathy conveniently forgets because he is cut from the same cloth as the turn-coat LSSPers of those days. Wickremeratne’s political history is the same of his guras. One of running with the hare and hunting with the hounds and he will end up on the same political garbage dump as Colvin, NM, Leslie etc. etc. Then we can say, “Good riddance of bad rubbish.”

    • 1
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      BOTH THE GREAT COLVIN R DE SILVA AND LESLIE GOONAWARDANA TRIED SO HARD TO PREVENT THE ‘SINHALA-ONLY’, THEIR DEBATES IN PARLIMENT RUN FOR HOURS.

      Colvin though was a marxist in politics and an elitist in the legal profession (his other great side), all the early marxists were wealthy elites.

  • 4
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    While appreciating the intelligence, language and the apparent wisdom of Dr. Colvin R. de Silva in the instances cited, his contribution to making the 1972 constitution and the absolute lack of wisdom he displayed in discarding valuable principles in the Soulbury constitution should not be over looked. Did opportunism triumph towards the end of his political career or was his previous stances reflect the position of a person in the opposition? It is unlikely that a man of firm principles could have behaved as Colvin did in designing the 1972 constitution which paved the way for the 1978 constitution. If Felix Dias Bandaranaike was the behind the scenes manipulator, why did Colvin go along? These. are questions that have to be explored and answered by Dr. Wichremaratne, other surviving contemporaries and historians.

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

    • 3
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      I agree that the leftist leaders like Dr.Colvin, Dr. N.M Perera etc. played a key role in developing policies towards land reform, educational reform etc. which helped poor people to improve their living standard. However, they could this at the expense of the rights of the Tamil people. In fact, they gave up the true principles of leftist policies regarding the fundamental rights of self determination of North East Tamil speaking population. They have fallen into the hands of Buddhist Sinhala Fundamentalism and now they are part and partial of a genocidal government.

      • 0
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        Nothing is more satisfying than to see appeasers of separatism getting bashed by the separatists themselves.

      • 1
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        Dr. Narendran, please see the following link to Dr Jayampathy’s article “The 1972 Constitution in Retrospect” –

        http://www.wanasapumala.com/anikpituva/pdf/The%201972%20Constitution%20in%20Retrospect.pdf

        He ends the article thus: “While the break from the British Crown, retention of the Parliamentary form of Government, introduction of a fundamental rights chapter and declaration of principles of state policy were undoubtedly laudable, the 1972 Constitution also paved the way for majoritarianism and undermining of the concepts of the rule of law and the supremacy of the Constitution.”

        • 0
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          Thanks for your response and reference.

          Dr.RN

  • 0
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    Advise from DSB Jeyaraj to journalists-

    “A journalist may not be able to write all what he or she wants to because of external constraints, but no journalist should write what he or she does not want to due to external pressure. Being true to yourself is all that matters in the final analysis.”

    http://www.ft.lk/2014/02/26/d-b-s-jeyarajs-journey-home/

    Same applies to politicians

    Be true to yourself and the people of this country and do not be party to the diabolical schemes and hegemony of a few. Do not agree or approve laws or legislation against the human rights of the people of this country, it is unethical and immoral. In the final anlysis you wil be responsible for the suffering of countless people.

  • 0
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    With or without the executive presidency, political parties should have the room to form strong governments that reflect the people’s mandate. That is how countries like Singapore and Malaysia grew after independence.

    Weak governments with no power to take firm decisions, governments that can be brought down by moving a few mps inside the parliament will not do any good to this country.

    Mahinda who once provoked people against the executive presidency now been the protector of same and left talking about a right like Mahinda is a leftist leader are not the only ironies in this. Present day UNP leaders clinging to what lefties told about executive presidency is also full of irony. Will they cling to what lefties told about the open economy next and start talking about a socialist economy?

  • 1
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    Even I do not like their LSSP politics now a days,
    in mid 70s when I was student of a rural school, as members of the student federation, we were asked to attend to a “[the Year I canot remember], In a may day Rally held at Havlock town Parks,
    I remember this Maha Kalu Sinhalaya, Mr Colvin R de Silva gave a battering of words to the Leader students of SL LSSP’s Student federation including MR Vasudeva Nanayakkara.
    He, who did not knew any thing about The Leaflets Printed by Elder Leaders, University students condemning Late Anura Bandaranayake and Felikx Bandaranayake as they all were the coalition government of Mrs Bandaranayake.
    which lead to the downfall of The LEFT inclined Sirima’s coalition with some crafty, shrewder,and cunning parliamentarians.
    I personally and sincerely think that, if we did follow the governing principles,constitutional system and proposals by N M Perera including his associates,
    Now we are ahead of Singapore economy and Living standards.

  • 0
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    Even I do not like their LSSP politics now a days,
    But, in mid 70s, when I was a student of a rural school, as members of the student federation, we were asked to attend to a “[the Year I canot remember], In a may day Rally held at Havlock town Parks,
    I remember this Maha Kalu Sinhalaya, Mr Colvin R de Silva gave a battering of words to the Leader students of SL LSSP’s Student federation including MR Vasudeva Nanayakkara.
    He, who did not knew any thing about The Leaflets Printed by Elder Leaders, University students condemning Late Anura Bandaranayake and Felikx Bandaranayake as they all were the coalition government of Mrs Bandaranayake.
    which lead to the downfall of The LEFT inclined Sirima’s coalition with some crafty, shrewder,and cunning parliamentarians.
    I personally and sincerely think that, if we did follow the governing principles,constitutional system and proposals by N M Perera including his associates,
    Now we are ahead of Singapore economy and Living standards.

