Executive Presidency: Boon or Bane
Posted on April 24th, 2017

By Shivanthi Ranasinghe Courtesy Ceylon Today

Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka in his article, ‘Meethotamulla and the Fate of the Executive Presidency’, draws a parallel between the Meethotamulla tragedy and the dangers we face as a nation. More than 30 people were buried alive in garbage by the failure to address the dangers of a growing mountain of refuse. Even the warnings of His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith failed to register on the relevant bodies. This is,

Dr. Jayatilleka writes, “….eerily symbolic of this government’s policies and performance which taken together is a growing pile of dangerous neglect and toxicity”. This government, if allowed to continue on its current dangerous path, he warns, “will bury this country and its people under the collective and growing weight of its colossal callousness and incompetence.”

The solution lies in retaining the Executive Presidency, so that a strong leader, “proven successful in matters of conceptualizing and managing urban development and renewal, to work the same development miracle in a national scale, leaving no garbage dump, literal or metaphorical, uncleared,” can strategize, organize, cut through red tape and achieve.

Our problem is that we do not understand the difference between the State and the Government. “One has to distinguish between a President and the Presidency… The Executive Presidency – not this president or that president – is part of the State.”

For instance, “it was Chandrika Kumaratunga Bandaranaike as President who presented the federalization (‘union of regions’) package, brought in the Norwegians, double crossed the Karuna rebellion and signed off on the PTOMS, but it was also her, i.e. the Presidency, that had to be motivated and leveraged to remove Ranil and finally did so.” Thus, “the Presidency is still the Archimedean point of the system”.

Yet, “there are those in the Joint Opposition who are opposed to both the President and Presidency. There are those who are opposed to the Executive Presidency only, because they are opposed to this President or because they think they themselves cannot be elected President. There are those in the Yahapalana coalition who are opposed to the Presidency but not so much to the President. Then there are those in both the JO and the Yahapalana constituency who are not opposed either to the Presidency or to the President as much as they are to the Prime Minister.”

Unable to understand this distinction, the Opposition, in “their struggle against the government take up positions which are anti-State which weakens the government”.

Shyamon Jayasinghe shoots down

Dr. Jayatilleka’s advocacy for Executive Presidency in his article, ‘Why Dayan can’t see that the Executive Presidency is Dead and Awaiting Burial’. He writes, “DJ wants the Executive Presidency kept” setting “aside the fact that sixty two lakhs of people, who ousted the former regime had been fed up of Executive Presidency rule and wanted and wants it done away with. He forgets that the broad civil movement for Yahapalanaya originally led by the late Ven. Maduluwawe Sobhita Thera, the political campaign for ousting the former regime, wanted it and want it, as a precondition for anything that can be called good governance.

“Need I remind DJ and the readers that even the thirty-year war was a product of the era of the Executive Presidency? Before that, the space for consensus decision-making was available. Sri Lanka, until 1977 when the Executive Presidency was installed, had made considerable social and economic progress under normal Westminster type Parliamentary rule. While our freedoms had been intact, we managed to build hundreds of irrigation tanks, colonisation schemes, Madya Maha Vidyalayas, hydro electric schemes, agricultural and farming projects and so on. Deadly malaria was eradicated and was tuberculosis.”

Factually, this is mere romanticizing of the pre-Executive Presidency era. That is not to say that the Executive Presidency has been all honey and milk, but to point out that Parliamentary rule had also not been great. Had it been how could there be two near military coups in the ’60s, or the 1971 Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna insurgency, or the gigantic defeat of the Sirima Bandaranaike-led government, paving the way for the United National Party to Parliament with five-sixths of a majority? Then also, the charges were similar to today’s corruption and nepotism. Instead of bringing proper national policies as is due from a government, had the people or the country benefitted from nationalizing the bus companies and the tea estates? Even Buhari – a small joint selling biriyani – was nationalized and for what purpose?

