7 July, 2022


The Executive Presidency: Who Wants It Abolished & Why?

By Dayan Jayatilleka

Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

In public as in private life, it is important to know when someone is attempting to scam you. The question then is “what’s his game?” or, as the famous line in British journalism goes “why is this b*****d lying to me?”

The jury has been in on the question of the executive presidency as a system, for quite a long time. The evidence in favor is massive and incontrovertible. The question then is who wants us to abolish it, why and what would be the result if we did so.

The two most successful countries in the world are the USA and China, so much so that some refer to them as “G-2’, which means Group of 2 and is a jokey riff on the Group of 7 (G-7). Both G-2 countries have executive presidential systems.

The most powerful and significant countries in the world are the Five Permanent members of the UN Security Council. Of the five, four have executive presidential systems: US, China, Russia, and France. Only Britain does not.

The fastest growing zone of the world economically is East Asia. Most, though not all countries in that region have executive presidential systems: China (including Taiwan), Vietnam, South Korea, Indonesia and the Philippines.

The continent of the Americas, both North and South, is enveloped by executive presidencies from the USA through Cuba to the rest of Latin America. The sole exception is Canada.

Nelson Mandela chose the Presidential system for South Africa.

So, on a world scale, it is obvious that most countries, and certainly the most important ones, have opted for the executive Presidential system whatever the respective ideologies of those societies and governments. Whatever the ideological contrasts and swings between and within societies, these countries have opted for the executive Presidency.

Furthermore, no country which opted for an executive Presidency has opted to reverse that choice and go for a parliamentary system. If at all—as in Turkey- countries opt to move to an executive presidency, and some even to remove term limits– Nicaragua, Venezuela.

All of this attest to the superiority of the executive presidency as system. If the criticism is of the working of the executive presidency in Sri Lanka, then that is quite obviously not evidence of the need to abolish the system. It is evidence of the need for reform, through amendments, of the system and within the system. Indeed that has been attempted by the 19th amendment, which should be given a chance to work for at least a decade, preferably with different governments.

Let us then examine the evidence with respect to Sri Lanka. When we had a parliamentary system we had low economic growth, Sinhala only in 1956, the first race riots of 1958, the assassination of a Prime Minister, a coup attempt in 1962, a violent insurrection in 1971, the conversion of an ethno regional party to separatism in 1976, the founding of the Tiger movement in 1976 and the commencement of a Thirty Years War in the 1970s.

With the executive presidency we had high growth, maintaining approximately 5% even in wartime. We absorbed a foreign intervention and reversed it, won civil wars in South and North, defeated the world’s most powerful terrorist army, regained our territorial integrity, national sovereignty and territorial unity (borders), retained our multiparty democratic system and had successive elected governments, and had a postwar economic recovery which gave us the highest growth rate in Asia outside of China. 

By contrast, even the USA, the world sole superpower, has been unable to militarily defeat terrorism in any one of its ongoing wars. The Greater Middle East is a junkyard of wrecked states and societies. Sri Lanka by contrast is not a failed state, it is a successful one, which has passed many tests, each of which other states have failed.

The executive presidential system has been an important factor in our success. It has proven its superiority is ensuring relatively high economic growth and in the crucial matter of decision making in “extreme situations” –of a sort that most societies are faced with in today’s world due to terrorism and economic crisis, and this island would never be free from anyway, given our attractive geopolitical and geostrategic location and attendant vulnerabilities.

As for the nexus between instability, low economic growth and the parliamentary model on the one hand, and stability, high economic growth and the executive Presidency on the other, the case was made in 1966 by JR Jayewardene and proved by the evidence (listed above) of subsequent decades.

JR Jayewardene’s thinking was heavily influenced not only by the American model but more so by that of General Charles de Gaulle who introduced the system to France in 1958 as a bulwark against the kind of internal instability and external vulnerability that had made that great country a victim. This is why emeritus professor AJ Wilson was correct when he defined the Jayewardene constitution of 1978 as ushering in “The Gaullist system in Asia”. This system has served us well, and France certainly does not want to dispose of it, as we see in the latest elections.

Who then wants to dispose of the executive presidency in Sri Lanka and to what end, with what probable result?

