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Sri Lankan society for abolition of executive presidency

by Karu Jayasuriya

The unceasing call from all sectors of Sri Lankan society appears to be for the abolishing of the executive presidency. Having lived through and experienced first hands the pitfalls and dangers of this system for more than 30 years, Sri Lankans have reached the unanimous conclusion that the executive presidency is not only a serious threat to the principles of democracy upon which this republic was founded, but also a plague on society at large.

This country has watched politician after politician ascending this seat of power promising to abolish it. But once they have savoured the power it affords they have clung to the presidency, in many cases morphing into tin-pot dictators with no further ambition than ruling supreme for as long as possible. The office of the executive president of Sri Lanka holds immense power, not afforded to any other leader in the world. Once believed to be the change this country badly needed, the Presidency has become the greatest threat to democracy and development in Sri Lanka.

Having suffered through this system many times before, Sri Lanka is once more living the nightmarish reality of an all powerful president. The executive presidency has rendered parliament, the highest democratic institution in the land, redundant. Laws are now being made and imagined at will, there is state of terror that pervades all aspects of life in Sri Lanka, despite the defeat of the LTTE that belies the government’s promise of waging war for the sake of peace. The intimidation of the press, the harassment of political detractors and the impunity with which the regime conducts itself can all be traced directly to the tragic flaws of our presidential system which affords absolute power.

The executive has moved to decimate the Opposition; at every turn elected representatives have been intimidated, cajoled and bribed into supporting the incumbent, creating fissures within virtually every active political party within Sri Lanka’s parliament. Even the President’s own cabinet of ministers has been reduced to mere figureheads, with no voice and no power to effect executive decisions. That is not to say that everyone other than the President is powerless. Instead, all state power is vested in those individuals in the inner circle, including the President’s advisors and personal staff. It is these persons, who hold no elected office and have no claim to legitimacy, that hold the reins of governance in Sri Lanka today. There is no doubt that sometimes the presidential staff and advisors wield more power in the corridors of governance than the Ministers of this country.

The President’s Men, those unaccountable to parliament or the people of this nation will reign today, paving the way for a next set of henchmen once the Presidency changes hands. This is how it has been and this is how it will be unless and until Sri Lankans band together and demand that this blatantly corrupt and ruthless system is changed and replaced with one that ensures that the Head of State is always responsible to and answerable to parliament.

It is admirable that in the face of such horrendous intimidation of political opponents by the executive, the JVP has decided to campaign tirelessly for the abolishing of the presidency. It is well that the party has taken up this call to remind President Mahinda Rajapaksa about the promise upon which he was elected president. The UNP also wishes to remind President Mahinda Rajapaksa about Page 84 of his election Manifesto under the chapter ‘Constitutional amendments’ which states clearly that the executive presidency would be abolished during his tenure.

With proof such as this laid bare, it is unthinkable that the government is now claiming that there is no mandate for the abolishing of the presidency. If this is the way in which this president chooses to honour the sacred covenants he has made with the people who voted him into office, there is no doubt that the voters would never be able to trust him again. This answer fashioned by this government proves once more what Sri Lankans have long since come to expect from their leaders – that absolute power corrupts absolutely.

It is in this context that we decided to call for a mandate to remove presidential immunity; to establish Constitutional Councils and Independent Commissions; establish rule of law and transparent governance within 60 days and abolish the Executive Presidency within 180 days; for the citizens of Sri Lanka to enjoy the fruits of democracy.

Karu Jayasuriya
Deputy Leader
United National Party

6 Comments

If it were not for the Executive Presidency and the Total COmmand of the tri forces the LTTE would have been dancing around the graves of many Politikkas

Posted by: aj | November 2, 2009 02:02 AM

There SHOULD be an EXECUTIVE PRESIDENT. But that executive preisdent has to be made answerable to the Parliament (Legislature) , The Judicary (Supreme Court) and the constitution should restrict his/her powers. That is ALL that is required.

Without the Presidential System as it is NOW we could have NEVER defeated the the LTTE and separatism.

So called devolution of power will NOT work without the Presidential system.

Sure, there has to be some fine tuning of the powers. But the president has to be there to ensure the policy leadership and defend the constitution much like a grand project manager executive that is ALL.

Not like as it is today.

For example: When the prime minister and the president are from opposing parties the whole thing is a mess. These type of things has to be clearly defined.

THe BIGGEST PROBLEM TODAY as I see it is the PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION ELECTORAL SYSTEM.

