17 June, 2019

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The Best Way To Censure Sirisena Is To Abolish The Executive Presidency

By Rajan Philips

Rajan Philips

Maithripala Sirisena’s greatest contribution as President is in creating the strongest reason for abolishing the executive presidency. There are calls all around to impeach, censure or force the resignation of Maithripala Sirisena for his rampant violations of the constitution in 2018. He deserves any and all of them. The question is whether he is worth the effort and energy involved in any one of them. Impeaching him or forcing his resignation will only remove the man but will leave in place the institution of executive presidency that became Sirisena’s wrecking wrench. It would be more worthwhile to spend time in radically reforming the executive presidency than waste time getting rid of Maithripala Sirisena who will be gone in one year anyway. Keeping it simple, leave Sirisena severely alone and keep targeting the executive presidency. 

Targeting the man may prove to be divisive in parliament, and even within the government given the furtive connections between the President and senior UNP higher-ups such as Sajith Premadasa and Ravi Karunanayake. That would mean difficulty in getting the requisite parliamentary majority to either impeach or to effectively censure the incumbent president. Targeting the office or the institution, on the other hand, will find broader support in parliament, and within the government, which would also be an essential asset in a referendum that will be required to implement significant changes to the current system of executive presidency. Even Maithripala Sirisena cannot oppose the ‘abolishing’ of the executive presidency because he campaigned for it before becoming President and assured the country soon after his January 2015 victory that he would be Sri Lanka’s last Executive President. 

The Speaker’s spark

Speaker Karu Jayasuriya’s is the most recent public figure to target the executive presidency. Going by reported statements, Mr. Jayasuriya is apparently onto a New Year resolution – to devote 2019 to abolishing the Executive Presidency (EP). That might just be the spark to reignite the old fires of the abolishment campaign. Karu Jayasuriya’s commitment to abolish the EP could be a constitutional game changer for a number of reasons. He has committed himself to carry forward the single-issue mission of the late, lamented and revered Sobitha Thero. With his new stature as Speaker who stood up for the rights of parliament against the Sirisena-Rajapaksa machinations, Mr. Karu Jayasuriya is now eminently qualified to carry the secular mantle of Sobitha Thero. Second, he is committed to a firm deadline – the end of the current first term of Maithripala Sirsisena’s presidency. Such a commitment is worlds superior to Ranil Wickremesinghe’s open-ended promises that have become predictably vacuous and invariably tiresome. 

Also, Karu Jayasuriya (KJ) is a much better champion for the abolishment cause than the JVP could ever be, although the JVP’s 20th Amendment Bill will provide a very convenient starting point to KJ’s new initiative. Last but not least, the Speaker’s initiative has no political self-interest in it. It gives the lie to the vicious and mischievous campaign during the October-November parliamentary standoff that Karu Jayasuriya was using the standoff to position himself as a presidential candidate in the next presidential election. On the contrary, it is fair to suggest that the real motivation for the Speaker’s new determination to abolish EP is the result of his total frustration in dealing with a person like Maithripala Sirisena wielding and exceeding the powers of the presidency.

While the term ‘abolish’ has gained irreversible currency in the politics of the executive presidency, it needs to be understood that the presidency cannot be eradicated root and branch, nor can there be a return to the Head of State arrangement under the 1972 Constitution of the First Republic. The institution of the presidency must be found a constitutional location between the ‘figure-head’ status in the First Republic and the omnipotent status granted by the current (1978) Constitution of the Second Republic. The 19th Amendment has trimmed away quite a chunk of the powers of the executive presidency but there are still areas that need to be addressed, especially the business of having the Head of State elected directly by the people . 

The JVP’s 20th Amendment draft Bill has found such a midway location while dispensing with the requirement for the Head of State to be elected by the people. Moving forward, there need not be any worry about making a case against the executive presidency, and the focus should be on how to get the job done starting with the JVP’s 20A draft bill. An ounce of experience is worth a ton of theory, as the old saying goes, and the country has had more than a ton of abominable constitutional experience with Maithripala Sirisena. Far more than what any argument can do, President Sirisena has shown by his actions of the past two months and more that it is time to end the executive presidency in its current form.

Getting it done

Getting it done already faces its own family of redundancies. Besides Speaker Jayasuriya’s New Year resolution and the JVP’s 20A Bill, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe after his reinstatement has floated the trial balloon for a new political alliance – the Democratic National Alliance, as a vehicle for constitutional change, and canvass for a two-thirds majority win in the next parliamentary elections. So far there have been no takers for it, and both the TNA and the JVP, the main parliamentary allies of the PM and the UNP, have rejected it. The TNA and the JVP have their own seemingly separate constitutional agendas.