It is Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe who has tried several times to be elected President but has failed and knows his best shot is at a Prime Ministership with executive power; Madam Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga who knows she cannot be reelected President but wants a system where she can play Sonia Gandhi to someone else’s Manmohan Singh; the TNA which prefers a weak center which cannot control the Northern Provincial Council; and those who want to prevent Gotabaya Rajapaksa from being elected president in 2019 and proving a worthy successor to the strong, ‘developmentalist-modernizing’ Presidencies of JR Jayewardene, Ranasinghe Premadasa and Mahinda Rajapaksa– presidencies which were akin to the East Asian model.

So, let’s all vote on it, shall we? Writing in the Sunday Island, the CPA’s Sanjana Hattotuwe, a discerning pro-Yahapalana, anti-MR intellectual writes that the results of a recent CPA survey show that the new Constitution would be voted down at a Referendum. 

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Latest comments

  • 14

    This is the 3 rd article in 3 days. Wonderful services being continued by DJ et al. This great spin doctor seems to have more courage to cover uncultured, uneducated, rascals.

    • 1

      The comment policy of CT says:

      “1. We welcome debate and dissent, but personal attacks (on authors, other users or any individual), persistent trolling and mindless abuse will not be tolerated. The key to maintaining the website as an inviting space is to focus on intelligent discussion of topics.”

      Desperate Sinhalaya’s comment has nothing to do with the contents of the article by Dr. Dayan Jayatillaka. I noted similar kinds of personal attacks on his previous articles. For the attention of Editor, Colombo Telegraph.

      • 8

        Eagle Eye,

        those who have added their two cts worth to CT are well aware of the devious and malicious nature of DJ. His arguments could be akin to you, but not many would digest them. That is why we just disgree with his statemetns. Besides, he is so biased and his has been more connected to youth vendetta with PM.
        DJ himself has been attacking countries PM not just onces, but in a consecutive manner.
        We respect him as a human being but not as an unbiased political analyst.

      • 6

        Eagle Eye/SL Citizen/Dr Clean/…………….

        “Desperate Sinhalaya’s comment has nothing to do with the contents of the article by Dr. Dayan Jayatillaka. I noted similar kinds of personal attacks on his previous articles. For the attention of Editor, Colombo Telegraph.”

        Could you also address your above typing to Eagle Eye/SL Citizen/Dr Clean/……………. and revisit all your previous typings in these democratic forum and tell us when exactly have you complied with comment policy.

        On the other hand there is difference between typings and comments. I suppose typings need not to comply with comment policy. You are one lucky fellow.

        • 3

          Mr NV,

          dogs bark, caravan moves forward.
          Self proclaimed edcuated idiot of the nation has been in his mission as usual.
          I dont want to even overread his posts.
          But I know who he has been for the last 2 years.

          Even today, not much is in his articles but to stand against RW, CBK or anyone stand vehemently against Rajapakshe pal horu.

  • 13


    Srilanka is not US or China. Srilanka is Srilanka. Srilanka had executive Presidential system since 1978. This Presidential system was complete failure. Since the Presidential system introduced the country faced threat to democracy, threat to law & Order, threat to justice system, threat to peace, thereat to unity and thousands of people were massacred under this system. That is why the people of this Nation decided democratically to throw away the brutal, murderous dictatorship of Mahinda Rajapakse family. Even we don’t want to think about that side of the horror. Please Let our children to have a peaceful live in this Nation.

  • 4

    if the exec prez system is going to end with gota then I am all for a non exec prez system
    ranil or his successor as exec prime minister is 10 times better.
    now the great revolutionary is a supporter of unp jrj
    writing article after article hoping for a great may day with mr
    and getting a seat ion the platform
    don’t waste you time and energy dear dayan as 2020 is very far away
    whatever this govt does or does not do

  • 5

    Oh Mahinda Oh Gota Oh DJ remember 6.2million + sent you all home lock, stock, and barell. No chance forever to come back again.

    Fonny will make sure no more Jarapassas!!!!

  • 5

    The Executive Presidency-Who wants it abolished and Why?

    The question is posed and answered by the same person- Dayan Jayatilleka?

    The answer is evasive and hypocritical!

    Who wanted to abolish Executive presidency?

    The first person was Dr N.M.Perera. He wrote in the year 1978 itself prophetically the outcome of this exercise. History has proved him right one hundred percent.

    The SLFP was opposed to it from inception and also the “left”

    Lalith Aththulathmudli and Gamini Dissanaike vehemently opposed to it soon after they left president Premadasa.

    Chandrica Bandaranaike and your current hero Mahinda made abolition of Executive Presidency as their core policy to be implemented as soon as they were elected.

