By Dayan Jayatilleka –
Colombo Telegraph has rightly given prominence to Dr Siri Gamage’s translation into English of JVP-NPP leader, or is it JVP & NPP leader, Anura Kumara Dissanayake, MP. Dr Gamage obviously translated it because he recognized it as a definitive statement of AKD’s vision and an authoritative statement of the perspective of the NPP which he heads.
Instead of sniping at AKD on some peripheral matter, one must assess the answer he has given to the most important question he was asked.
For purposes of convenient assimilation and critique. I have taken the liberty of breaking up the answer into separate sections, while leaving nothing out.
This is the question AKD was asked.
Q.3. Many people talk about the executive Presidency. If you become the President, what will you do? Will you change it?
This is the complete answer he gave.
“Since 1947 until 1977, our country was governed by a system centred on the parliament. Between 1977-2021, the system was centred on the executive President. If we look back, we can observe that the executive Presidential system has not been successful.
In the tribal societies, the leader controls everything including the formulation of laws, administering justice and meting out punishments. He holds legislative, executive and judicial powers. As civilisations grew, instead of a governance system centred on one person, a system based on collectivity emerged. This became the norm. Our country went back to the uncivilised (Ashista) world/era. Instead of the rule by various structures/institutions, the power was concentrated on one individual.
Take the examples like change of the Litro gas chairman, the decision to stop importing fertilizer, change of four secretaries in the Ministry of agriculture. The last secretary was an expert in the field. He could not stand the decisions made (by the Government). Some professors with expertise were removed.
It is the executive power that led to the problematic situation we face. Under this any (momentary) thought that comes to the mind of the executive President can be implemented without checks and balances.
In our country, leaders do not have a higher mindset suitable for the position. He can set free someone already punished by the courts. He can implement half judgement, delay, and stop. Release someone from the prisons. Why is such a power is given (to the President)? If a person is wrongly accused then he can intervene. Thus, the leader should have a mind suitable for the power he holds. Authoritarianism has been strengthened through the 20th amendment to the constitution.
Given all the difficulties we face, we think the executive President system is not suitable for us.
Therefore, it should be changed. We will bring necessary legislation to do so before the parliament. This is a decision of our collective movement –not my individual view. I am only one factor here. Ours is a collective effort. We have to take the power back to this collective. We can bring about a positive change that way. We have a group of people who are sincere, dedicated to the task of changing this society.”
If this were a tutorial or examination paper in Political Science, I would have given him the same ratings that S&P’s, Fitch and Moody’s give Sri Lanka under Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
AKD has the weirdest idea of the genesis of the Presidential system.
“In the tribal societies, the leader controls everything including the formulation of laws, administering justice and meting out punishments. He holds legislative, executive and judicial powers. As civilisations grew, instead of a governance system centred on one person, a system based on collectivity emerged. This became the norm. Our country went back to the uncivilised (Ashista) world/era. Instead of the rule by various structures/institutions, the power was concentrated on one individual.”
The first presidential system arose in the USA when the founding fathers had to decide on a system, have fought and won the American war of Independence against England; a war which was also known as the American revolution because it was waged against a monarchy.
Well acquainted with the English parliamentary system, the USA rejected in favour of a Presidency, with checks and balances.
This was followed in Latin America by Simon Bolivar, the great Liberator who having united much of the continent after waging war against the Spaniards, opted to follow the USA in choosing a system of government.
So much for the social and historical origins of the presidential system.
AKD also confuses the Presidential system as exists in Sri Lanka, with the presidential system as such.
He has a garbled reference to checks and balances: “It is the executive power that led to the problematic situation we face. Under this any (momentary) thought that comes to the mind of the executive President can be implemented without checks and balances. In our country, leaders do not have a higher mindset suitable for the position. He can set free someone already punished by the courts. He can implement half judgement, delay, and stop. Release someone from the prisons. Why is such a power is given (to the President)? If a person is wrongly accused then he can intervene. Thus the leader should have a mind suitable for the power he holds.”
