Abolish the presidential system of government: Friday Forum. Why? Is it the mother of all evils? – II
Posted on May 15th, 2019

By Rohana R. Wasala

(Please bear with me, Readers. In the following sentence from Part I: Most of the observations these reputed intellectuals make through this statement about the failures of governance that facilitated the recent attacks on some mosques and hotels (in Negambo, Colombo and Baticaloa) are generally correct;….”, the word ‘mosques’ is a slip of the pen. The word I intended was ‘churches’. Readers are sure to have understood this from the context. I sincerely regret the error. Thank you)

Apparently pious, but really insincere proposal

FF’s apparently pious, but really insincere, proposal that We ourselves must resolve that this experience should not justify harassment of any community, or erosion of peoples’ rights on grounds of national security. We must, for the peace and stability of our country, reject ethnic and religious extremism in all our diverse communities” implies an uncritical, unpatriotic acceptance of the false picture that obtains in the world at large due to false propaganda regarding communal relations in Sri Lanka. It has now become clear that anti-Buddhist NGOs,  misguided young ‘radicals’, promoters of the separatist ideology, and the prostituted media are doing what they can do to propagate the lie that Sinhalese Buddhist extremists  are behind the violence. They do not talk about the hundreds of young men and women, obviously the vast majority of them Sinhalese Buddhists, who queued up near hospitals soon after the blasts to donate blood without being asked. Many of them were turned away later because no more blood was needed. Body organ donation is a meritorious act in Buddhism; there is no religious taboo on it. The very nature of the Buddhist teaching does not allow any extremist ideology to develop that inflicts violence of any form on the followers of other religious persuasions. Violence on a targeted religious community for a religious reason is unknown among Sinhalalese Buddhists. In the recent past, certain incidents were reported where some Buddhists including young monk activists were allegedly involved in violent acts. But those stories were mostly fabrications or exaggerations of some minor incidents involving a few impatient young activists reacting to acts of provocation from non-Buddhist religious zealots. The root cause of occasional communal unrest like that has always been the failure of opportunistic Sinhalese politicians in power in the past as well as now to grasp the nettle when aggrieved Sinhalese peacefully present their genuine grievances for redress. These politicians avoid taking action for fear of displeasing the minorities and losing their support at elections. Some racist minority politicians alternately align themselves with the winning party at every election and manage to remain kingmakers. The problem caused by this unaddressed anomaly further compounded by destabilizing outside forces could lead to a worsening of trouble that will be extremely damaging to the Sinhalese themselves this time unless they are extra patient and help the security forces to deal with the terrorists by desisting from taking the law into their own hands under provocation.

FF’s delusions about  what the country needs at this critical hour

These individuals of the FF living in cloud-cuckoo-land seem to harbor delusions about what the country needs at this critical hour:  We must also understand the lessons of history, especially Hitler’s rise to power, and reject absolutely the idea that the need of the hour is a strong, authoritarian and dictatorial leader. Leaders of the former government are arguing that they handed over to the new government a secure and peaceful country so that there would be no threats to national security. They must be reminded that they created the nightmare of disappearances, abductions and killings that left people in fear of their personal security. No political party should be permitted to exploit this horrific experience to promote a divisive and authoritarian political agenda. Our nation’s commitment to parliamentary democracy must be strengthened and not undermined, recognizing that some important and positive changes have been made in the last few years.”

We all know who they are alluding to, here. They identify  Gotabhaya Rajapaksa with Hitler the Nazi leader who figured in World War II (1939-45). Gotabaya Rajapaksa was not a politician until recently. He was only a former army colonel, a decorated soldier, turned government functionary under his brother the then president. Equipped with his previous experience and discipline as a military man, he proved himself to be an efficient administrator. The firmness that he exhibited in that capacity should not be interpreted as authoritarianism. A well meaning Buddhist monk, perhaps a bit overzealous, appealed to him, during a sermon at an almsgiving in his house, to assume the role of a Hitler if necessary, to lead the country at these desperate times back to normal. He made this metaphorical reference to Hitler because Gotabaya’s name had by then been mentioned as a likely candidate at the next presidential election. Those in fear of a return of the popular Rajapaksas exploited the monk’s ingenuous use of the word ‘Hitler’ in that context to sling mud at them. A little research into Gota’s past would have helped the FF worthies to become more worthy of the subject of their criticism. As retired academics  they ought to have looked for more firm factual evidence than mere social media gossip before condemning him and the pre-2015 government by implication. Why can’t these defenders of democracy see  the powerful Hitler clones  much in evidence to the casual observer these days, some with military credentials?