The PM’s ‘alliance approach’ also raises a timeline question. Is the Prime Minister planning to make constitutional reform an election issue and leave it to the next parliament to deal with it? If that is so, what is the purpose in resurrecting the hitherto dormant ‘Constitutional Assembly’ to suddenly receive the draft of the new constitution prepared by the Steering Committee headed by the Prime Minister? The government’s on-again-off-again constitutional reform process is now suddenly ‘on again’ and apparently ready to fire on all cylinders. 

According to TNA Parliamentarian MA Sumanthiran, the draft constitution was expected to be presented on December 7, but was delayed by Sirisena’s October-November antics and is now expected to be presented on February 4. But subsequent news reports have quoted “top government sources” indicating the draft constitution will be presented next week, much sooner than February 4, to the Constitutional Assembly chaired by Speaker Jayasuriya. 

Regardless of the conflicting dates, it would seem a draft constitution is now in some shape for consideration and potential adoption by the Constitutional Assembly of MPs. What will happen from here on? What are the relative statuses of the anticipated draft and the JVP’s 20th Amendment Bill that has already gazetted and previewed by the Supreme Court? It is reported that the new draft will include provisions for “abolishing the Executive Presidency, and increasing the powers of parliament and provincial councils.” That would mean the JVP’s 20th Amendment will be effectively superseded by the new draft which will have to go through the amending process starting with the Supreme Court preview. 

Where will Speaker Jayasuriya’s initiative to abolish the executive presidency fit in with the new draft constitution and its adoption? From what I have seen, Mr. Jayasuriya’s commitment to end the executive presidency made no reference to either the JVP’s 20th Amendment, or the new draft constitution that is to be presented to the Constitutional Assembly that is chaired by him. One would think that the Speaker is not planning on starting a new drafting initiative on his own, but one cannot be but mystified by the lack of co-ordination between the different initiatives on the constitution, and between those who are championing these initiatives.

It is also fair to ask as to where the Prime Minister and the government stand on the project of constitutional reform. What will be the scope of the proposed reform? Will it be broadly acceptable to secure two-thirds majority support in parliament? When is it going to be done – during the remaining time of the present government, or after the next parliamentary elections? Speaker Jayasuriya’s suggestion to have the EP removed at the same time as Sirisena’s current presidential term comes to its end is a very sensible timeline and one that will garner much larger support in parliament across party lines than any move to force his resignation or have him impeached. 

In other words, removing or abolishing the EP must be completed during the course of the year 2019. One year is long enough to have a constitutional amendment to that effect passed in parliament and ratified in a referendum. But to be successful, it must be done this year and should be done along with the changes to the proportional and preferential voting system that has wreaked havoc on the country’s electoral politics. That must be the only constitutional agenda for 2019 and the Prime Minister Wickremesinghe must co-champion this initiative along with the Speaker, and quickly decide on the scope and content of the amending bill based on the JVP’s 20th Amendment Bill.   

A narrowly focused amendment to change the executive presidency issue has a greater chance of securing two-thirds majority support in parliament in the current context, than a broadly scoped constitutional amendment. The current situation in parliament is akin to the condition of Pareto optimality – the economic principle after the Italian Engineer and Economist Vilfredo Pareto, which in policy development stands for enhancing the welfare of some without diminishing the welfare of any. Among the current parliamentarians and party leaders – hardly anyone is going to be negatively impacted by reforming the executive presidency and removing direct presidential elections. Quite a few of them, on the other hand, will stand to benefit from it.  

Especially, given their precarious circumstances, Mahinda Rajapaksa, Maithirpala Sirisena and Ranil Wickremesinghe would rather seek power without having to go through the trouble and uncertainty of a presidential election. If the three mutually suspicious leaders are onside for their own selfish reasons, it should not be difficult to get most of the MPs online and build a substantial consensus in parliament in support of reforming the executive presidency. A substantial consensus in parliament – say 75% or 170 of the MPs (that is more than two-thirds support), is essential to get the people’s approval in a referendum.

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Latest comments

  • 6
    0

    “The Best Way To Censure Sirisena Is To Abolish The Executive Presidency”
    Rajan, You took the Words out of my Mouth!

    • 3
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      Rajan Phillips,

      Yes. The best way to get rid of the madman, is to take his house away, his seat away, and let him roam the streets of Polonnaruwa, and can keep entertaining anybody who cares to listen to this madman.

      That is what the French, The Americans, the Russians did. Abolish the monarchy. So,. Abolish the executive presidency.

  • 3
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    MR has come up with a new slogan just for this. He was heard in a meeting saying ” I will protect the country from constitution?????”. This is what makes Lanka special and pathetic.

  • 2
    1

    What about this argument that Executive Presidency is an integral part of Provincial Councils system?
    The question that how do you check a potential Perumal in the absence of an Executive President? With Provincial Councils morping into fully federal shape as being planned by Ranil/Sumathithran combo how are we going to tackle possible problems like tit-for-tat reactions by federal units, forced inter migration between them, refusal to share natural resources etc.
    Why not abolish both together in one go?