What is he trying to say? If it is that checks and balances are necessary but absent in Sri Lanka, then why not advocate a Presidential system WITH the separation of powers which provides checks and balances as do the US and French presidential systems?
And what’s with the psychological judgements anyway?
Latin America and South East Asia have witnessed far more autocratic rule than has Sri Lanka so far – for instance that of Pinochet, Suharto and Park Chung Hee—but no Latin American or Far Eastern revolutionary, radical, leftist, progressive or democrat has advocated the abolition of the presidency, and many have run for and been elected President without regarding it as their duty to abolish the office!
AKD concludes that “Given all the difficulties we face, we think the executive President system is not suitable for us.” By “we” he obviously means the JVP and the NPP, separately or together.
So, “we think the executive President system is not suitable for us”—which means the executive presidential system as such; as a system; not the 1978 model or the post-20th amendment model.
He gives the most easily refutable reasoning and the skimpiest possible evidence for his conclusion: “If we look back, we can observe that the executive Presidential system has not been successful.”
To start with, what would have happened to the war, when the JVP pulled out of the coalition with Mahinda Rajapaksa while the war was on, IF SRI LANKA DID NOT HAVE THE EXECUTIVE PRESIDENTIAL SYSTEM? The resultant political instability would have enhanced the power of those parliamentary formations which officially regarded the LTTE as “the sole legitimate representatives of the Tamil people”. There would have been instability in the rear of the state and the armed forces, which would have helped the racist-fascistic enemy, Prabhakaran and his Tigers.
No political system can be evaluated in the abstract. It must be evaluated comparatively, and in the case of Ceylon/Sri Lanka, it has to be evaluated as against our experience with the parliamentary system. AKD’s blithe condemnation of the executive presidency is utterly unconvincing when we review the real history of this country.
Every single centrifugal, supremacist act that dragged this country from being ahead of the rest of South Asia to lagging behind it, took place under Ceylon’s/Sri Lanka’s Westminster model.
The disenfranchisement of the hill-country Tamils of Indian origins, the Sinhala Only policy, the takeover of private Catholic schools, the policy of district-wise and media-wise standardization of marks at university entrance, the Constitutional declaration of Sinhala as the sole official language, and conferral of primacy of place for Buddhism, took place under parliamentary democracy (and the nostalgically admired first-past-the-post electoral system).
Not a single such piece of discriminatory legislation was promulgated under the 1978 Constitution (and the system of proportional representation).
The 1958 anti-Tamil riots occurred; the JVP, the Tamil New Tigers (TNT) and its successor the LTTE were formed; separatism became mainstream Tamil politics (Vadukkodai resolution 1976); and armed insurgencies were born–all during the Parliamentary period of our post-Independence history.
To prevent arbitrary appointments by the President and to de-politicize public service appointments, which AKD keeps talking about in this answer, one simply has to return to the situation prior to the abolition of the independent Public Service Commission; opt for restoration of the pre-1972 PSC.
In the USA, the executive is checked not by commissions consisting of unaccountable NGO members, but by legislative oversight in the form of strong Congressional committees. In Sri Lanka, that would forestall any backlash.
Attributing all contemporary ills to the 1978 Constitution, and in AKD’s considered opinion, the executive Presidential system, while upholding the parliamentary model, is palpably dishonest and hypocritical.
nimal fernando / January 28, 2022
“Why AKD Is Majorly Wrong & Is The Wrong Guy To Lead—And Sajith Would Be Too If He Gave The Same Dumb Answer”
AKD won’t give me an ambassadorship …….. Sajith would.
It would be dumb for me to hook-up with AKD.
