The issue of abolition of executive Presidential mode of governance has become a laughing stock since lately, especially following the latest efforts by the ruling United National Party (UNP) and President Maithripala Sirisena to materialize it.
A funny and childish like debate is going on between the President and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe over a special Cabinet meeting that was hurriedly convened on last Thursday to discuss the scrapping of the executive Presidency. Interestingly the meeting was convened a day after the National Elections Commission (NEC) announced the dates for the next Presidential election and entertainment of nominations for it.
The Cabinet which met to go ahead with the idea to abolish the executive Presidential system after a heated debate had decided not to take up this matter for the moment. It was said that the majority of ministers had opposed the move, especially on the grounds of ethical aspect, in the run up to a Presidential election.
Now the bone of contention was who initiated this special Cabinet meeting, with both the leaders disowning the credit or discredit for convening of the meeting and accusing each other for it. Both the leaders have given even timelines leading up to the meeting, in order to prove their point. What they had failed to apprehend was that people can understand that both of them had agreed to discuss the matter at a time when a Presidential election has been announced, despite who initiated the special Cabinet meeting.
The two leaders were attempting to scrap the Presidential system for the past several weeks particularly after their hopes to contest the election were dashed for different reasons. President Sirisena tried his best to enter into an agreement with the SLPP under which he would be the latter’s Presidential candidate. However, the SLPP, ignoring the discussions it had been holding with the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) led by President Sirisena on forming an alliance to face the forthcoming Presidential and Parliamentary elections, announced former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa as its candidate on August 11. This dashed all President’s hopes.
On the other hand, Deputy Leader of the United National Party (UNP) Sajith Premadasa who unsuccessfully attempted to be the party’s candidate at the last Presidential election seems to have succeeded this time in winning over the majority of party leaders and grass-root level party supporters. Hence, the UNP leader who is not prepared to accept his deputy as the party’s candidate now seems to dodge the race.
The two leaders of the government who are now in the same boat in respect of the Presidential fray are looking for avenues to save their faces and found that abolishing the presidential system was the best way. Therefore they had met early this month and came to an agreement to take action forthwith to scrap the system. However, as the Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa’s response to the move was negative they could not go ahead with the idea.
Then the idea came up again with a new contender to the fray – Speaker Karu Jayasuriya who had expressed his intention to enter the race and to scrap the executive Presidency, but only to backpedal almost immediately. For the third time the idea came up at the last week’s special Cabinet meeting.
The President and the Prime Minister, in order to justify their willingness and efforts to abolish the executive Presidency always point out that they were committed to do so since 2014, in the run up to the last Presidential election. But the question remains as to why they failed to do so for the last four years, especially during the first few months after they came to power in 2015. They were not so interested to do so which was the main promise they had given at the last Presidential election when the JVP presented the 20th Amendment to the Constitution as a private member’s Bill in May last year.
The possibility to abolish the executive Presidency hinges around two main issues, namely the support of the main Opposition, the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna led by former President and the people’s approval of the matter at a referendum which is a must in the process, as the Supreme Court has ruled in 2015. Can the President and the Premier turn these two issues in their favour? If so, why did they wait until the eleventh hour? Constitutional issues cannot and should not be decided in the
interest of individuals and political parties.