    Soma

    • 0
      0

      The abolition of the EP and the guaranteeing of territorial integrity are not mutually exclusive; they can both be achieved together. Soma apparently has not read the Interim Report of the Steering Committee (read ‘Ranil/Sumathithran combo’ report). While proposing the abolition of the EP, this is what it proposes:

      2.2 Safeguards against secession
      It is recommended that the Constitution include a clause(s) including safeguards against secession.
      The Constitution should specifically state that the Sri Lankan State is “undivided and indivisible.” It should additionally specify that:
      “No Provincial Council or other authority may declare any part of the territory of Sri Lanka to be a separate State or advocate or take steps towards the secession of any Province or part thereof, from Sri Lanka.”

      Page 25:

      XXX. The President may, on the advice of the Prime Minister, where a situation has arisen in which a provincial administration is promoting armed rebellion or insurrection or engaging in an intentional violation of the Constitution which constitutes a clear and present danger to the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the Republic, by Proclamation –
      (a) assume to the President, all or any of the functions of the administration of the Province and all or any of the powers vested in, or exercisable by, the Governor, the Chief Minister, the Board of Ministers or any body or authority in the Province; and
      (b) where it is necessary for the effectual exercise of the powers under sub-paragraph (a) of this paragraph, dissolve the Provincial Council.
      (c) the proclamation shall include reasons for the making of such proclamation.
      Such a Proclamation shall be subject to Parliamentary approval and be subject to judicial review.

      Such provisions are not found even in the present Constitution.

      Soma, why don’t you cultivate the reading habit? I mean not just reading, but doing a little research before you open your big mouth and then reading.

      • 0
        0

        Mr. Con loyer
        Thanks. Will wait and see how the words will be twisted in the final draft. You seem to be a reasonable man who can help me to clear my main issue. Given the existing demographic distribution of Tamils (all Tamil speaking people irrespective of their religion, caste or the date of arrival) across the island what percentage of them will be able to enjoy the presumed benefits of federalim over existing unitary setup. My basic fear is a minority (Tamils in Sinhala majority federal units, Sinhalese in Tamil majority federal units) in federal units will be reduced to second class citizens. I also wish to know according to their own arguments of federalists wouldn’t 20 federal units be better than 9 units? The arguments you are going use to show that one in 20 is too small are the very same arguments I am going to use to show that even one in 9 is too small.

        Soma

    • 1
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      soma ss

      What are you afraid of Federal state?
      Even if provincial state chose separation what are you going to do about it. Do you think president of the little islanders could stop division?
      It is Hindian’s problem.
      Not yours.
      You shouldn’t be worrying about things you have no control over, …
      Remember the mighty USA, all weather friend China, …………….The Central Treaty Organization (CENTO) couldn’t stop “26 Mar 1971 – 16 Dec 1971” happening.

      Don’t expect me to remember another date.

      Your mutant homeland is going to be ready soon.

      • 0
        0

        Native
        As I mentioned in a previous comment I have to concede to your contention that Hindians can decide whether we are in one piece or ten. That is the final outcome. But they have have no control over the ‘bloodshed’ during the intervening period. That is our post independence history.
        Remember you chased away your own brothers who practise Islam. Remember you closed Mavil Aru sluice gates. Such occurrences will be common in your federal utopia. Hindia will have no control over possible problems like tit-for-tat reactions by federal units, forced inter migration between them, refusal to share natural resources etc.

        Soma

        • 0
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          somass

          “But they have have no control over the ‘bloodshed’ during the intervening period.”

          That was what the corrupt public racist and proud arsonist Hindian mole Dutta Gamani told Thondaman about 35 years ago.

          Hindian’s came, amended the constitution, made Tamil also a national language, English the link language,. and stopped expatriation of up country hard working people to India, … and your favorite Thambi VP had to kick them out, while….. your …. hiding behind ……

          “Remember you chased away your own brothers who practise Islam. Remember you closed Mavil Aru sluice gates. “

          That was your Thambi the psychopath VP who through various means helped Mahinda win elections, wars, …

  • 0
    0

    “The Best Way To Censure Sirisena Is To Abolish The Executive Presidency”. NO. This “Slogan” of “Personal Animosity”(to pay off a personal vendetta) must not be entertained and allowed to get established in Governance. There are very many reasons to abolish this “Position”. For instance, over the years, since its introduction, we have experienced how this “Position” has created enormous political, economical and legal problems for the country. Just check the records of the past Presidents. Those records would show more of “MINUSES” than any “PLUSES”. That is WHY this position of “Presidency” must be abolished.

    • 1
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      Douglas
      “This “Slogan” of “Personal Animosity”(to pay off a personal vendetta) must not be entertained and allowed to get established in Governance.”
      My salute to you.