A honest answer by a non-Buddhist ………. following Buddha’s teachings to the letter ……………
chiv / January 28, 2022
DJ, what exactly is your point?? When I read the answers my first impression was to wonder what if these questions were addressed to the rest including GR, MR, RW, SP, Pissu Sira , many of whom were already in the position and wanted more of unlimited power. Your purpose of this article is 1) as usual trying to show off 2) take a class on political science 3) discuss about democrazy, socialism which were never there but a SHAM in Silly Lanka.4) discussing about US presidency witch has no resemblance to the SHAM we have in sorry Lanka.5) do you have any idea about the work challenges those founding fathers faced in writing the constitution and for the same reason respected and appreciated by the public even today. So much so it,s mandatory for every citizen to be aware of it .Where as Lankan presidency was tailor made by people of your ilk , to suite the whims of power hungry maniac
old codger / January 29, 2022
“Latin America and South East Asia have witnessed far more autocratic rule than has Sri Lanka so far – for instance that of Pinochet, Suharto and Park Chung Hee—..”
Well, why is Cuba omitted? As far as I know, there were no Indonesian or Korean refugees, but certainly lots of Cuban ones.
“but no Latin American or Far Eastern revolutionary, radical, leftist, progressive or democrat has advocated the abolition of the presidency, and many have run for and been elected President without regarding it as their duty to abolish the office!”
How would Dr.DJ describe the leftist, radical, progressive Royal Family in North Korea?
I do hope that Dr.DJ is not trying to make a “Great Leader”, N.Korean style, out of Sajith. Will we have to listen to his boring speeches all day?
old codger / January 29, 2022
The executive presidency would be OK if at least 80% of the electors were intelligent. But they aren’t. So they will elect a disaster like Nandasena, because he’s like them.
The solution is to have an IQ test for voters. Give multiple votes to those with higher IQ.
Which guy would you vote for:
1. The one with a moustache
2. The one who promises freebies
3. The one in a yellow robe
4. The one who promises to raise
6. The one in a red shirt.
7. The one who promises more
rupees for your dollars
Simon / January 28, 2022
Two persons speak of the “Presidential System”: (1) Anura Kumara Dissanayake looks at the “Experiences” this country had and continues to have. (2) Dr. DJ speaks of the “Genesis” of the Presidential System and that is in saying: ” AKD has the weirdest idea of the “GENESIS” of the Presidential system”.
Dr. DJ is without a doubt is “Knowledgeable”. To me “Knowledge” is “Borrowed” information from books, journals, lectures by others, and simply “Learned” from others. Having “Burrowed”, they teach others the same with a little twist here and there.
Conversely, AKD (who specifically says in the answer above “Not my idea but that of NPP) speaks with “Experiences” of the Presidential system.
In my opinion, if everyone says: “I will not go on conveying “Borrowed” knowledge, but I will say only that I have “Experienced”, immediately, ninety-nine percent of the rubbish (scholars, pandits, priests, political leaders) will simply disappear from the world. The trouble is “They” (the rubbish) don’t want to disappear because they have “Invested” so much to “Borrow” that knowledge, If you tell them your “Knowledge” is borrowed, that makes them very angry, Isn’t it Dr. DJ.
Ajith / January 28, 2022
What Dayan Jeyatillaka says is that it is the Presidential system (Rajapaksa) that defeated LTTE (massacre of over 50000 innocent Tamils and it is the Presidential system (Premadasa) that defeated JVP (massacre of over 60000 Sinhalese)?
ramona therese fernando / January 28, 2022
DJ. The more you quote AKD, the more profound he is – Very rational and clear thinking individual to lead the Motherland! He does not advocate himself as a dictatorial president but convinces the Lankan voters that the executive presidency is ruining the country.
US presidents also have some percentage executive powers…..the main being command of the armed forces. That’s all we need for the Lankan presidency. Control of all else has to go before parliamentary approval without the military pointing guns at their heads, or the threat of losing monetary privileges.
