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Scrapping the Executive Presidency; Hypocrisy to the Core

20 Feb 2024 - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}      

Media reports state that the government is considering the abolition of the Executive Presidency instead of holding the next Presidential election which is constitutionally scheduled to be conducted later this year - between September 18 and October 18. 
One website quoted former President Maithripala Sirisena as stating that President Ranil Wickremesinghe has tasked a group of lawyers with looking into the abolition of the Executive Presidency. According to the report, the former President, speaking at an event in Wennappuwa on February 11th had said that the group of lawyers is led in this move by former Speaker and the head of the National Movement for a Just Society, Karu Jayasuriya.
However, the Presidential Secretariat recently issued a statement claiming that the Presidential election would be held according to the law. Though the statement came following the claim made by the former President, it did not specifically deny it. Nevertheless, the President had told a group of MPs, according to media reports that there would be no abolition of the Executive Presidency at this time. 

Given the recent turn of events, nobody can give any assurance on anything about politics in Sri Lanka. The law seems to be full of loopholes. President Wickremesinghe told Parliament on February 23 last year that the local government elections had not been legally announced even after his party, the United National Party (UNP) had tendered nominations for the same.  Despite the Supreme Court having ordered the Finance Ministry Secretary not to withhold funds allocated for the local government elections, the Ministry did not issue funds for that purpose. Hence, both the possibilities of holding of the Presidential election as well as taking measures to abolish the Executive Presidency cannot be ruled out.
The history of attempts to do away with the Executive Presidency has sufficiently proved the hypocrisy of almost all political parties that were in power. Anyway, the idea has been very popular since the Executive Presidency was introduced in October 1977, through the Second Amendment to the First Republican Constitution of 1972. The first regime change in 1994 after it was brought in was a success mainly due to the promise by Chandrika Kumaratunga to abolish it, and she had interestingly fixed a deadline as well – July 15, 1995 – even without her party, the People’s Alliance (PA) having the required two thirds majority in Parliament. 
The UNP, on the completion of two years after that deadline – on July 15, 1997 – launched a massive demonstration in Colombo demanding that Kumaratunga’s promise be kept. But the government set the police and the goons against the demonstrators and even against the media. 
The scrapping of the Executive Presidency was the primary pledge by the PA’s next Presidential candidate, Mahinda Rajapaksa as well in 2005, and he too had the convenient excuse of lack of specified majority in Parliament not to keep his promise. The irony played its utmost after the next Presidential and Parliamentary elections in 2010, where Mahinda Rajapaksa obtained the much awaited two thirds majority but he used it to strengthen the Executive Presidency through the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, instead of doing away with it.
Next in line were Maithripala Sirisena and Ranil Wickremesinghe who rode mainly on ridding the Presidential mode of governance and the eradication of corruption at the 2015 Presidential election. However, they were facilitated by a legal point later that a referendum is needed to keep the first promise, and therefore they accordingly reformed the Executive Presidency with the 19th Amendment. This legal point was again reiterated by the Supreme Court when the SJB presented the 21st Amendment to scrap the Executive Presidency in 2022. 

Then why should one ignore this legal point before batting around scrapping the current mode of governance now? If the authorities say “yes” to a referendum, they have to justify the rationale and morality of spending Rs.10 billion for it at a time when there is a dearth of lifesaving medicines in government hospitals. Hence, although the government might seem to make an attempt to abolish the Executive Presidency, it would be nothing but creating confusion among the masses to postpone for the moment the Presidential election which seems to be highly unfavourable to the two parties in the government.