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What should come first; individuals or the nation?

16 April 2015 06:56 pm - 1     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Considering the good of some trees while missing the good of the wood

Thrust of political ambition and egoism cramps national interests 

The most talked about keywords within contemporary political circles are the Executive Presidency and the Premiership. Both these positions are the pinnacles of one’s political career but in the coming weeks their constitutional definitions would determine the destiny of a few politicians. 

Historians would explain that in the pre-1977 political scenario there was no dispute between these two positions.  But, the 1977 Jayawardene constitution created the all-powerful position of the Executive Presidency that was the hot topic over the past two decades. It was said that the only thing which an Executive President could not be able to do was to convert a man into a woman and vice-versa. But a simple incident last year added one more incompetency of the Executive President – he could not appoint a chief incumbent of a temple. 

Following the demise of Kiriwehera Mahanayaka Dr. Aluthwewa Soratha Thera, then President Rajapaksa tried his best to get a junior monk to be appointed to the post. But, the strong stand taken by the Malwatta MahanayakaThera thwarted his attempts and the Sangha Sabha decided to appoint the most senior student monk Kobawaka Dhamminna Thera as the new NayakaThera of Kiriwehera. The powers of the Executive Presidency ware challenged and defeated. 

Be as it may, one interesting feature between these two positions has been the emergence of individualism against  national necessities and interests. More than the interest of the country and its betterment, the factor of individualism has  found its way. The people or the leader would look at the individual who would immediately assume a certain position before making a final decision. A careful analysis of individuals and positions in the post-1977 political history in the country would provide some classic case studies to relate  this phenomenon. 

Some political analysts are of the view that one of the main reasons Jayawardene trimmed the powers of the prime minister in his infamous constitution was Premadasa, because the former did not want to provide powers to the latter- his deputy. Notwithstanding this fact, the shrewd Premadasa used every single opportunity that came his way and consequently was never seen as a dummy [in the administration]. He proved his power a cardinal example-the signing of the Indo-Lanka Peace Accord in 1987. Premadasa was out of the country when the accord was in the making, but the old fox JR breaking all protocol norms, visited Sucharitha within a few hours of Premadasa returning home and lobbied his support for the Indo-Lanka deal. Thus, Premier Premadasa performed and developed his career as a national leader, creating a situation where Jayawardene had no option but to appoint him as his successor.

Not entirely similar, but a parallel scenario developed when Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga had to nominate Mahinda Rajapaksa as her successor to the Presidency in 2004. Mahinda could not be compared with Premadasa but parallels could be drawn in both in the context developed around their selection as presidential candidates. 

After J R, every president was careful to appoint a neutral and harmless individual for the premiership, except in the final JVP-UPFA regime of Chandrika whom Mahinda was appointed the prime minister. In fact the JVP allegedly wanted former Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadiragamar appointed to the post but Mahinda’s campaign was powerful to defeat this request. Mahinda threatened to bring thousands into the streets if he was not assigned to the post.  As a result, a golden opportunity was missed in bringing a member of an ethnic minority to the second powerful post for the first time in the country’s history.

Premadasa opted for a neutral D. B. Wijetunga for the premier’s post in the backdrop of both the ambitious Gamini Dissanayaka and Lalith Athulathmudali competing for the post. The arrangement was to rotate the prime ministership among these three in the coming years: But it never materialised. Of course, Premadasa could not have foreseen  that D. B. would succeed him sequel to a tragic event. It was that Ranil assumed the figure of Prime Minister, when DB, following Constitutional provisions, took over the Presidency after the Premadasa assassination. The sharp and strategic moves of Ranil prevented a possible anarchical disaster in the country, when he manoeuvered critical events within a couple of hours after the tragedy. Ranil has proved that he was a better manager in crisis situations. 

Some 24 years ago, Ranil assumed the Premiership and in another two occasions that followed–he surpassed the traditional power framework of the Prime Minister and acted as an “Executive Prime Minister.” During the 2001 – 2004 period,  then President Chandrika allowed him to run the country according to his own agendas but conspired with the JVP (with the aid of Mangala’s strategic thinking) to pull the carpet under his feet to topple him after barely 30 months in office. 

However, after attempting twice to be the Executive President, Ranil seems to have settled down as the “Executive Prime Minister.” If the on-going talks to form a combined government following the upcoming general polls becomes a reality and Ranil becomes the Premier, it would result in a record-breaking fourth time as Prime Minister for him. 

But for his critics, more than the constitutional amendments for the country’s betterment, Ranil becoming the Executive Prime Minister is the issue. In the meantime, Mahinda doing his best to make his revival in politics is eyeing the upcoming position of “Executive Prime Minister” through the much talked about constitutional change. He would also be able to garner a considerable level of mass support at grass-root levels to divide the SLFP into two main fractions.Thus, an anti-Mahinda camp as well as an anti-Ranil camp would take every possible step to block the efforts to transfer executive powers vested in the Presidency to an Executive Premier. Both sides are looking at individuals, but not on national issues.  This hypothesis is based on the assumption that Mahinda will give a good fight to become a leading contesting figure at the forthcoming general elections. 

Theoretically, this trend of looking at individuals when designing positions cannot be a healthy practice, but when it comes to politics it could be the most practical endeavour. At the end of the day, the best governance system and its structure may be in place but if the correct individual is not selected to man that position, the country would run into disaster. That is why we need good managers as individuals to suit the well-structured terms of references in the Constitution. 

 

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  • Sellam Friday, 17 April 2015 09:14 PM

    In Sri Lanka it the individuals


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