      Soma

  • 1
    0

    who is going to bell the cat?

    • 0
      0

      Native
      As I mentioned in a previous comment I have to concede to your contention that Hindians can decide whether we are in one piece or ten. That is the final outcome. But they have have no control over the ‘bloodshed’ during the intervening period. That is our post independence history.
      Remember you chased away your own brothers who practise Islam. Remember you closed Mavil Aru sluice gates. Such occurrences will be common in your federal utopia. Hindia will have no control over possible problems like tit-for-tat reactions by federal units, forced inter migration between them, refusal to share natural resources etc.

      Soma

  • 1
    0

    Ha ha ha … To abolish Executive Presidency, 2/3 majority followed by people’s approval through a Referendum is needed.
    76% of the population is Sinhalese.
    Can you explain how could you achieve your goal without the consent of Sinhalese citizenry who will never support to abolish their RIGHT TO ELECT A LEADER OF THEIR CHOICE as the Head of State?
    Without mercy, all MPs who are in support of the abolishment of Executive Presidency should be defeated at the next General Election.

    • 1
      0

      Dear Champa

      My personal reason for abolishing the Presidency because I feel now the war is finished and is a redundent / unnecessary position. Nothing aganist any Presidents. I have the same reasons why PC need to be abolished too because is very destructive/waste of resources and for the same reasons above too.

      In addition to all the above reasons we need to have minimum number of elections for the next few terms say for next 20 years until we become more civilised to understand democracy. By this I mean every political event/election is currently turned into dividing our communities more and more……..this stupidity need to stop. Democracy is being taken for a ride by whoever.

      We no longer have normal discussions of living and planning a future but all kind of sick history we make along the way. Who has given this bunch the right to make our life miserable??????? why we elect them in the first place?????? applies to all of them???????

  • 0
    0

    Champa: Can you pl. let me know what you mean by “Head of State”. Thanks.

    • 1
      1

      Douglas,

      no need to argue with a man/eunach/woman about that. He or she is a spy being set by Rajapakshes for their political survival. This Champa would do anything for Rajapakshes. To me if anyone would behead the bugger tomorrow in Galle face green, theree, I will try to come and taste my nectar to the very same manner his slaves would do with Kirithabth eating. :
      :
      Justice should be served. WE THE SINHALAYAS ARE BETRAYED BY RAJAAKSHES RASCALS.: Just becasue the bugger et al is greedy at grabbing power.
      :
      I heard the bugger holding a public statement today, that he is the one who did that rail rd to Kathragama. All is done by bugger. My gosh, YAHAPALANA govt laid roller feld in Katunayaka within 3 months – but nothing was in the air. They achieved lot more in the areas of external affairs (Gsp plus and Fisheries), not much is being in the air, since BLACK media would sing the song in favour of ballige putha Rajakashe.
      :
      That wimalawathi is now in his hideouts. as was the case with LTTE rebells at that time.
      At wimalawathi and his family should be jailed so tha t we can finally feel jUSTICE is done.

    • 0
      0

      Douglas
      Why, the Head of State and Head of Government is the President. Do you have any objection against the wordings?

  • 0
    0

    Which comes first Rajan Philips, “…….Censure Sirisena….” or “……Abolish The Executive Presidency”?
    Both are bad if done in a hurry.
    Following SC verdict, MS had been a statesman in accepting it. None of our past Presidents would have the courage to act the way he has done.
    MS avoided violence spilling on to streets which some wanted.
    .
    Abolishing the Executive Presidency is another matter – highly sensitive.
    There are these hyenas who will say that the present system is needed to prevent separation.
    SLPP thrives on such imaginations.

  • 0
    1

    Spot on Rajan Phillips. Abolishing this Monster known as the Executive Presidency is the best way to check-mate this moron Sirsena and prevent types like him in the foreseeable future.
    I wish all 225 members of Parliament read this piece by RP.

  • 0
    0

    Execeutove presidency should be abolished along with the Provincial councils. Half will cause problems just like the 19th amendment.

  • 0
    0

    Mr. Con loyer
    Thanks. Will wait and see how the words will be twisted in the final draft. You seem to be a reasonable man who can help me to clear my main issue. Given the existing demographic distribution of Tamils (all Tamil speaking people irrespective of their religion, caste or the date of arrival) across the island what percentage of them will be able to enjoy the presumed benefits of federalim over existing unitary setup. My basic fear is a minority (Tamils in Sinhala majority federal units, Sinhalese in Tamil majority federal units) in federal units will be reduced to second class citizens. I also wish to know according to their own arguments of federalists wouldn’t 20 federal units be better than 9 units? The arguments you are going use to show that one in 20 is too small are the very same arguments I am going to use to show that even one in 9 is too small.

    Soma

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