Contrast between the 2009-15 and 1986-90 periods

It is wrong to say that in the period 2009-2015 the people of the country were left ‘in fear of their personal security’ because of alleged ‘nightmare disappearances, abductions and killings’. The truth is that, during those few years, the law abiding general public enjoyed the safest, most terror free, most peaceful period they had experienced over the previous quarter century. It was probably the case that although the separatist terrorism that had ravaged the country was eliminated, the underworld that had flourished in parallel with it had yet to be dealt with; and destabilizing agents, in the pay of vested interests, had not stopped their activities. A responsible government could not look the other way while these elements carried on as usual. There could have been isolated lapses in the performance of their difficult tasks due to stress or personality disorders that had afflicted certain law enforcement officers. The ones detected did not go unpunished. Unauthorized ‘disappearances, abductions and killings’ were not part of the government policy. But that kind of thing was the order of the day during the second JVP uprising in the UNP-ruled 1986-1990 period where some 60,000 patriotic young men and women of the south, who, true to their internalized Buddhist cultural values, were  ideally free from racism or religious extremism, were slaughtered by the security forces.

The country that was handed to Yahapalanaya in January 2015 had established a strong national security system and had laid a sound foundation for rapid economic growth

These forgetful retired academics of the FF must be reminded that  the former government did  hand over ‘to the new government a secure and peaceful country so that there would be no threats to national security’. What was more, it was an economically rapidly developing Sri Lanka, where the average growth rate was between 6-7%, that raised it from a low income to a middle income country, and foreign investments flowed in, and tourism increased three-fold. They cannot be unaware of the abysmally poor performance of the current regime in both of these domains (national security and economy).

No one would dispute their observation that ‘Our nation’s commitment to parliamentary democracy must be strengthened and not undermined….’, but not everyone will be able to agree without reservations ‘that some important and positive changes have been made in the last few years’. Be that as it may, their argument that the alleged weaknesses of the presidential system that, according to them, have come out in the context of the recent terrorist attacks, strengthens the longstanding demand for its dismantling, is spurious, to say the least. They blame the presidential system for creating two centres of power, the president and the prime minister, without accountability to each other or to the people, a defect that jeopardizes public security and can cause the kind of destruction of life and property that we witnessed recently, with its attendant impact on individual livelihoods and the overall economy. But are these negative points inherent weaknesses of the presidential system? No, they are not. The drawbacks touched on are actually not those of the presidential system itself, but the natural consequences of the malfunctioning of the system caused by the faulty alliance as much as the equally faulty subsequent discord between the two incompatible personalities that are currently occupying the positions of president and prime minister. The FF statement rhetorically asks: ‘What hope is there for a country that is trapped in the personal ambitions of its leaders?’ No hope. True. But, who  set  that trap and how? The dishonest Yahapalana champions whom the likes of these FF worthies promoted did so through the aberrant 19th amendment.

The situation has been worsened by an element of external interference allowed or solicited by one Yahapalana partner with the thoughtless acquiescence of the other. There can hardly any conflict of opinion when the president and the prime minister are from the same political party.  In the past, when they were from two rival parties, it was natural for disagreements  to arise between the legislative and the executive branches, but harmfully prolonged disagreements were not possible, because the president had the prerogative of dissolving parliament after the lapse of one year following the swearing in of a government. The prime minister could rule without consulting the president, but he or she could not do this for an  indefinitely long period of time because of the above presidential power. On the other hand the president would not interfere with a well performing government, for fear of public opprobrium.  So, the present sort of disastrous impasse between the president and the prime minister was not possible before 19A was promulgated. Thus it is not the presidential system itself that is to blame for allowing the Islamic terror strike to happen despite prior warnings from local and foreign intelligence sources, but the whittling away of the presidential powers through 19A assisted by the specific behavior of the squabbling duo at the helm, while the country is burning. The existential truth is that what is still saving the day for the nation at this most critical moment is this much maligned executive presidential system.

Non-elitist common people’s opinion about FF intellectuals’ credibility

One could determine how much credibility to attach to FF’s purported love for justice for their own beleaguered fellow citizens, if one cares to recall the general trend of their previous statements or press releases. Let’s go back two years, for an example: The Friday Forum article/statement/public appeal published in the Colombo Telegraph of August 23, 2017 under the title ‘New Constitution A Must: Friday Forum’, jointly written by one Priyantha Gamage and Bishop Duleep de Chickera, embodied a similarly insistent demand for a new constitution, which is synonymous with the abolition of the presidential system of government. It drew the following comment from a reader who signed ‘Pandu’, among many other negative ones:

Who in, all heaven’s name, is ‘Priyantha Gamage’?? Never heard of the chap.

Are anonymous characters also linking themselves to the FF? Seems to be a ‘has beens’ group which appears to do nothing else but go around issuing statements in the vain belief that someone listening to them!”

Another much nastier remark on the FF in the same context was by a person writing under the penname ‘Estate Labourer’: You have about as much brains as an African Dung Beetle!”

I felt sorry for the distinguished signatories of that 2017 August write-up, though I did not find anything in the contents of the article that would justify a rejection of those sentiments (expressed in the two reader comments quoted).

