Three reasons to remove the presidency
Posted on February 27th, 2018

By Eranda Ginige Courtesy Ceylon Today

It is funny how a vast majority of the Lankan citizens haven’t even read, let alone understood the Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. It is mindboggling how such ignorant people elect representatives every five years to govern, on behalf of them. It’s like watching a cricket match without knowing the rules of the game. You have no clue on what’s happening in the field, but sure gets a kick, out of watching the players hitting the ball and the ball hitting the wicket. All you really do is cheer and bet on the player that amuses you the most.

But if you do read the Constitution with reflection, you will realise (among many other important things), the presidency is nothing more than another institution created for governance purposes. It is not a person. The Sinhala word “Janadhipathi” is a gross misnomer as it suggests “Supreme Ruler of the People”. It is further worsened by the use the word “Executive” which is again mistranslated as “Vidhayaka” suggesting the “One who gives Orders”. So, the Executive Presidency is understood by the common man and woman as the “Supreme ruler of the people who gives Orders”. Awfully similar to the definition of a King or a Queen! No wonder the masses sing songs praising the Presidents, kiss their hands and bow down to their feet.

The President is not a ruler of anybody or anything. There are no rulers in a democracy excepting the, People. The person, who is holding the post of presidency at a given time, is merely another representative of the people, appointed to carry out specific functions. That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less. However, is there really a need for this institution now? Here are three reasons to remove it from the Constitution:

1. Presidency is unnecessary

We have had six executive Presidents so far (including the current failure), and it’s not like we are the most developed country in the world. The first four failed to prevent the war and then to end the war or do any visionary development in the country. Whatever work they did, it could’ve been done by them as Members of the Parliament.

The fifth President, Mahinda Rajapaksa did end the war in his Presidential capacity as the Chief of Defence. However, he and the current President both failed to resolve the root causes of the war which exist to date as it was evident from the recent local government election result. With all due respect, it was a collective effort under his leadership. It’s not like the President who will jump on a horse like in the ancient times, and stride to the battle front and take the enemy leader by his sword. If that was the case, then maybe there is a reason for that person to exist. Because it would save hundreds of thousands of innocent lives, billions of rupees, properties, and a generation of children disturbed by a war against terrorism.

But, the question should be, if there was no such thing as the presidency, and whatever the powers of the presidency were being with the Parliament, “couldn’t he have done it as the Prime Minister?” Because he couldn’t do it then, the credit should go to the institutional powers of the presidency rather than to the leadership of Rajapaksa himself.

2. Presidency is a risk
If the Presidency is needed to end a war, it is equally possible that it can start a war. In fact, the Constitution gives the power to this one person to “Declare war and peace” (33 (2) (g)) – a huge risk in a post-war nation infested with local and foreign evil elements constantly trying to inflame ethnic and religious tensions.

However, I think the biggest risk of having the presidency is that any Tom, Dick, or Harry could be elected to that powerful position. In a country of people who do not fully understand democracy, the rich and the powerful can manipulate the people and decide who gets to be the President. We have to admit that it is exactly what happened in the 2015 Presidential election.
The recent election results clearly show that Maithripala Sirisena was not a conscious choice of the people. 2015 was a moment of desperation and mass hysteria was fuelled by a few conspiring rich and powerful groups. It was a revenge vote against the Rajapaksas, rather than a well thought out vote to appoint the best person for the job. That’s a huge risk for democracy.

It is important to remember that as per the Constitution (94) a Presidential candidate must get more than 50% of the valid votes in order to be elected, and not just the majority. Therefore, the critical point of reference is not the gap between the top two candidates, rather the midpoint. There were 12,123,452 valid votes cast on the 8th January 2018. Therefore the critical midpoint is 6,061,726. The current President received 6,217,162 votes which is only 155,436 votes above that midpoint. That’s just 1% of the total eligible voters. In other words, the current presidency was decided by the notorious 1%.

Whether it maybe Maithripala Sirisena or Gotabaya Rajapaksa or R. Sampanthan or Chathura Senaratne, the fact that 1% can decide on the executive presidency is a serious risk to democracy.

3. Presidency is expensive
The executive presidency is the fantasy of the late J. R. Jayewardene. It is the definitive act in the Lankan history which ruined our democracy. It is a horrible mutation to our Democratic Socialist Republic and its values. It violates the fundamental principle of equality in democracy by making one person seemingly superior than the others. Almost a monarchy.

The role of the Presidency is written in the Constitution. Nevertheless, the President’s role is missing. Constitutional presidency is more or less another proxy to the legislature. There is no special function in presidency which cannot be delegated to the people’s representatives in Parliament. Every function of the President can be easily transferred to the members of the Parliament. Given that the Parliament is at least more democratic than just one person, we need to ask, “Is there any need for this institution of presidency?”

Do we really need to appoint another man or woman through an expensive election? Creating costly social, racial, and religious divisions in the process? Costing valuable person-hours in the public and private sectors?
Perfectly knowing, but naively believing that he or she will be our saviour? Is all that jazz and public spending worth electing somebody so basic and abortive like Maithripala Sirisena who will then go on to live a diabolically expensive lifestyle at the expense of the people?

Even after the resounding comeback victory, the Rajapaksa team is more worried about how to win the presidency in 2020 than using this opportunity to help the people. All party leaders and their henchmen are colluding to stay in power rather than actually listening to the people’s voice. People didn’t vote for Mahinda Rajapaksa because they all suddenly love him. Our people, as they always do, voted against the current regime, against their failure, against their corruption, against their policies, against the unbearable cost of living.

If any of these representatives on all sides truly care about the people, then they all should be working extra hard right now to relieve the people out of their misery.

That’s the need of the hour. People didn’t vote so that a bunch of oligarchs can play musical chairs. People are simply asking the failed representatives to step down with their failed policies and action plans. People are asking the capable representatives to take over and start delivering results immediately.

Many people ask me, and the topic of the town is “who should be the President in 2020?” Can we be any more enslaved than that? Yet again we are blindly praying for a miraculous one man or one woman to take us to the promise land. Well if we are talking about the presidency, then what we should be talking about is removing this unnecessary, risky and expensive presidency altogether before 2020.

3 Responses to “Three reasons to remove the presidency”

  1. Lorenzo Says:

    NO WAY!

    We need it. My3 is temporary. Don’t remove presidency just because My3 is not what you want.

  2. Fran Diaz Says:

    5-8 proven, savvy, educated and loyal PATRIOTS should govern the country ?

    PATRIOTS/NATIONALISTS should always govern small and vulnerable countries such as Lanka.
    They will continue friendship with all nations, but without colonisation.

  3. SA Kumar Says:

    MR & MS are PATRIOTS/NATIONALISTS not RW.

    We Mother Lankan know to whom to elected When & How and They know when to send home & bring back & send back !!!

    RW never had and will have chance expect back door temporary.

    Live & let’s live in United ( Orumiththa & Akka Rachchiya ) Sinhela Island !!!!

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