Eratne / January 29, 2022
I am not against the JVP (NPP) or AKD, but my worry is this power struggle between SJB, UNP, SLFP and JVP will create the path for Rs. GR recently said something like “if we are not good, don’t give it to the other two”. Indirectly says, give it to JVP, and he knows what the result would be. Need at the moment is all Anti-Rs to join up. JVP blames all parties and say under different leaders they ruined the country, while trying to hide the huge damage done by just One Leader of theirs. I too can boast about myself as a Great Leader (Considering my past actions) as far as I don’t rule the country.
GATAM / January 29, 2022
Since all powerful executive presidency was created (only Sinhalas can ever be executive president) minorities suffered immensely. Minority parties cannot retain their policies because they are forced to side with one Sinhala candidate for presidency verses another. Otherwise minority politics become irrelevant.
Too much power in the hands of one person and without fail only despots win presidential elections.
siri / January 29, 2022
I think the Sri Lankan experience with the executive presidential system for over 40 years give us ample evidence and examples about the weaknesses and strengths without having to compare it with the US or French system. By using the tribal example, what he is trying to say is the enormous and over concentration of de facto power in tne hands of the executive president. He and the NPP propbably prefers a parliamentary system of democracy. We need to find out related views expressed by otehr JVP-NPP spokes people plus the policy platform to gain a better idea. One interview with 10 questions does not provide the necessary space for any leader to give a comprehensive reponse. The problem with EP system as practiced in Lanka is that once elected, the executive president is not answerable to anyone other than himself. We have to question such a system for a society like Sri Lanka in the 21st century. At least a Prime Minister under the Westminister system is answerable to the Parliament and the cabinet. The way the EP system is operating in lanka is close to a monarchical system complete with patron-client relations system to offer rewards for those who toe the line and punishments to those who deviate.
Good Sense / January 29, 2022
I am not a clairvoyant. However, the recent pronouncement of the author indicates that he does hold a brief for SRP (Sajith Premadasa). One is not that unreasonable to presume that SRP’s ambition is to take the position once his late father adorned, with all the pomp and pageantry, (receiving foreign dignitaries while seated in a throne etc.) but certainly not devoid of power that went with it. It is a fact that opinion is built by many that AKD & Co be given a “chance”. With that if the so called “executive presidency” (“executioneering presidency” as well) is done away with, being a severe blow to the daydreams of the author’s master, SRP. The author does argue well as to why at times a leader with appropriate decision-making powers must exist though it supports SRP dreams. The Narendra Modi, the undisputed political leader of India, must get the approval of the Rashtrapathiji of India for his decisions, apparently symbolic, but the questions of clarifications that is raised before granting the approval is a good check and balance, which is necessary, but nobody appreciates. Now! “I thought! I did! Country Kaput! So what?”
whywhy / January 30, 2022
I find A K D failing to reconfirm or stress his point / answer to question No : 3 in his
answer to question No: 4 . He guarantees doing away with Executive Power if he
wins Presidency in No:3 and No: 4 outlines what he will do as the president to uplift
the country from prevailing situation whatsoever ! So , the question that arises is ,
when is he planning to do away with the Executive Presidency ?
whywhy / January 30, 2022
Notably I notice two things that J V P does not take much time to express in greater
1 . Socialism 2. Open Market Economy . What is their most favoured choice ?
shankar / January 30, 2022
AKD is right.The presidential system of government should be replaced by a collective responsibilty system of government like in switzerland,where even the PM is hardly known in the world,but the country is the most competitive in the world.If we bring in their system of government we will become a switzerland of asia and all our ethnic problems between sinhalese,tamil and muslims will also vanish just like in switzerland where people with german,italian and french ancestry live harmoniously with each other.The country is veery prosperous too.It is the only country in the world which had a referendum asking whether to continue migration or not.he answer from the people was yes.The government always consults the people for important decisions. With a resounding yes,anybody who tries to create anti immigrant trouble will have to shut up now and is a dead issue