The call for several decades has been the abolition of the executive presidency. It’s as if the one and only problem this country has had is this office, its powers, functions and those who hold it. An all-powerful presidency that makes a mockery of the division of power among the executive, legislative and judicial arms of the state is certainly a problem. A serious problem, in fact. It needs to be addressed and dealt with. No argument there.
The problem with abolishing the executive presidency is that some who advocate it do not recognize the safeguards embedded in the relevant piece of legislation in the event a provincial council decides to move for separation. Indeed, even the ‘inseparability’ that the likes of M.A. Sumanthiran of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) wants to script into a new constitution (pernicious because it’s all just words as far as he is concerned and as he has admitted) is dubious, simply because it is attended by plans to dump the executive presidency.
Checks and balances are called for. That’s clear. The 19th Amendment was an exercise in constitutional tinkering driven by parochial political interests and not democratization. It pruned certain powers but if you had a president whose party enjoyed a parliamentary majority, that pruning would quickly be irrelevant.
Clearly those who came up with the idea of an executive president assumed that this would always be the case. We saw, however, in 2001 and in 2018 (after the UNP-SLFP marriage came to an end) that it is possible for the President to belong to a political party that does not enjoy a parliamentary majority. We know how the situation was resolved in the first instance and the signs are that we are likely to see that history repeated.
While we wait on all that, there’s the vexed issue of the provincial councils (PCs) or rather the blatantly anti-democratic behaviour of this government with respect to the repeated delaying of elections. This government used delimitation as a red herring. This government ‘reformed’ the proportional representation system, ensuring that its ‘trial run’ in the local government election would be such a farce that the original formula would be made to look good. That’s bad. This is bad. Something else is called for. But they are not doing anything about putting this ‘something else’ in place.
It just boils down to one thing. FEAR. This government is terrified of going before the people. The United National Party (UNP), to be fair, did want a Presidential Election, but that’s not about democracy or being brave. It’s about the belief that the configuration of forces in an exercise to elect a single individual (as opposed to a party/coalition and 225 MPs) would offer a less terrifying prospect.
It’s logical of course. With President Maithripala Sirisena’s political antics towards the end of 2018, the ‘other camp’ if you will does appear unsure. Duminda Dissanayake, who had been virtually sidelined, surfaced from nowhere to nominate Sirisena as the presidential candidate of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP). It’s no secret where his political future lies (hint: think ‘far away from the SLFP’). Basil Rajapaksastated that the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) would field its own candidate, effectively dismissing the notion of the party supporting a re-election bid by Sirisena.
The problem with abolishing the executive presidency is that some who advocate it do not recognize the safeguards embedded in the relevant piece of legislation in the event a provincial council decides to move for separation
The headaches of politicians and parties should, if at all, thrill the citizens. Let them stew, as they say. The bigger issue and indeed the issue that is not being talked about by politicians looking to a general and presidential election is the PC election. Why not?
Is it, as mentioned, a simple matter of focusing on a bigger prize? For argument’s sake, let’s assume this is the case. However, if it is the case it means that these politicians are not serious about the most basic element of democracy, namely elections!
The Rajapaksa camp has pointed out that elections were not postponed between 2005 and 2015. Correct. They didn’t need to, considering the high level of popularity they enjoyed following the defeat of terrorism. However, what would have happened if they did postpone elections — let’s say the Uva Provincial Council elections? You can rest assured that the State Department in Washington DC would fire off a missive. So too, the British foreign office. There would have been grave statements from the EU and from the UN.
Diplomats, UN personnel and those in INGOs would have conferred. Some would have called on the Foreign Minister or even the President. Dire warnings would have been issued. They would have, along with pals in the NGO advocacy cartel met with the Leader of the Opposition. Plans would be drawn, statements would be issued.
Well! We are not hearing anything from these worthies regarding the PC elections. Nothing even from the born again democrats, funded voices and candlelight ladies. They are focusing on President Sirisena these days, calling for his resignation. Why? Well, he belittled their darling little leader, that’s why!
So what of the PCs? No one wants them. No one wants the PCs and therefore no one is interested in elections. So it’s not necessarily a problem of the diplomats, people in advocacy NGO and the aforementioned innocents. Simply, they have become an anachronism. Wait, that can’t be right. It implies that PCs did belong at some point in time. They did not.
What we had was a misdiagnosis. That was deliberate. Following misdiagnosis, medicine was prescribed. It hasn’t worked but then again, perhaps that was also counted on, for now the ‘doctors’ can prescribe a larger dose — not PCs under the 13th Amendment but a federal-in-all-but-name arrangement (for now).
This country is not a circus but we have clowns as law-makers. Nothing exemplifies this than this PC business. It’s got to go and replaced with effective decentralization and implementation of the relevant language laws.
As for the executive presidency, we can talk about in conjunction if repealing the 13th and NOT, as advocated, upping the ante in terms of power-devolution.