Though Tamil terrorism is widely believed to have come to being after the 1983 riots, it is not so. Tamil insurgents were already grouping by the ’60s and were teething by the mid-’70s. The infamous assassination of the Jaffna Mayor Alfred Duraiappah took place in 1975. The immediate years before and especially after is marked with bank robberies and the killings of Tamil policemen in the North.

In the same manner, the Mahaweli project – a long-term project that was successfully completed in a fraction of its original timeline – happened after the Executive Presidency took rule. Since then, we have also had two years of sheer brutality with the JVP’s second insurrection. Tamil terrorism also grew exponentially for 30 years. However, it was also with the powers of the Executive Presidency that we managed to eradicate both.

The Freefall

Dr. Nalaka Godahewa notes that, while we acknowledge Mahinda Rajapaksa administration’s great feat of defeating the most-organized and well-funded Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, we fail to realize the great economic revolution that also took place during that time. “Professionals for a Better Future” – an apolitical group of professionals has compiled an economic analysis, The Freefall. They have obtained statistics from the Central Bank and Finance Ministry with observations from various writers and experts as Dr. Nimal Sanderatne, Dr. W.A. Wijewardena, Professor Siri Hettige, Dr. Saman Kelagama,Dr. Dushni Weerakoon, Chandra Jayaratne, Subashini Abeysinghe, Dinesh Weerakkody as well as international agencies as the IMF, ADB, UNDP, Fitch, Moody’s and Standards & Poor.

The Freefall too attests to this economic revolution. Comparing key economic indicators in 2004 and 2014, this highlights:
GDP in 2004 as USD 20.7b, in 2014 as USD 80b;

GDP per capita in 2004 as USD 1,062, in 2014 as USD 3,853
Average inflation in 2004 as 9pc, in 2014 as 3.3pc;

Foreign reserves in 2004 as USD 2.3b, in 2014 as USD 8.3b;

Debt/GDP ratio in 2004 as 102.3pc, in 2014 as 70.7pc;

Public investment in 2004 as USD 0.98b, in 2014 as 3.7b;

FDIs in 2004 as USD 0.24b, in 2014 as USD 1.6b;

All share price index in 2004 as 1506, in 2014 as 7299;

Unemployment in 2004 as 8.3pc, in 2014 as 4.3pc;

Poverty headcount in 2004 as 15pc, in 2014 as 6pc;

Fiscal deficit/GDP in 2004 as 7.5pc, in 2014 as 5.7pc;

Electricity for households in 2004 as 73pc, in 2014 as 98pc;

Safe drinking water in 2004 as 72pc, in 2014 as 90pc;

Telephone penetration in 2004 as 37pc, in 2014 as 120pc;

Computer literacy in 2004 as 0.5pc, in 2014 as 26pc and

University admissions in 2004 as 14pc, in 2014 as 18pc.

The 2014 economy was applauded by multi-lateral institutions and rating agencies as that year’s publications by the IMF, S&P, Moody, ADB, Fitch, Millennium Development Goal – UNDP, Capital Finance International of UK and Annual Travel Study of MasterCard clearly state.

We had an Executive Presidency in 2004, when the economy was very bad as well as in 2014, when the economy was promising.

In 2015, a new government came to office, but still under the Executive Presidency. However, the GDP growth for the year fell from 4.9 to 4.8; remittances from US $ million 7,018 to 6,980; FDI inflows US $ million 1,635 to 1,161; All Share Price Index from 7299 to 6894; unemployment rose from 4.3 to 4.6 per cent; exchange rate from 131.05 to 144.06; fiscal deficit from 5.7 to 7.4 and total public debt from US $ million 7,391 to 8,503.

The downside of the economy, notes The Freefall, is due to:

n fulfilling impossible election promises that increased government expenditure,

n bad fiscal policies trying to generate a quick revenue,

n throwing good dollars after bad,

n recklessly defending the rupee,

n borrowing short-term in foreign currency,

n stopping major infrastructure projects and thereby killing the growth momentum,

n losing credibility amongst foreign investors,

n February 2015 and March 2016 Bond scams,

n FCID dampening business sentiments,

n inept 2016 Budget,

n growing political uncertainty and

n global economic slowdown.

