Why Executive Presidency should NOT be abolished
Posted on March 10th, 2019

Sugath Samarrsinghe

This country has been on a quest to find a system of government since the State Council days, that will best suite the genius of the people, since the change in 1815. We came by the executive presidential system, whatever its original motives were, and it has been with us for the last 4 decades. The campaign to abolish this system seems to be reaching a culmination now. Usually our tendency is not to see the good side of anything that we have but  te to talk of its demerits. This exercise is therefore to look at the other side of the coin.

Newspapers reported recently that President Sirisena as well as The Prime Minister and the leader of opposition seem to have come to some agreement that Executive Presidency could be abolished. It looks like that all three of them seem to be so inclined owing to their personal agendas and not, thinking of the people. The fact is that all three of them have no sure prospect of becoming the next President. And they are scared at the prospect of Gothabhaya Rajapaksa may succeed, now that many academics, professionals and technocrats are rallying behind him, as a future prospect. I am reminded of mood of the people swelling around Lt. Gen. Denzil Kobbakaduwa before he was killed. The apprehension that Gothabhaya may succeed, in the manner he ended the war and headed effectively the UDA also may be behind this move. Thus, it is clear that this trio may not be having people’s interest at heart here.

Now what are the merits of the Presidential system for our country?

Firstly, unlike in the parliamentary system this is one office which is decided upon by the individual direct vote of every voter. To that extent it could be described as the most democratic choice where everyone had his /her say. To win here is not easy because the winning candidate needs the support and confidence all communities, to make it to the inning post. Of course the incumbent President can engage in many abuses to get re-elected. But we saw last time how all that could be in vain if people reject him.

The argument is that too much power concentrated on one person could be a menace, again as we saw last time. This could be minimizeded by setting up effective checks and balances and through accountability mechanisms as well as by making his actions justiciable, except during a state of emergency. After all, no system is perfect as lomg as human beings operate it.

What is the alternative to Executive Presidency that we are talking of? Obviously, it is empowering the legislative and executive powers in the Parliament, like in the Westminster system, they say. Let us take a hard look at that prospect. Let us examine our Parliament. It is not the British Parliament. Most people will agree that except for a very few, our Parliament is corrupt to the core. MPs selling themselves and crossing over is common. That from top to bottom they act irresponsibly. The list of instances is too long. The way they behaved in the impeachment of Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranaike stands out like a sore thumb. Their behavior in the recent ‘Constitutional’ crisis is still fresh in our memory. A large number of MPs are academically ill qualified to be in Parliament; one wonders whether they are able to read and understand a Bill presented in Parliament. The integrity of all of them is so low. Can any sensible people entrust the Legislative and Executive powers of a country to such a group of people?

The country saw how the integrity of the Parliament striking the lowest ebb during the organized Central Bank ‘robbery; where the involvement of Prime Minister, Finance Minister and even the government representatives in the COPE Committee was patently visible. The shameless way the Government Party tried in vain to cover up this fraud was there for all to see. They seemed to assume that people in this country are knaves and fools. Is it to such an assembly that we want to entrust the executive powers of the People?

In these circumstances, the Presidential commission of Inquiry into the Central Bank fraud was a silver lining in this dark cloud. Whatever Mr. Sirisens’s personal motives were, his action opened up an opportunity for the people to have a look at the way their wealth was defrauded. I think here lies the best argument for the continuation of the Executive Presidential system. It was because this arrangement was available that Peoples’ interest could be served. On the other hand, if both Legislative and Executive powers was lying in this corrupt parliament, it would have been a case of naduth Pansale, baduth Pansale in the reverse!

Thus, this is a case for the retention of the Presidential system in the Sri Lankan context. There is no guarantee that the integrity of Sri Lankan Parliament will be any better in the future either. In fact there is every possibility that it may become worse in time to come, judging by the people who are elected to Parliament.

It could be argued of course, what if both the President and the Government happens to be from the same political party. We saw what happened in the 2014 elections when that happened. It is the People who decide. No Party can take the People for granted just because it may enjoyed the majority.

The more serious problem that will be generated if the Presidential system is abolished at this stage is the situation created by the 13th Amendment. It provided for the appointment of the Provincial Governors to be left in the hands of the Executive President. It was thereby that the Unitary character of the Sri Lanka state was preserved, if not for which, this country would have been a federal state already. This was well illustrated when Chief Minister Vardharajah Perumal announced a unilateral declaration of Independence for the North-East. This measure could be swiftly nullified then because the President could exercise his Executive Power. If we abolish the Executive Presidency what could we do in a future such situation, for they say, history repeats itself. This country will automatically become a federal state even without the intended Constitutional reforms by the UNP.

As for the JVP who is the prime mover of this proposal as a Private Member’s Motion, their intentions could best be summarized as: The JVP has a history of bringing chaos out of order and not the other way around.” in the words of the ‘Island’ editor in one of his editorials the other day

Therefore my plea is not to throw away the baby with the bath.

3 Responses to “Why Executive Presidency should NOT be abolished”

  1. Dilrook Says:

    These arguments make no sense at all.

    Electing a single person island-wide doesn’t make it any more democratic than a parliamentary system. Racist mono-ethnic political parties (TNA, SLMC, ACMC, CWC) have become kingmakers thanks to EP.

    EP system only succeeds in countries with one official language.

    In these countries people are united by one official language. Ethnicity based separatism campaigns are very weak. Check it out. Therefore it doesn’t suit Sri Lanka.

    Nations without EP are far more stable and peaceful domestically and internationally.

    13A argument makes no sense at all. The EP can only dissolve a PC. But what if NPC or EPC was dissolved? Fresh elections must be held immediately in which TNA and SLMC will win far better than before. Then we are in a worse predicament. If EP was not there, anyone could petition the Supreme Court and punish separatists for the violation of 6A. This right is now blocked by the EP who influences the Supreme Court. Terrorists and traitors who support the EP as saved at all cost. Therefore, EP is a threat to territorial integrity. Don’t forget 13A is a result of EP! The whole parliament (except 1 MP) opposed Indo-Lanka Peace Accord. The EP locked families of all UNP MPs in hotels and got them to pass 13A.

    Since then EPs have promised 13 Plus and yet more devolution!

    Bond scam was stated. What is point of investigations and locking the stable door (still not done) after the horses have bolted? What was the EP doing? In fact, it was the EP who appointed all bond scam crooks and protected them until the robbery was complete and money taken out of the country.

    EP must be abolished ASAP without conditions.

    Keeping EP in the hope of GR becoming president is insane. What if GR is not elected? What if a traitor wins the EP? What happens after GR dies or completes his term as EP?

    The fate of the nation cannot rest in one person. If that person is bribed or cowed down with war crimes charges, the whole country collapses. In the absence of EP, executive powers go to the Cabinet (not to the PM).

  2. Randeniyage Says:

    Let me bring up the BEST ARGUMENT which is unarguably the best, but against EP.

    Great MR has approved EP is not required. He, who won the war knows it is not because of EP he won the war. Those who didn’t lead the war please shut up NOW.

    13th amendment MUST GO. It si not approved and will not be approved by MR. That is a different argument we can still argue about until MR agrees to it. Then all arguments about it shall stop.

  3. aloy Says:

    MR was thrown out by voters as he did not conduct affairs well. He seems to have not reformed. He therefore does not deserve another stint as the ruler. He had enough opportunities to remove the ill effects of 13A.
    As for EP those crying for abolishing are dollar Kakko to my mind. There is no other word to describe them unless they are non Sinhala people.

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