21 June, 2024


The Challenge For The Strong Leader

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

The selection of former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa as the presidential candidate of the SLPP will impart enthusiasm in an electorate that has grown discontented at the absence of coherence in governance over the past few years. The UNF government with President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe at the helm failed to govern with unity of purpose. They each had different advisors and different visions and the clash between the two grew to unmanageable proportions to the detriment of the national interest. A primary casualty was the hope that a political solution to the vexed issue of inter-ethnic power sharing would be found through a bipartisan UNP-SLFP consensus with the representatives of the ethnic minority parties.

The belief that the former defense secretary will make a difference comes from the leadership he provided during the period of war against the LTTE. He gave encouragement to the military offensives against the LTTE that achieved what few had thought possible. He ensured that the resources and political backing were always available to the security forces and to their commanders. He did not shy away from measures deemed necessary to bring the war to a conclusion through the destruction of the LTTE and its leadership. He had the advantage of having no one to answer to, as he had the confidence of his only superior, his brother the President at that time, Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was also commander-in-chief of the armed forces and minister of defence.

However, as presidential candidate and prospective president of the republic, the former defense secretary will no longer have the free hand he enjoyed. During the war period he gave leadership and covering approval to the security forces in their battle against the LTTE and others deemed to be enemies of the state. A much vaster array of issues will come into his domain, including foreign relations, national reconciliation and economic development. This will require a much broader and more tempered approach. The presidency continues to be vested with many powers that continues to make the position of the president an important one within the system of government. Apart from the political legitimacy that comes from prevailing at a national election, the president continues to preside at cabinet meetings, appoint secretaries to ministries and ambassadors to foreign countries.

19th Amendment 

One of the controversial pledges made by the SLPP is that it will abolish the 19th Amendment which was passed in 2015 as one of the first legislative reforms of the newly elected government. Until relations between President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe deteriorated, the 19th Amendment was looked upon by both them and the country at large as a most significant constitutional reform and evidence of commitment towards good governance. Most notably the 19th Amendment reduced the powers of the presidency to make it difficult to appoint inappropriate persons to high offices of state such as the judges of the Supreme and Appeal courts. The same restriction was made applicable to other state institutions too, including the elections commission and human rights commission where non-partisanship is key to preserving the legitimacy of those institutions.

The 19th Amendment also ensured a better balance of power between the president and parliament as befitting the two main branches of government that are elected by the country at large. Prior to the passage of the 19th Amendment the president had the legal power to arbitrarily dissolve parliament after the passage of a single year of its election. This gave the president a stranglehold over parliament and compel it to be deferential to the president’s priorities. However, the 19th Amendment reduced this arbitrary power of the president by limiting the power of dissolution to after four and a half years of parliament’s existence. It was this restriction on the president’s power that empowered the Supreme Court to reverse the president’s attempt to dissolves parliament in October 2018, a little over three years after it was elect

In the case of President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe the relationship was especially troubled due to their leadership of two separate and traditionally rival political parties, and also due to their own personal differences. This was the main problem rather than the 19th Amendment that had much more that was good in it than bad. Therefore, when the SLPP says that it will abolish the 19th Amendment there would be a legitimate concern that basic principles of good governance will be undermined. The separation of powers between the president and parliament, and the check and balance that each can exert upon the other, will be important for good governance in the future, irrespective of who the president and prime minister might be.

Different Constituencies 

At the SLPP convention that named Gotabaya Rajapaksa as the presidential candidate, his brother Mahinda announced himself as the prime ministerial candidate. While the fraternal ties are undoubtedly strong, they will each draw their political support from different social and economic strata of society. The former defense secretary will have a strong cohort of former security forces personnel backing him and his efforts to generate a mass following have focused on the urban intelligentsia and technocrats. On the other hand, the voter base of the SLPP will be the traditional communities, religious clergy and local and national politicians with whom the former president is associated with. Therefore, the issue of power sharing between the presidency and parliament will need to be well thought through.

The SLPP needs to specify sooner rather than later what changes it envisages to the 19th Amendment and what it will seek to replace it with. It is insufficient to merely point out what is disadvantageous in it or deficient. It is also important to be able to explain what the answer to the problem is and to be able to show that what is proposed will improve the situation rather than make it worse. The same will hold true in the case of any reform of the 13th Amendment. In an interview with the Tamil media the prime ministerial candidate of the SLPP, Mahinda Rajapaksa has said that some are in favour of federalism, some in favour of devolution and others in favour of the 13th Amendment, but what is important is that the country is not divided. The responsible course for a leader is to say what he thinks should be done in terms of actual constitutional reform.

There is a danger that the example of the Indian government suddenly ending the special arrangements for the governance of Kashmir could become a siren call for a similar action to take place in Sri Lanka with regard to the provincial council system. But democracy is not only about heeding the views of the ethnic and religious majority, it is also about heeding the views of the minority communities. The power of the presidency should not be used to impose a solution without the consent of the ethnic and religious minorities. This is not the path for Sri Lanka to take even with a strong leader at the helm. Both the 19th and 13th Amendments to the constitution are there to ensure that power is shared between different institutions and that checks and balances prevail to ensure that the interests of all are protected. The strong leader that Sri Lanka needs will be a leader who upholds the interests of all.

