Expedient Politics Toy with Executive Presidency

18 March 2019 12:05 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}




JR, CBK, MR, MS and RW added new dimensions to it

  • All three present National leaders are ‘conspiring’ to scrap the Executive Presidency

  • The  nation is in dire straits with indecision, uncertainty, and insecurity looming due to lack of direction and drive


An ideal executive must be both stable as well as responsible to the people.’ 
- Ambedkar

When politicians do something to advance themselves politically, something that offers an easy way to attain a goal or result, but not necessarily an ethical solution, it is called expedient Politics.  We use expedient when we want to hint that a particular answer or policy has certain benefits serving to promote one’s interest and rewards but is not totally fair. Politicians, faced with a conclusion, will prefer the most expedient alternative.
Presidential system is a democratic system of government where the head of state leads an executive branch that is separate from the legislator. In most cases he/she is also the head of state. There are quite a few executive presidential systems in operation in the world. Out of the political systems, the presidential system is the most common and popular. This system has its origins in the American presidential system which created the office of ‘president’ as head of state by its 1787-Constitution.

No system is Ideal or Perfect as long as Politicians Operate it 

All three present National leaders are ‘conspiring’ to scrap the Executive Presidency. Each one of them has ‘valid reasons’ to agree upon the idea based purely on personal agenda. Maithripala Sirisena cannot even dream of contesting on his SLFP card which he knows has lost the sting as a national party which ended a distant third at February 10, in spite of several stalwarts who backed him then but since the electoral debacle switched to MR’s Pohottuwa. Constitutional restrictions have stood in the way of the most popular of the three, Percy Mahinda Rajapaksa - he cannot contest - best option for his party is the man in demand brother Gotabhaya. The people’s anxiety that Gota may achieve something, in the same way he faced Prabhakaran and his role as head of the UDA, enhances his chances. But, Gota, the man most likely to win is somewhat arrogant and unlikely to bow down to older brother’s whim and fancy: further, dreams of dynasty can change its course. MR prefers to abolish.
Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, obviously the reluctant contender who palmed the chance to an outsider for fear of losing in 2010 and again in 2015 will naturally prefer to skip this time as well. Apart from his party’s poor performance a year ago, its credibility has further deteriorated with exposition of corrupt activities of the cabinet ministers since the inception of yahapalana government.   

It was JR Jayewardene who conceptualized the Executive presidency, as far back as 1966, in delivering an address to the 22nd Annual Sessions of the Ceylon Association for the Social Sciences and Humanities Review onDecember 24.  It conceptualizes his vision in an emergent form. He observed that, “Our cabinet, is chosen from the legislature and throughout its life is dependent on its maintaining a majority therein; we have followed the British Constitution. In some countries, the Executive is chosen by the people and is not dependent on the legislature during the period of its existence.  The French Constitution is a combination of the British and the American systems. Such an Executive is a strong Executive, seated in power for a fixed number of years, not subject to the whims and fancies of an elected legislature; not afraid to take correct but unpopular decisions because of censure from its parliamentary party. This seems to me a very necessary requirement in a developing country faced with grave problems such as we are with today.” He emphasized the need to convert the Westminster parliamentary model of government to a Presidential one. He believed it was the best form of administration for a developing country like Sri Lanka. The president is made the head of the state, chief of the Executive, the head of the government and the commander in chief of the armed forces. 

 At the end of his second term in October 1988, JR was toying with the idea of using his 5/6 majority to bring in another amendment to do away with the two-term rule. He in fact used some of his confidantes to make public statements ‘demanding  him to consider their sincere request’. North and South burning in a huge inferno, the ruling party  and the aging leader himself increasingly becoming unpopular, the old fox after reading the pulse of the electorate concluded that defeat was inevitable. JR with his two trusted lieutenants, Lalith and Gamini, decided to field Premadasa in a ‘kill two birds with one…’ a formula, which misfired. His sudden decision to dissolve Parliament at the final hour to prevent Premadasa manipulating the two-thirds, was in response to unexpected swing in the electorate in favour of the man he disliked. 

The 1978 Constitution granted many powers and functions to the executive president which are vastly concentrated to the office in contrast to other two branches of the State. There is little check and balances to control President’s powers and functions. Executive president has been entrusted with overriding the executive, legislature and judiciary powers. Additionally more powers and functions had been granted through Constitutional amendments, with almost all the powers of Government, for JR to proudly boast that all he couldn’t do was to ‘turn a man into a woman’. Eliminating the 17th amendment and enactment of the 18A helped to considerably increase the powers and role of the executive presidency with the institution of Parliamentary Council and elimination of the term limit of a president. But 19A diluted these powers extensively
20th Amendment to the Constitution and Its sponsor, the JVP [Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna] is continuing with the effort although the likelihood of it being passed with two/thirds in the house are remote. In a surprise move the JVP met with former President MR over the issue and stated that discussions were “somewhat successful”.

The Amendment if passed would abolish the Executive Presidency and replace it with a ceremonial Presidency that we experienced before 1978. Executive functions would revert to the office of the Premier and Parliament, empowering a legislative that consist mostly of corrupt uneducated or sufficiently educated to ransack and loot the national treasures with impunity. 
JR continued his argument in favour of the phenomenon again while discussing the position JR at the Constituent Assembly in 1972, when he declared, 
 “An Executive President duly elected for a period will not be subject to the vagaries of political forces in the legislature”,JR at the Constituent Assembly in 1972. He continued backing-up  his contention  mentioning the case  where Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s democratically-elected government was forced out of power in 1964, due to pressure exerted on it by ‘outside elements’ acting through parliament and depriving  her of parliamentary majority. 
The  nation is in dire straits with indecision, uncertainty, and insecurity looming due to lack of direction and drive. The country has plunged into one of the most awful catastrophes in seven decades.
It was Ven. Maduluwave Sobitha Thera who said,  “Yes, I am ready to stand as a Single-Issue presidential candidate,… I will serve for six months only within which time I will abolish the Executive Presidency and institute a parliamentary system by constitutional methods.… The roots of bribery, corruption, nepotism and bad governance lie in Executive Presidency,”   

Three views on EP

 There are three divergent views on the Executive Presidency; some wants to continue it in its present form; they think proper implementation of growth strategies can be more competently apprehended under an executive President and meet threats to the sovereignty of nation. Another school professes total abolition, and a third sector who believes in a few more amendments to clip the wings of the office. 
The challengers of the executive presidency would argue that there is a concentration of state power in an individual at the expense of representative body, but even under the Westminster parliamentary system, PM as the head of the state becomes a virtual dictator with declaration of an emergency powers. The prospect of being held accountable will prevent the President from being disrespectful of the law of the land. Further there are provisions for the impeachment of President while in office. Maithripala Sirisena never spoke of abolishing the Executive Presidency altogether. Maithri’s manifesto says,

 “The new Constitutional structure would be essentially an Executive allied with the Parliament through the Cabinet instead of the present autocratic Executive Presidential System. Under it the President would be equal with all other citizen before the law. I guarantee that in the proposed Constitutional Amendment I will not touch any Constitutional Article that could be changed only with the approval at a Referendum. I also ensure that I will not undertake any amendment that is detrimental to the stability, security and sovereignty of the country. My Amendments will be only those that facilitate the stability, security and sovereignty of the country.”  
The reality has been that anybody elected to that all-powerful position having powers to do anything but change man into woman and vice versa will be averse or unable to renounce those powers.  

Writer can be contacted at  -  kksperera1@gmail.com

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