The central argument of FF’s 2017 public ‘petition’ as I saw it then was that the ‘verdict’ given at the presidential and parliamentary elections of 2015 was a mandate for a new constitution designed to remedy the alleged undemocratic trends that had set in with the promulgation of the existing presidential constitution in 1978. The article charged that 

In the meantime some political parties and prominent Buddhist clergy have publicly taken the position that a new constitution is unnecessary. It is extremely disheartening  that these groups seek to override the will of the people.”

(Who represents the ‘will of the people’ more authentically, the FF pundits or the Buddhist monks?) The political parties of the Joint Opposition, and those members of the ‘prominent Buddhist clergy’ are not seeking to ‘override the will of the people’; they represent the true will of the people. Their activism has taken some of them to jail. Aliens in their own motherland like FF members will not understand the true situation; they are willfully blind to the truth. No one can cure that kind of blindness.

The writers, on behalf of the FF, urged the prime minister and members of the Steering Committee

to ensure that the draft constitutional proposals are put before the Constitutional Assembly within the next three months at least, and are also made available to the public.”

Fortunately, nothing that the FF demanded has been done. The Joint Opposition has seen to that. They succeeded in getting the ill conceived constitution making process postponed indefinitely. The Yahapalanaya regime has no clear legitimacy to bring in such changes at the end of its ruinous rule. Few ordinary Sri Lankans believe today that the regime change of 2015 was what it was purported to be (the democratic ouster of an alleged kleptocracy and the ushering in of good governance). The corruption allegations they raised against the previous rulers have been revealed to be false. At the same time, the UNP itself is facing serious allegations of corruption including the repeated Central Bank robberies of 2015 and 2016.

I am sorry for Professor Fonseka for having unnecessarily recanted his earlier position regarding 18A as allegedly ‘an unpardonable act of political immorality’, and for adding his ‘failing voice to the Friday Forum’s demand for dismantling the presidential system of governance forthwith’.  Actually, FF’s call for the abolition of the presidential system at this hour of national crisis and potential national calamity could be counted an act of political immorality. The plain truth is that it is the presidential system that enables beleaguered Sri Lankans to maintain their hold on undisputed and undivided sovereignty over the whole of their island homeland. The due exercise of the sovereign power of the people has enabled the government to meet the  Islamic terror that recently struck the country out of the blue, as it were, with might and main. This is despite the fact that the powers of the president have already been substantially weakened by the 19A, in addition to having been undermined in other ways as well. Imagine how chaotic, and ungovernable the situation today would be if there were no executive president at the centre to mobilize the security forces across the country without having to coordinate with nine provincial governments following different or even conflicting agendas (which will definitely result from the intended passage of the proposed new federalist constitution).

FF’s apparent mission

It has long been clear to people who genuinely care for Sri Lanka that the Friday Forum members are trying to promote the 2015 regime change agenda, which has completely reversed the hard won achievements of the 2009 victory over Tamil separatist terrorism. Their statements are addressed to the coterie behind that agenda, perhaps for the sake of moral support, not to the ordinary people of the country that they are visiting frustration on in the process unbeknown to them, who hardly have heard about them or their ‘activism’ on their behalf. One gets the impression that they always look askance at those who stand up for the tolerant accommodating Sinhalese Buddhist cultural foundation of the country, that has made it possible for diverse minorities to live in peace and harmony with the majority over the centuries.

An ad hoc proposal to be considered for a way out of the current crisis and national emergency, which is marking a turning point in our 2500 year history

Even if the executive presidential system must be abolished for reasons still to be defined, it should not be abolished by the incumbent parliament because it has neither the lawfulness nor the moral right to do so.) The best way to put a decisive end to the prevailing dangerous state of anarchy is to dissolve parliament and go for elections. A less desirable alternative would be to form a temporary caretaker government  strictly without foreign involvement on a non-party basis, as an emergency measure, with representatives from the opposition necessarily included in it, for as short a specified period of time as possible for restoring national security, containing Islamic terrorism at least temporarily (until it is addressed in the future with the active participation of the two million strong traditional Sri Lankan Muslim community), and bringing back normalcy to the routine life of the civilian population. These will be ancillary to the express purpose for which such a caretaker government will be needed: the  holding of free and fair elections. It will be absolutely necessary to make sure that it will not be an interim government set up with the involvement of foreign meddlers designed to drive the country into deeper crisis. The pending controversial legislations must be put on hold for now, which might be reviewed, revised or altogether abandoned by the incoming administration after a future election. It will give the people some respite before fresh presidential and parliamentary elections are held when they are due according to the existing constitution; the elections could even be advanced in view of the urgency of the situation.


One Response to “Abolish the presidential system of government: Friday Forum. Why? Is it the mother of all evils? – II”

  1. Christie Says:

    JRJ was a quarter Indian.

    He did what India wanted.

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