27 October, 2020

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Sri Lanka: Why People Don’t Like Their Former Presidents

By Basil Fernando

Basil Fernando

One of the interesting things about Sri Lankan politics since 1978 is that the people do not remember their former Presidents with any respect. Of course people do not remember even the heads of the States of earlier times with much affection, though they do remember them with some good humour. The former Prime Ministers like D. S. Senanayeke, his son Dudley, John Kotelawala and the two Bandaranaikes, maybe target of many criticisms but they are still remembered with some good sentiments.

That is not the case with the three former Presidents, Jayewardene, Premadasa and Chandrika. There are hardly any celebrations for them even by their own party members. Their memories are mixed with remembrance of excessive greed, gross abuses of power, memory of killings and blood spilling and many ill-humored remarks about arrogance.

Perhaps this is because of the general dislike of humans for excess. It is like the way people dislikes excessive eating as gluttony, excessive drinking as alcoholism, excessive sex as debauchery and the like. There is something ugly about doing things in excess.

The problem of excess is the absence of restraint. Anything that lacks restraint is looked down by everybody and treated with contempt. Restraint is at the core of any human achievement that receives admiration, whether they be art or any other human activity.

The problem of the executive presidency that exists in Sri Lanka is the very absence of any kind of restraint associated with the exercise of any of its functions. The Executive Presidency has institutionalized excess of every form. It’s a kind of excess that makes one a maniac. Whether it comes to accumulation of personal wealth, use of cruelty and personal arrogance the former Presidents of Sri Lanka have become examples of doing any of these things without any kind of restraint so long as they could hold on to power.

The originator of this idea of the Executive Presidency, J. R. Jawardene, was known throughout his political career for his excess of ambition. The leaders of his own party in the past had kept him down due to their recognition of his incapacity for restraint in pursuing his own glory. It was at the point when his party lost his grip with the population. And as a consequence when there were no leaders left, Jawardene was able to achieve his fond hope for ascending to the highest post. Once he got there, within the shortest possible time he made the Constitution within which all the elements of restraint which is usually known as checks and balances was removed. Thus, this thing called the Executive Presidency, which could turn anyone into a political maniac, became a real political institution. That was what has made it possible for all who got into his shoes, to lose all restraint so long as they could hold on to power.

Thus there is no surprise as to why people do not remember any of those who held such power in any other way than people treat those who are incapable of restraint.

All glory, all gluttony and all cruelty and arrogance so long as they hold on to power and utter contempt when they lose power. That is the destiny of anyone who becomes the head of the State under the 1978 Constitution. This of course is not just a tragedy of such leaders but of the tragedy of the Sri Lankan people as a whole.

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Latest comments

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    Sir;
    that is a very simple facts to remember,
    when we at kinder garten, that times it is called “HOODIYA PANTHIYA”.
    our teachers teached us to ;

    ##### GIVE RESPECT AND GET RESPECT ####.

    most of the former prime ministers like Hon D. S. Senanayeke, Dudley Senanayeke , Sir John Kotelawala and the SWRD And Srima Bandaranaike
    gave due respect to the Ceyloneese ,Sri lankans.
    They are people’s leaders. Not looters.

    Please tell me, are there any people’s leaders now.

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    The author’s ulterior motive of the article is evident when he singles out President J R Jayewardene for criticism. The names of Chandrika and and Premadasa are added as frills to decorate his article but strangely there’s no mention of D B Wijethunga, who himself was popular in his own simple mannerism. The whole article lacks the basic tenets journalism. More than journalism, this is mud slinging for personal reasons.

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      And what does the writer hold towards the incumbent ? Whenever we read the news or listen to radio (Balumgala), you can only hear that the current day politicians incl MR and his family are the most virulent of all we had sofar.. or is not that so ?

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    Self restraint is of course a noble quality. But one cannot expect this virtue from any President who has been given enormous powers without any checks and balances. Until the Constitution is amended to demolish the present presidential system as it is and a system with checks and balances is introduced, you will contnue to have Presidents with sordid record. Good piece Basil

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    Quote: “Perhaps this is because of the general dislike of humans for excess. It is like the way people dislikes excessive eating as gluttony, excessive drinking as alcoholism, excessive sex as debauchery and the like. There is something ugly about doing things in excess.”
    What is it like, say for Excessive Indulgence on a daily dose of ill-humored criticism of Human Rights sans absence or lack of restraint?? DDD ( DAILY DIABOLIC DIARRHOEA) – which is looked down by everyone & treated with contempt with no admiration.

    THIS IS A MAJOR ASPECT THAT HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST, INGOS, NGOS, LEADERS FAILED TO VISUVALISE…….. ITS SIMPLY ARROGANCE & ABUSE OF POSITION AND PEN.
    What difference IS there between the Constitution written in 1978 by Late J.R.Jayawardene and this self proclaimed Human Rights activists writer ??????????
    None whatsoever…. Its all for the Glory, the arrogance as long as they are and/or were in a position to do so.
    A tragedy for all.

    Author living on free doled $$$$$

  • 0
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    We didn’t need the 78 Constitution for leaders to want to stay on,what about Sirimavo from 1975 to 77?
    JR finished his two terms and did not use his majority(he did not have to pay cash for his majority) to stay on and on

    For some inexplicable reason our pols go mad when in power,like to/try to staaaaaay on and on.

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    Executive presidency and moving the parliment to Kotte, Sri Lankans were lucky the crown was not there. This is a pattern of an un-stable politicians, we pay latter for their actions.

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    It is not right to condemn the JR Constitution. It had checks and balances such as the insdependant commissions for the Judiciary, police, elections etc. Without implementing the constitution in total, what is happening now is using only the good bits that is advantageous for personal gain and condemn the person who created the constitution. Use it in toatl and then see what happens. It is hypocrisy. Unfortunately, it is the poor people who bear the brunt of all these.

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    The people in Sri Lanka dislike the past leaders,not only because they had excessive power,but with that power they destroyed whole good vales of Sri Lankan people and it culture and also as they destroyed the whole economy. Leaders like Lee Qwan Yu in Singapore also had lot of powers ,but he used all the powers for the betterment of Singapore. So all Singaporeans remember and respect the leader everyday.

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    If you want to help the people in Sri Lanka, you could have done with the previous constitution, there is no need of the absolute power.

  • 0
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    The author entirely forgot LTTE’s intervention.

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