Curiouser and curiouser!
Posted on September 30th, 2019

Editorial Courtesy The Island

The government has urged the public to ensure its presidential candidate Sajith Premadasa’s victory, in November, to enact a new Constitution, among other things. One is puzzled. It had a two-thirds majority in Parliament, besides having the Executive President on its side, from January 2015 to October 2018, but failed to fulfil its pledge to introduce a new Constitution. There was a national government in power, but the UNP, which promised constitutional reforms, did not make a serious effort to grab that opportunity probably because it feared a political backlash in the southern parts of the country. It craftily put its constitution-making project on the back burner. Now, it is trying to market the same pledge in the run-up to the next presidential election as well! It is apparently trying to use that promise as a carrot to enlist the support of the Tamil political parties, which cannot face their voters, having failed to make good on their pledge to have more powers devolved to the provinces; some of them went to the extent of promising federalism.

The next President will have no say in Parliament, and, therefore, it defies comprehension how anyone can get a new Constitution passed after the upcoming presidential election. The executive presidency is a misnomer to begin with. It has been stripped of almost all vital powers. The real effect of the 19th Amendment (19A) to the Constitution will kick in when the transitional provisions, introduced in favour of the incumbent President, cease to be effective come the end of his term. His successor will be a mere figurehead so much so that President Maithripala Sirisena has said that the presidency is not worth fighting for ever again. His critics may argue that it is a case of sour grapes, but his argument is tenable.

The next President won’t be able to hold any Cabinet post or remove even a deputy minister. He will find himself in a gilded straitjacket. The Prime Minister will be more powerful than he, in most respects. Time was when the late Ranasinghe Premadasa lamented, in Parliament that he, as the Prime Minister, was like a glorified peon, where his powers were concerned. He told the truth in that he had to function under President J. R. Jayewardene, who was also the UNP leader.

When a President and a Prime Minister were elected from the same party, the former was more powerful than the latter; it was the other way around when they were elected from two different parties. But, in the future, the President won’t be able to control the PM in any manner even if they happen to represent the same party, thanks to 19A. This is the political reality.

It may be seen that the government won’t be able to fulfil its pledge to introduce a new Constitution even if it wins the upcoming presidential election; it won’t have a two-thirds majority in Parliament. The situation will remain the same even in the event of its victory at the next general election; it may be able to engineer some crossovers in such an eventuality. President Sirisena has gone on record as saying that during last year’s constitutional coup, the crossovers were paid as much as Rs. 500 mn each. But the numbers in Parliament alone won’t help replace the present Constitution; there will have to be a referendum, which is a worrisome proposition for any government.

Meanwhile, as things stand, there is no need to change the Constitution to get rid of the executive presidency, which has already been rendered impotent, to all intents and purposes. It is being argued in some quarters that only those who are desirous of having more powers devolved to the provinces are campaigning for a new Constitution.

Pressure is bound to mount on UNP presidential candidate, Sajith Premadasa, in the coming weeks, to make his position known on the government’s offer of a new Constitution. It will be interesting to see what he has got to say.

3 Responses to “Curiouser and curiouser!”

  1. Dilrook Says:

    On October 3 the Supreme Court will decide on Gota’s case. If he is allowed to contest, there will be a constitutional crisis.

    19A says a citizen of another country cannot enter parliament or become president. It does not say they cannot contest!

    Technically, the Election Commissioner cannot reject candidacy of a foreign citizen.

    Therefore, technically Gota can contest the election but cannot assume office. This creates a chaotic situation which can have 4 outcomes.

    1. If elected GR can misuse his executive power and hold on to power illegally and unconstitutionally.

    2. Contest without revoking US citizenship but get it revoked in time for the November 18 taking oaths.

    3. Win the election and resign. Get parliamentary majority to support Chamal, etc. and get him into the president’s post.

    4. Win the election and resign (willing or expulsion). Ranil has parliamentary majority and Ranil will become the president.

    Is this why Ranil gave Gota a SL passport to get him into the election campaign and allowed Sajith to make a fool of himself? If Gota wins, Ranil wins (under #4 above) and can permanantly shut up Sajith – the only challenger to Ranil after Gamini. Strangely, others like Ravi, etc. all fell silent too. Street rioting won’t help though Rajapaksas may resort to it.

  2. Randeniyage Says:

    @Dilrook

    Why cant’ one contest but cannot assume office of the president ? There is no requirement that a citizen of other countries cannot hold the office of the president.
    That requirement is only for a MPs, I would have thought. (20th amendment section 20)

    This is why he is now not saying he has denounced the US citizenship ( which was a lie he said few weeks ago) but simply applied to denounce.

  3. Randeniyage Says:

    Sorry 19th amendment, not 20th.

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