The clash between the Executive President and the Prime Minister is widening the gap between the country’s goals and achievements.
Many know that Maithripala Sirisena and Ranil Wickremesinghe never got along from day one despite the Yahapalana regime being established in 2015 with much hope for a bright future.
One of the very first things that the new government did under Sirisena was to bring in the 19th Amendment to the Constitution which in fact clipped the wings of the Executive to a certain extent. It also strengthened the powers of the Prime Minister and those of the Cabinet.
The stance Sirisena took underscored that he was leading the way to show that a powerful president was not the best thing a country like Sri Lanka needs. He supported the campaign to establish the 19th and for that he committed himself. But now Sirsena realises his folly because given the new set-up he is in a position where he can only reject what the Wickremesinghe led regime does and can hardly make proposals.
His ‘foe’ Wickremesinghe on the other hand now boasts of the fact that the regime is able achieve goals because the ‘government vehicle’ is now driven by a single party.
Wickremesinghe would wish to retain the 19th Amendment because it has given him both freedom to operate as the head of the Government and also hope to be the future president; if the UNP so decides to nominate him to run for presidency.
Wickremesinghe is on cloud nine thanks to the The 19th Amendment. The UNP Leader is pursuing with the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) which is now probing into the Easter Sunday carnage where over 250 lives were lost. Whatever said and done the present PSC, overall, except on one occasion, has conducted proceedings in a fair manner and questioned individuals brought before it without harassing them. This is a contrast from how the former Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayaka was summoned before the PSC during the Rajapaksa regime and treated harshly.
One must view the 19th Amendment positively because these amendments ensured democracy, established independent commissions and granted freedom to individuals and the media.
But those who pushed for reforms never made provisions for a problem that might crop up in case there is a clash between the Executive and Parliament.
Right now President Sirisena is hellbent on opposing anything that Wickremesinghe proposes. Very recently the Premier nominated certain names to fill in the voids left by the Muslim lawmakers who quit their posts. But the president put all of them on hold, possibly to annoy Wickremesinghe. The latest refit between the two is linked to the proposed Status of Force Agreement (SOFA) which involves dealing with the USA, in the future.
The 19th Amendment has highlighted Wickremesinghe as the main decision maker of the Cabinet. The Premier’s decisions have been viewed as unpatriotic, but economically sound ones by business experts. According to Wickremesinghe much of his decisions are linked to reducing the debt commitment of the country. And these decisions were backed by the majority in parliament with a debate followed by a vote.
Wickremesinghe should be grateful to the 19th Amendment for all that he is today. This amendment has made him the ‘king’ without the crown. The president detailed the rise of Wickremesinghe using words which bore Sirisena’s style of communicating. “A person with 6.2 million votes was driving when a person with a licence from Parliament got into the front seat and started to change gears. As a result the vehicle went off the road and crashed”.
Sirisena, who now criticises the 19th Amendment, was once a fan of it. The president says that it is a curse on the country and was drafted by a nincompoop. He went on to add that it was a NGO conspiracy.
The 19th Amendment has now become the bane of Sirisena’s life. This is largely, so because it has given us two ‘heads of state’; one that operates from the presidential secretariate and another who does so from Temple Trees.