    Maithiripala Srisena and the UNP had abolition of Executive Presidency as the single issue for the election in the year 2015.

    Can you name a single political party that consistently supported Executive Presidency other than the minority parties?

    It is significant to notice that all the Tamil , Muslim and Upcountry Tamil parties are for the retention of Executive Presidency.

    Dayan is with the exalted company of LTTE rump and pushing Mahinda to toe the line- for whose interest?

  • 3

    Oh dear Dayan. What you want to see is a change of this government at any cost …you are not a man of principles but opportunit who is waiting for a right time to grab your change into politics ..neither MR family nor RANI’L will give a job.Do not dream to see governemnt change until 2020..even after that I do not think people will give any mandate to MR family to give away the rest of the country to China.
    Do not you see how much damage they have done to this nation. Each srilankan need to pay back a lot of interest due wrong policy of MR family. And due to their way of robbing and wasting national wealth..I think no patriotic person will vote for MR family any more..
    Coming back to your point…if MS or RANI’L change this executive systm and God forbid if Goata come into power now He will revenge all of these politicians…he would not have any sympathy or empathy as MS and RANI’L have got..past hisotry tells this ..? So who want to change this system
    They need this for self protection..why not? All who came to power in the past none change this system

  • 3


    It is not the system “stupid” but the leader who helms it. Both these systems have been tried in SL and both have failed. Where premier Lee Kuan Yew succeeded, all the SL leaders failed, failed miserably. They are sickly corrupted, have no principles, their hands are soiled with greed and corruption, very racists, they have never been leadership material, position and power is their gateway to accumulate wealth and riches and the people are just pawns in their political games.

    Dayan, those whom you are proposing are rascals and murderers, who operated white-van culture and committed widespread murders. The proposal of such rascals and murderers make me wonder what was your role in those and in how many you were involved, even if indirectly. After all, your steadfast defence of the rascals cannot ignore this possibility.

  • 4

    Who wants to scam? It is this man. The article thrust is to provide for Got a Baya to become president. So, there is this whole baloney about how much superior the presidential system is. We have had scumbags for presidents in the last few years. Trump in US, Duterte, a killer in the mode of Got a Baya, Erdogan, another in the same mould, and so the list goes on.

    The Chinese theory is that an honourable man, deeply steeped in culture and rectitude should have the mandate from Heaven to rule his people. Indian kingship stressed the relevance of a king steeped in Dharma to rule his people. None of the presidents we have had, including Sirisena, qualify. They were a succession of corrupt killers, decimating their own people, both Sinhalese and Tamils, over the years. They plundered the wealth of their people. Got a Bhaya will crown all their achievements if ever elected. The chances of that are most remote. So, why try, with virtually an article a day, with a long string of acidic comments attached to it which expose the writer as a seeker of power, profits and positions for himself through the stooging of ruthless tyrants who under better systems should be languishing in jail.

  • 6

    Dayan got a thorough licking from veteran Civil Servant, Shyamon Jayasinghe. He should go into hiding

  • 0

    Ajith & Krishnananthan,

    As non PhDs,after reading your comments I thought you joking with or ridiculing your guru Dr.DJ.
    Then suddenly I relaised what you have done is putting all the facts on the table.

  • 0

    Mr Peter Sumanasena, were you by any chance in the teaching profession?I had a teacher exactly by that name.

  • 0

    Dayan gave a response to a TV program explaining why Executive PResident is important. YOu took the example of recent Executive President in Sri lanka.

    If on’t like the leaders we have. None of them are real visionary leaders. Ranil definitely is working for foreign countries. Mahinda Rajapakse want to fix his son before he leaves.

    civil society, Tamils, muslims etc., do not like Executive president.

    We can live without an executive president, if the leadrs are real visonary leaders – Canada, Australia. Sri lanka’s system is fill the parliaments whether it is diayawanna oya and provincial councils with politicians. politiciaze not only TU leaders but also the religious places such as temples. Because of that situation we need a strong, at least legally, leader who can take drastic actions.

    I think Maithripala is obliged to UNP and to everybody. SO, he is dithering.

    • 0

      You keep saying ‘I think’. Honestly Bobby cares what you think. People only cares about facts. What comes out of your mouth is pure fiction

  • 1

    Dayan, unlike the former President who cannot accept that he was kicked out by the voters, President Sirisena is honest and working towards full filling his promises to the people who voted for him. Unfortunately you are a puppet of the expresident who stole mone, killed innocent people and kicked you out of your seat.

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