The UNACCOUNTABILITY OF POLITICIANS START RIGHT THERE.
THis has to be changed for the country to have any semblance of DEMOCRACY.

WHAT WE HAVE NOW IS ELECTION AUCTION.

WHERE DO THE PEOPLE GO TO SPEAK ABOUT THEIR CONCERNS ?
NO ONE NO ONE REPRESENTS ANY ONE ?

Except the minority ethnic MPs.

There ahs to be an ELECTORAL AREA most likely the AGA/DS area and an MP elected from that area. Best method is Preferential System of Voting like the presidential election method.

This is what is really required NOT ABOLISHING executive presidency.....

If you abolish executive presidency without changing the electoral system YOU WILL HAVE A GOVERNMENT EVERY 2-3 months. THe country will become ungovernable...There will be ABSOLUTE CHAOS.

Posted by: Sinhala_Voice | November 2, 2009 02:18 AM

I suppose this would not mean totally doing away with the Presidency. Only the powers should be pruned down and shared with Parliment. This would mean full implementation of the 17th amendment as well as 13A.
The President should be held accountable for his actions and legal immunity withdrawn. President should not be able to hold ministerial portfolios.Tenure of office should be limited to only one term to prevent people from getting intoxicated with power.Further the Presidents fund should be open to audit by AG.

Posted by: SriLankan | November 2, 2009 03:25 AM

Why did you join him and enjoy all the priviledges ? It is YOU that we cannot trust to lead the UNP !

Is this a case of sour grapes ?

Inane statements such as this is all you can do ? God help all of us long term UNP supporters !

Posted by: Ravana | November 3, 2009 12:29 AM

There may be a few honest,patriotic members in Parliament who want to do the right thing for the Country and the Society. Majority , however are selfish, money hungry opportunists and even outright thugs who are there to enrich themselves.Any Government in power has to depend on this "majority" to stay in power.There fore it is a on going process of horse trading with crooks rather than focus on developing the Nation for the benefit of its citizens.

Under the Executive Presidency, genuine leaders can overcome these limitations of Parliament to help the Nation as vividly illustrated by the defeat of Terrorism, which plagued the Country for thirty years.

Karu Jayasuriya helped the current president to achieve this mammoth task by abandoning his "leader" for which we are thankful.However,due to selfish ambitions of leadership has clouded his thinking and has now gone back to join his serial loser leader,probably with the hope that the UNP leadership will fall on his lap.

Srilankans who have been waiting for thirty years for a "terrorist bomb" free society will not buy into this crap about the abolition of the Presidency.I am not sure the few English media outlets, pro Tiger groups. NGOs and Christian church lobbies are the "many" sectors of the Society that he is referring to for his reason to write this article.

Posted by: Baldwin | November 3, 2009 07:08 PM

I still remember the day when Philip Goonawardena et al were shouting from the roof top that the proposed constitution would lead to dictatorship and anarchy. Very few listened. Now we are paying for it dearly. Most of the Sri Lankans, especially those in political arena, seem to have brains only good for after-thoughts and regrets.

The political field of Sri Lanka has been converted into a mine-field of money making and thuggery by this constitutional provision of proportional representation and preferential vote system. No sane and service oriented person would even dare to come to the fore, contest and win. He should be loaded with illegal money, surrounded by thugs and murderers armed to the teeth to even venture into this game. Given this background, will there ever be a sane administration under this constitution? Very unlikely!

Politicians who are making a lot of noise about this situation asking people to support them always seem to have another agenda. CBK promised abolition of the Executive presidency. So did MR. What happened? What is the guarantee that RW will do away with it? I doubt it very much. Even if Lord Budhdha contests on such platform and win, he will have second thoughts. What then is the alternative. Politically very few exist.

Right now people in the rural area who form the majority are feeding on systematically dispersed 'war euphoria' which is obviously beginning to thin because of the economic down-turn and the escalating corruption in the government. So the presidential election is held before schedule, before it gets any worse in order to harvest the available benefits of the war victory. They are more likely to get away with it.

As for the UNP, they are missing a few vital tricks. There are some personalities like SB in the UNP who imagine that they could become the Presidents and act on a different agenda delivering crippling blows at crucial times to the UNP. Inability of the leader to put them in their places is the main set-back.

The contemplated choice of a common candidate is ridiculous and ousts the majority of the Tamil voters from reckoning. Even if he would not do away with the Executive Presidency, I still feel RW is the most suitable candidate under the circumstances.

Posted by: Kingsley | November 5, 2009 09:54 PM

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