Executive Presidency Don’t burn fingers by striking while the iron is hot

9 May 2018 12:45 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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I allude to the recent article titled ‘Abolition of Executive Presidency has become viable’ published in the press by Mr. Jehan Perera focusing on an emerging prospect of abolishing the Executive Presidency. My immediate response would be to say, ‘Why throw the baby with the bath water?’. A pithy Sinhala saying is ‘Muhunath ekka thiyena tharahata aiy nahaya kapaganney?’ (Why cut one’s nose because of the anger with the face?) Any proposal to abolish the Executive Presidency at this moment of time can only be hatched in the womb of political expediency.   

Review merits and demerits in the present and future context
Mr. Perera has side-tracked the implications and the pros and cons of this critically important issue by casually stating that merits and demerits of the Executive Presidency have been discussed over the years, since its inception in 1978. It is unfortunate that one had to shift the focus to ‘striking when the iron is hot’ without reviewing the implications of this elusive issue in its current and future contexts. Why should we ‘burn our fingers’ by striking an iron just because it is hot? Isn’t it unprecedented in the history of Sri Lanka or for that matter world politics, that two arch rivals in the political arena formed a hybrid Govt.

to focus on ‘Country first’ by setting aside parochial political-power differences and self-interests? For decent citizens it was indeed a candid exhibition of political maturity and signalled the beginning of the much awaited ‘Paradigm shift’ in Sri Lanka’s Political Culture, leading to a ‘People’s Govt.’ Is it fair to throw this superlative political renunciation to the dust bin of history or nip this singular effort in the bud, within a span of 3 years?   

Who created the seeming chaos?
In our view, it is the cavalier- style, irresponsible, immature statements made by a coterie of our unprincipled, haughty and spineless politicians that have upset the ‘Apple cart’ more than anything else. It is regrettable that our mass media have exercised their liberty to blow such unpatriotic ‘small talk’ and statements out of proportion, merely to sensationalise and play to the ‘gallery’. Ironically and unfortunately it has created a rift between the main parties of the Hybrid Govt. Is it not a result of a power-seeking coterie of politicians breathing down the throats of the ruling Govt. under the pretext of following the model of Westminster Parliament democracy?   

Merits of Executive Presidency
In all my relevant submissions to the press, I have supported retention of Executive Presidency, provided that all dictatorial clauses (including judicial immunity) are removed. Of course, the unparalleled merit was that it directly helped to end the 30-year plague of terrorism. Now it has become a sine-qua-non for the Executive to build up a ‘Sri Lankan’ identity devoid of ethnicity, colour, caste and creed. Another important merit is, it can be effectively used to control the behaviour of Provincial Governance. Executive machinery makes decision making and problem solving quicker, to ensure rapid development of the country. This post can be used to discharge the functions of a ‘National Ombudsman’ quite effectively. The President’s Fund and the activities of the Presidential Secretariat surely are positive features. However, proper administrative checks and balances should be introduced to prevent abuses such as the ‘Sil Redi’ case and release of funds through the President’s Fund.   

Steps taken to remove demerits
The hybrid Govt. through the 19th amendment took a refreshing start by removing some of those abhorrent clauses such as the 18th amendment, power to dissolve Parliament after 01 year, unilateral power of the president to make appointments to key State Institutions and introducing a power-sharing and a consultative mechanism with the Prime Minister which compensates for the dilution of the President’s powers. If there is a sincere political will, umpteen ways can be found to remove barriers!   

Conclusion
As we know, abolition of the Executive Presidency requires a 2/3rds majority and a high-cost Referendum. Therefore, let us avoid such wasteful expenditure and remove the remaining bad teeth such as ‘Judicial immunity’ and other such clauses, if any, bordering on dictatorship through suitable amendments, and continue with the Executive Presidency in keeping with the emerging needs of the country without becoming victims and slaves of academic theory and practice. It is also necessary to make the Executive President serve purely as a ‘Statesman cum Caretaker’ of all the people irrespective of political hues, ethnicity and creed. For this purpose, the President should not be allowed to participate in party politics during his term of office.

In our view, the rivalry issue of Executive President vs Prime Minister or Parliament will not prevail if our politicians stick to the objectives of a democratic machinery and learn to place the country first, in their decision-making and behavioural processes. The issue of ‘Hung Parliament’ or ‘Unstable Govt.’ too will not arise if politicians raise up their hands to all policies and proposals that are beneficial to the country without opposing for the sake of opposing. Thus the need of the hour is a change of heart by all politicians to selflessly contribute to fine-tune and amend proposals or bills, with the sincere intention of doing their best for the greater good of the country.   

Bernard Fernando
Moratuwa

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