President’s solemn pledge to abolish Executive Presidency - EDITORIAL

President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, speaking at the State funeral service for the Venerable Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera, made solemn pledges before the sacred remains of the widely respected prelate.

Watched by millions at the parliamentary grounds and live on television, the National Unity Government’s two leaders pledged they would sincerely do all they could to implement the policies and principles that the revered Sobitha hamuduruwo lived and died for. 

One such principle in Sobitha hamuduruwo’s vision and mission was the abolition of the all powerful executive presidential system which the farsighted prelate believed was the root cause of the political and socioeconomic crisis Sri Lanka had plunged in to during the past 40 years. The prelate had repeatedly said that when too much or absolute power was given to any leader, as we saw after the enforcement of the 18th Amendment, it would corrupt absolutely in body, mind and spirit. 

After Mr. Sirisena was elected as President on January 8 in what was widely seen as a silent and peaceful people’s revolution, Sobitha hamuduruwo spoke out and worked hard for immediate steps to abolish the Executive Presidency. But with the then UNP government having less than 50 seats in the 225 member Parliament, a compromise was worked out for the 19th Amendment whereby the powers of the Executive Presidency were significantly reduced. In the days before the vote on the 19th Amendment on April 19, Sobitha hamuduruwo led a massive demonstration outside parliament and said he would start a fast unto death if the amendment was not approved. He also warned that MP’s who voted against the Amendment would not be able to go back to their villages. Eventually after bargaining and compromises by the President, the Prime Minister and Sobitha hamuduruwo the Amendment was approved with 223 of the 225 members voting for it. 

It was an important step but Sobitha hamuduruwo firmly believed it was not enough. He wanted the Executive Presidential system abolished and full parliamentary democracy restored with a Constitutional Council appointing Independent Commissions to take vital decisions in important areas. The prelate believed this was a vital first step towards building a just society and a new Sri Lanka with good governance, accountability and transparency. 

On Thursday, President Sirisena pledged that to give the fullest honour to the memory of the prelate who laid the foundation for Mr. Sirisena to come to the highest office, he would do everything possible to abolish the Executive Presidency and restore parliamentary democracy. Government leaders have indicated that a draft for a new constitution was being worked out by leading lawyers and was likely to be finalized within months with the provisions for the abolition of the Executive Presidency taking effect after President Sirisena completes his term in 2020. Parties such as the Jathika Hela Urumaya, a key ally in the new government, have expressed concern over the total abolition of the Executive Presidential system. But now the President himself has given a sacred pledge at a sacred hour and the government needs to go ahead in the right spirit to rebuild a multi religious and multi ethnic Sri Lanka, where diversity and plurality are respected and celebrated.

Another important policy and principle that Sobitha hamuduruwo peacefully fought, lived and died for was a change in the electoral system, especially the preferential voting process which has led to much violence and wasteful expenditure amounting to millions. The prelate wanted the current electoral system abolished before the general elections on August 17. The new government promised it would be done within 100 days but several minority and minor parties expressed reservations. About a new system which was a blend of the first past-the-post and the proportional representation systems. Some of the reservations had some validity. But we hope that with the spirit of Sobitha hamuduruwo now coming alive in the national government leaders, a new electoral process would also be in place within months. 

Bringing to justice anyone including the high and the mighty found to be involved in frauds, corruption and large scale bribery was also part of Sobitha hamuduruwo’s dream for a just society. We hope that on these and other issues, the National government will act urgently and immediately to implement policies and principles promised during the election campaigns so that Sobitha hamuduruwo’s dream for a new Sri Lanka would be the song that we all sing. 

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