Clearly, Executive Presidency in itself is not the villain. Much rests on the beholder.

Jayasinghe theorizes that people are more apt to follow through decisions that are made openly after broad consultation than by one person. What is missing from this equation is the type of people that must be on board.

If the LTTE were to resurrect or another group as AVAA or an arm of ISIS or JVP returns to arms, would we be able to sort out the terror through the present Parliamentarians – most of whom do not even attend the Parliamentary sessions, despite being paid to do so? Even if they did, would the respective political proxy support to eradicate the threat?

When the Rajapaksa administration fought against the LTTE, UNP as the then Opposition ridiculed the war efforts. Furthermore, they refused to form a national government to support the then government. Given this experience, can we realistically hope for a parliamentary system to rise to the occasion?

Much less talked about, but matters of grave importance are the insidious betrayals that take place within the party, against the party. Swinging from party to party is the lesser evil of these betrayals, which in itself is very telling. The defeat of the Rajapaksa Administration was engineered not by the Opposition – main or joint, but by MR’s closest allies. They encouraged him for the third term and kicked him in the gut. This was not an impulsive gesture, but one planned for at least two years.

The EU ban on our fish was not due to any fault of ours, but failure to timely provide the documentation. This is just one example the extent these elements went to destabilize and make the government unpopular. It is very curious indeed that Venerable Sobhita Thera saw potential in forming good governance with these very unethical elements.

Imagine, trying to run the country with people whose agenda is not for the country, but that of their own political gain. Imagine a system, where there is no vested body to take control of the situation and make timely decisions as needed, but a collective body who has their own agendas or are being handled by an unseen hand. How the Venerable Thera imagined a better country with such a set up is indeed very curious.

However, as Jayasinghe notes, “sixty-two lakhs of people wanted and want” the Executive President out. Now that the ’70s are a good 40 years ago, many voters are not aware that the same ills present today existed then as well. Another important factor that most voters are unaware of is that in 1977, we did not have the 13th Amendment that was forced into our Constitution by India.

The Supreme Court saw no harm in this Amendment, though it demarcated our country into nine units – or provinces – because of the EP. The EP is the one entity that keeps all these nine units glued to the Centre. Remove the Executive Presidency and the Centre is no longer in control of the nine provinces. The reader must remember that there is a parallel effort to amend our Constitution by removing the concurrent list (the list of powers shared by both the Centre and the Province) and strengthen the powers of the Province whilst weakening the Centre.

These are very complicated nuances that escape the ordinary man. Thus, when knowledgeable and highly respected persons like Venerable Sobhita Thera comes to the forefront and flags Executive Presidency as the villain of all ills taking isolated incidents, people en mass follow. As it is disrespectful to speak ill of the dead, all that can be said is that the Venerable Thera made a terrible error.

As noted above, it is not the system – Executive Presidency or Parliamentary – that is at fault, but those driving the administration. Of course, the voter must be much more mindful when casting his vote and must not consider his duty to country done with that mere casting. The voter must pay greater attention to the current events and make his own judgment than blindly follow a movement.


5 Responses to “Executive Presidency: Boon or Bane”

  1. Christie Says:

    Look at the Indian economy and where money goes.

    The Indian Colony have to look after India first.

    Whether the Subjects of a Colony has a President or a Prime Minister or ….it does not affect the Empire or the colonists.

  2. Ananda-USA Says:

    I humbly submit: Yamapalanaya = BANE!

  3. Ananda-USA Says:


    How dare you criticize by implication our AWARD WINNING Finance Minister, the “BEST IN ASIA” in his own immature mind, with this list of DAMNING FACTS in hand?

    That VIRTUAL REALITY IMAGE of was the only thing we Sri Lankans had to COMFORT us in our current misery, as our country UNRAVELS and we SINK DEEPER into the mud of deception!

  4. Susantha Wijesinghe Says:

    ANANDA !!

    Is it a Sri lankan Buffon who gave him that Title. So this is where the Bond Scam money went EH ?

  5. Susantha Wijesinghe Says:


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