  • 3
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    “This week we remember “
    Keep your puja to your self moron. What the public are in for now is “badagini” so it’s best to break all those statues of politicians or let the IAF bomb it all.
    Colvin was just another power crazy opportunist like all Lankan politicians. He hid in Tamil Nadu Lungi and proclaimed he was a freedom fighter like Somawanse the JVP.
    Colvin belonged to the uduran kanne paksya; he took our lands and homes and thereby destroyed the export sector.

  • 1
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    These Jayampathy’s are black-whites without Tissa Vitharana’s to hang out.

    Colvin and NM Leslie were black-whites, faking laborers and low caste people.

    If this man was for two language one country how did he go on a protest march in 1968 and got a monk killed?

    How can he blame Felix or the 1972 joke constitution when he could have resigned,

    The LSSP is also a fraud like SLFP and UNP.

    I hope Jayampathys’ cannot fool Ven. M Sobhita.

    • 1
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      C. Wijeyawickrema

      “I hope Jayampathys’ cannot fool Ven. M Sobhita.”

      Well, stated.

  • 0
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    This is a typical fawning response of J.W. to his great man, Colvin who brought in a political judiciary under the 72 Constitution and destroyed the Soulbury Constitution’s safeguards for minorities. What is the point of looking only at the Executive Presidency? A dictatorial Prime Minister under the Westminister system can be as bad as a dictatorial President. These caharcters destroyed the juducuary first. But then J.W. Sarath Silva’s pal when in power under CBK cannot be expected to acknowledge all that. Read Victor Ivan’s book, the Unfinished Struggle to see how crooks like JW appeared for the underworld caretaker of Silva’s and forged proxies…

    What jokes!

  • 1
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    My prayers to Dr Colvin and those of Dr NM and those brought up under the British Educational system of Ceylon still the system haven’t changed, not much those politician never negotiated the Sri lanka Tamil problem with the view on South Indian educational methods to have more Ceylon students to study in the South Indian Universities and took the Sinhala Language into south India and have the Buddishm too into India instead they followed the rich Japan and the West.Then there may not be chance for cry for Ellam State or Sinhala state,, even now go for negotiation rather go fighting against the South India, the North Indians are too rich and too big to worry for Peace in Thiravidia (Tamil &Sihala) Sri Lanka

  • 0
    0

    Dr.Colvin.R.de.Silva & the L.S.S.P.is one clear example of how politicians behave when in Power.The nation saw them in 1956 as a principled Party.In fact in the North&East the LSSP.had a sizable following as much as the Federal Party or Tamil Congress.By caving in for Cabinet Portfolios in 1970 they burnt their Boat.What remains of the old Left now is only a dirty word.

    • 1
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      First the LSSP was betrayed by DS and the British
      Then in the next election the estate Tamils were prevented a vote
      Finally they betrayed their principles to power
      Others like Phillip Gunawardane even embraced a level of racism
      That was the end of the LSSP; the work horse of SL indipendence.

  • 0
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    Is there a possibility that Jayampathi Wickramarathne respond to this concern ?

    Was it possible to win the war against LTTE if the president did not have executive powers ?

    If the answer is NO, do you still say that Executive presidency is bad ?

    • 0
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      Jim Softy, you have obviously not read the article and I am not at all surprised. This question has been answered by JW (read at least now, without MR-given blinkers):

      “It is also argued that the Sri Lankan state would not have defeated the separatist threat but for the executive presidency. In a parliamentary form of government too, the government has complete control over the armed forces. Executive power is exercised in the name of the President who must act on the advice of the Prime Minister. The executive presidency brings in no ‘magic’. What a Prime Minister cannot do to the extent that an executive president can is to manipulate the political process –‘political gilmart’.”

      • 0
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        Rodney, this Jim Softy reads an article only if the headline appears supportive of MR.

  • 0
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    Dr Wickramaratne.As much as we blame JRJ for the problems faced by this country, LSSP cannot escape their lot in this mess .Re 1972 constitution(i) The laid the grounds for the LTTe problem by dropping the section 29 in the constitution that provided a safeguard to the minorities.(ii) Got rid of the Permanent Secretaryship, and appointing Secretaries who had to dance to the tune of the politicians.They were the countervailing force against the mad schemes of the politicians and the security for the tax payers funds.(iii)destroyed the stability of the Judicial service -remember what happened to Justice T.S.Fernando.(iv) By visiting Dalada maligawa with trays of flowers, when the coalition was formed they ie NM,Colvin and Munasinghe subverted their long cherished ideal, separation of the temple and the state.Other than that they destroyed the CISIR.Another was that after 1971, the LSSP should have called for study on the ways and means of handling such a situation.If that was under taken then, the problems of today may not have arisen.

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