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Latest comments

  • 6

    JP: Sri Lanka belongs to the younger generations and it is time for Sajith and other young leaders to come to the fore.
    Shame that NPC and EU USAID dependent NGOs for not lobbying for younger candidates as the current generation of politicians led by the US puppet Bondscam Ranil and US citizen Rajapassa sybllings have ruined and corrupted Sri Lanka almost beyond repair with the help of US advisors and NGOs
    Sajtih is win hands down even if he runs as an independent!

  • 5

    ps. people of Sri Lanka are not half as stupid as the Colombo NGO operators and saree ladies who stage street theater as activism!

    • 3

      Why have the US-Uk-EU funded fake activist NGO Saree ladies who promote Ranil’s LGBTQ Rights not had a garbage protest and piled the garbage at the UK and US embassies in Colombo wearing face masks?

      The 100 containers of garbage at Colombo port and Katunayake came from the US-UK-Diego Garcia military base on UK’s illegally occupied Chagos Islands. They are cleaning it up and dumping garbage in Lanka after ICJ Ruling that Chagos must be returned to its people and US-UK’s on going Human Rights violations in Chagos must come to an end. Some real activism on this is the need of the hour!

    • 0

      All Sri Lankans are not stupid. It is mostly the monolingual people who are familiar with only their own culture and look upon other cultures as alien who are stupid.

  • 1

    Can colombo telegraph pl trfrain from advetising your views on FB

  • 3

    when you talk of gota as a strong leader do you imply that ranil is a weak one
    if so most people will agree

    • 1

      Not only Ranil is weak but a cunning fox too, from the lessons he learned from JR,

  • 10

    This is utter nonsense. Former Defense Minister and Former Defense Secretary are both war criminals. They have to answer so many unanswered allegations against the atrocities committed against Tamil civilians. While this still remain in question how come they contest to become President and PM? They should be sent to Hague for trials before being declared eligible for elections. Are both MS and RW crazy? What is the quality of the Parliament who cannot exercise common sense.

    • 1

      Allegations made by Tiger sympathisers and their white masters, the NGO won’t hold ground. The majority Sri Lankan public knows the best leaders to govern the country forward and even their detractors knows this. Those who swallowed the sugar coated yahapalu pill, thinking change would take place are hiding their disappointment and frustration and suffering in silence as they were willingly or naively taken for a ride by those with strategic interests in mind. The old accusations and propaganda stuff is not going to work without proof, prosecutions and actions. Those who bought about change knows the ground realities as their horses were a total failure in all ftonts. It appears they had at last realised where the majority support lies and would instead had no option but to work with a impending winning horse. They were not in favour of Modi those days, accusing him of atrocities against minorities Tec. But they couldn’t stop the Indian masses choice and later changed their stance to work with him.

  • 7

    Gota’s leadership? Leadership is about leading from the front & getting others to perform willingly. So what is to say when you have the all the power behind you & everyone is shit scared of being bumped off for not toeing the line? Its sheer arrogance & abuse of power, not leadership. As for winning the war, he didn’t do it single handedly as we are expected to believe, & didn’t give a toss about civilian nor the lives of his own soldiers. He promoted vigilantism (judge, jury & executioner) in the forces & that doesn’t make him an ‘officer & a gentlemen’.

    Let Gota clear his name from all the charges against him before he comes forward as the Presidential candidate. If not, he can go back to his adopted land & live off comfortably from the ill gotten wealth.

  • 4

    Gota has many cases pending against him in courts of law. He is on bail. How can he contest the presidency.
    Will these cases be allowed to proceed by the judiciary ?
    If not, he should not contest.
    His citizenship is in doubt. He has obtained a passport without interview and fingerprinting.
    It is not clear whether he has successfully renounced his US citizenship.
    Will the Elections Commissioner accept his application to contest – this is not clear.
    He has cases filed against him in USA – has the US government allowed him to contest elective office in Sri Lanka.

  • 2

    Dr Jehan is talking hypothetical here..

    What hope Nandasena has to topple this mighty new Coalition in Government of Dr Ranil’s Elite, Anglican , Vellala Faction now in solid mateship and solidarity with the Ganeshan’s one time Dalit Party and now the whole hog of Muslim Parties after Easter …-

    I just read the opening salvo of the aspiring UNP Candidate from Keselwatta who launched his Campaign in Badulla, which is a stronghold of UNP thanks to Mano Ganshaans Clan who control the majority vote there.

    Keselwatta Kid’s Oratory was not seen in the UNP ranks for long time.
    The Kid even promised on stage to sacrifice his dear life although I couldn’t understand why he wants to kill himself , when Nandasena has Buckley’s of winning the Election.

