By Basil Fernando –
The idea of the executive presidency, as found in the 1978 constitution, is now a failed idea.
Almost everybody agrees that it is a failed idea.
The people who are maintaining it also know that it is a failed political idea, but it helps them to have extraordinary power and the benefits of such power. Even they do not believe that it has any benefit to the state or to the population.
If there is anyone who may have some illusion about this idea having some effectiveness, it is only the opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was closely associated with President JR Jayewardene. Unfortunately, he is the opposition leader, and therefore he is the main obstacle in the way of mobilizing the mass disillusionment about this idea.
Failed ideas cannot survive long. That is the lesson of history. Therefore, there is no reason to believe that this particular idea will prove to be an exception.
The factors that prevent the emergence of an alternative:
Firstly, there is the fear that no government can remain stable, as many of the members of the governing party can be bought over at any moment – this is one of the issues for which no solution has yet been proposed or discussed. The presidential system makes parliamentarians depend on the President and the President can use the state coffers to give extraordinary privileges and even to buy people who are engaged in active opposition, and thereby has the capacity to cripple the emergence of the powerful opposition. Therefore, the failed idea can survive not on the basis of its legitimacy but for other reasons, such as being able to maintain a government by whatever means.
Secondly, all parties fear the people. There prevalence of mass discontent is known to all political parties. They do not want to provide opportunities that allow the masses to express their discontent. The present form of government has more capacity for mobilizing repression than a functional democratic government. This is another negative reason in favour of the present system of governance.
Thirdly, no political party has a vision for resolving the problems in the national economy. Therefore, any government that comes into power is likely to be undermined by severe economic problems. The present form of government attempts to get over this problem by unscrupulous and undemocratic means, such as borrowing money from many sources without being restricted by the normal limitations imposed by economics, as well as by democratic norms. This way, they keep on postponing the crisis. Perhaps all political parties think that, having no solution to possible economic and financial problems, this is the only way to keep the government afloat.
A further factor that complicates the problem: The minority issue complicates this problem further. No political party has any kind of rational solution to the minority issue. If there is a democratic government, the pressure of solving this problem will weigh very heavily on that government. The present form of government can keep on postponing the reckoning by keeping an artificial form of consensus through the use of the power of the President and also mobilizing the armed forces in an extraordinary manner in the areas where minorities reside. Such kinds of virtual occupation will not be possible under a democratic government. Thus, a lack of solutions on this issue also act in favour of the present form of governance and, purely on this basis, more extremist sections of the majority will be willing to let this form of government stay.