By Ranga Kalansooriya –
The most talked about keywords within the contemporary political circles are executive presidency and the premiership. Both these positions are the pinnacles of one’s political career but their constitutional definitions would design the destiny of a few politicians of our times in the coming weeks.
Pre-1977 political scenario never had a dispute between these two positions, historians would explain. But 1978 Jayewardene constitution created the all-powerful position of Executive Presidency (EP) that became the hot topic at least for the past two decades. They said that the only thing which an Executive President would not able to do is to convert a man into a woman and vise-versa. But a simple incident last year added one more incompetency for the Executive President – could not appoint a chief incumbent of a temple. Following the demise of Kiriwehera Maha Nayaka Dr Aluthwewa Soratha Thera, the then President Rajapaksa tried his best to get a junior monk to be appointed to the post – but the strong stand by Malwatta Maha Nayaka Thera thwarted his attempts where the Sangha Sabha decided to appoint the most senior student monk Kobawaka Dhamminna Thera as the new Nayaka Thera of Kiriwehera. Powers of Executive Presidency was challenged and defeated.
Be that as it may, one interesting phenomenon between these two positions had been the emergence of individualism against the national necessities and interests. More than the interest of the country and its betterment the factor of individualism has always found its way. People or the leader would look at the individual who would immediately assume the position before making the final decision. Careful analysis of individuals and positions in the post – 1977 political history in the country would provide some classic case studies to tell this story.
Some political analysts are of the view that one of the main reasons for Jayewardene to trim the powers of the Prime Minister from his infamous constitution was Premadasa as the former did not want to provide powers to his deputy. Notwithstanding this fact, shrewd Premadasa used every single opportunity and never seen as a dummy. He proved his power and a cardinal example was the signing of Indo-Lanka Peace Accord in 1987. Premadasa was out of the country when the Accord was in the making, but the old fox JR breaking all protocol norms, himself visited Sucharitha within a few hours of Premadasa returning home and lobbied his support for the Indo-Lanka deal. Thus, Premier Premadasa well performed and developed his career as a national leader, created a situation where Jayewardene had no option but to appoint him as his successor.
Not entirely similar, but a parallel scenario developed when Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga had to nominate Mahinda Rajapaksa as her successor for Presidency in 2005. Nowhere Mahinda could be compared with Premadasa but parallels could be drawn in both the contexts developed around their selection for Presidential candidacy.
After J R, every President was careful enough to appoint a neutral – harmless individual for the Premiership, except the final JVP-UPFA cohabitation regime of Chandrika where Mahinda was appointed the Prime Minister. In fact JVP allegedly wanted former respected Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar to the post but Mahinda’s campaign was powerful enough to defeat this request. Mahinda threatened to bring thousands of masses into the streets if he was not assigned for the post. A golden opportunity was missed mainly in bringing an ethnic minority to the second powerful post for the first time in the country’s history.
Premadasa opted for all neutral D B Wijetunga for Premier post in the backdrop where both ambitious Gamini Dissanayake and Lalith Athulathmudali were competing for the post. The arrangement was to rotate the Prime Minister post among these three in the coming years which was never materialized. And of course, Premadasa himself was not aware of the fact that D B would succeed him under critical circumstances. That was the first time Ranil became somewhat executive Prime Minister following the assassination of Premadasa and DB assuming the office of Executive President strictly following the constitutional provisions. Sharp and strategic moves of Ranil prevented a possible anarchical disaster in the country by maneuvering critical events within a couple of hours. Ranil always proved that he was a better manager in crisis situations.
Some 24 years ago, that was the first time where Ranil assumed Premiership and all other two occasions that followed – including the incumbent one – he surpassed the traditional power framework of the Prime Minister post and acted as an “Executive Prime Minister.” During 2001 – 2004 period, the then President Chandrika allowed him to run the country according to his own agenda but conspired with JVP [with Mangala’s strategic thinking] to pull carpet and toppled him after barely 30 months in power.
However, after attempting twice to be the Executive President, Ranil seems to be settled down as the “Executive Prime Minister.” If the ongoing talks for cohabitation government following the upcoming general polls are successful and if he again become the Premier, that will be his record breaking fourth occasion in the position.
But for his critiques, more than the constitutional amendments for the country’s betterment, Ranil becoming the Executive Prime Minister is the issue. On the other hand Mahinda is attempting his best to make his revival to active politics and mainly eyeing the upcoming position of “Executive Prime Minister” through the much talked about constitutional change. He would be able to garner a considerable level of mass support in the grass roots dividing the SLFP in to two main fractions. Thus, anti-Mahinda camp as well as the anti-Ranil camp would take every possible step to block the efforts to transfer executive powers vested in the Presidency to the Premier post – looking at individuals, but not on national issues. This argument is based on the assumption that Mahinda will give a good fight to become a leading contesting figure at the forthcoming general elections.
But this trend of looking at individuals when designing positions could not be a healthy practice in theory, but when it comes to politics it could be the most practical endeavor. Because, at the end of the day, there could exist the best governance systems and structures in place but if it does not fit with the correct individual to man that position, the country would run into disaster. That is why we need good managers as individuals to suit well-structured Terms of References we have in the constitution.