    Before Keselwatta Kid made this Suicide Promise , he was in Colombo with his nemesis Dr Ranil laughing, in a photo shoot with Hiruni after opening a nice looking Apartment block in Colombo.

    Dr Ranil even praised the Kid as a friend d of the masses who build houses for them.
    I never thought Dr Ranil and the Kid are so close when building such beautiful houses for Colombo Dalits.

    When a reporter asked Dr Ranil whether they have anyone with a backbone , Dr Ranil declared they all have it.

    Keselwatta Kid’s that pledge on Badulla stage to Kill Himself must be to prove that he has a Backbone to please our Brother Cardinal who injected this Jelly Back issue into this Election…

    Wonder what the UNP Stalwarts and Heavy Hitters Dr Rajitha & Son , Galleon Karunanayaka and Uncle Jayasooriya doing now after Nanadasena put his hand up?…

    I hope that beautiful Hiruni who was standing next to Dr Ranil and the Kid will be our next PM.

  • 3

    If there was visionary and patriotic leader in Sri Lanka since independence, Sri Lanka will be in par with good nations like Singapore, New Zealand or Switzerland. Mass need to understand what leadership is all about. Currently, Sri Lankan are wear rose tinted glasses when looking at politics and their leaders. They have no clear concept which is very pitiable situation.

  • 0

    First of all, I seriously doubt whether any attempt to amend the 19 A would succeed anytime in the near future b’cos of the mistrust that exists not only between the minority & the majority but between the UNP & the opposition. Since it is very likely that no side will get a clear majority in the parliament, getting 2/3 majority for any amendment will be extremely.

    The next election cycle can produce three possible sets of Gvts: 1. GoRa the Prez with Ranil the PM; 2. Sajith the Prez with Ranil the PM; 3. GoRa MaRa combination. My guess is that the first possibility goinng to be worse than the Ranil MY 3 combination unless Gora is willing to understand the need to work with Ranil and ready withstand pressure coming from his own party to disrupt Ranil’s agenda, an ability MY 3 lacked completely. However, the ability of Ranil to mange the backbench of UNP for such a Gvt will be a big question.

    My guess is that the third possibility will end up worse than the last MaRa/GoRa regime simply b’cos without allowing some room for corruption & crimes that hold the SLPP base, GoRa will lose the control of the Gvt. MaRa knows this quite well & therefore he will tell his supporters “do whatever without getting caught”. The end results will be another financial setback to the country unless china come to take over the majority of asset control wich will lead to a serious conflict between SL & India.

    This will leaves the Sajith Ranil combo as the somewhat better option even though it will also have some disagreement over priorities arising from differences of opinion between Sajith & Ranil. However the presence of veterans like Mangala, Eran, Harsha, Rajitha, Champika can help minimize such inevitable conflicts.

    Strong personalities alone necessarily will not bring strong & productive Gvts; rather, a dedicated team with divers opinions led by an experienced leader who understand the value of empowerment will make a much better Gvt.

  • 4


    The Challenge For The Strong Leader

    You are an educated and a decent man I hope. How can you write an Article under a heading as above. Sri Lanka has become a laughing stock of the World. Gotha certainly cannot be a Leader let alone a Strong one. The only challenge he faces will be how to rule as a LAME DUCK president and that is what he will be. Even Africans have claened up their act. MUgabe the father of the Nation was booted our for his wifes antiques
    Gotha is a CRIMINAL , THUG a THIEF and a CROOK. and how can he rule Sri Lanka with a promise to clean up when he is covered in Dirt not just in SrilLanka but in the USA. How is he going to rule if he is elected when an arrest warrant is issued by the US Courts. Dont you have any one worthy of a President.

    Dark Clouds are gathering and is this the best Sri Lanka can offer. SAD.

  • 1

    We need a strong leader. Gota totally not suitable for presidency. He worked as a defence secretory under the then president/defence minister and the support of all defence forces and people of the country.,Winning of civil war is a collective effort. That does not qualify a person for politics. Example is General Fonseka. Anyhow Gota has lot of allegations and court cases in the country and USA. He and his political party members misused the power during the civil war and after. That is why they lost the 2015 election. People can recall what happened during that period. Now we do not have a civil war. So we do not need a person of military mentality. Further he does not posses knowledge on true politics and democracy. People know how Gota and others became rich people. One of the main reason they want to come to power is to cover up their misdeeds. Do not believe Gota”s false promises and honesty he show when talk.
    On the other hand incumbent president,prime minister,opposition leader and most of ministers are in the politics for long time ,but the development of the country is deteriorated in all aspects. Simple examples; per capital debt has increased up to RS 550000, not enough medicine at hospitals, number of samurdi recipient has increased ,migration and law and order. These people have shown that they are incapable of ruling the country for better tomorrow.
    I hope first intense whoever come to the presidency will abolish it and introduce former parliamentary system and made everyone equal in front of law.
    So we need a intelligent leader who is not selfish and invite intellectual people to the parliament. I hope all people in the country will give priority to the person not to the party. Long term gains instead of short term.

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