Let the search begin!
Posted on September 9th, 2018

Editorial Monday 10th September, 2018 Courtesy The Island

President Maithripala Sirisena has come to terms with reality. He has gone on record as saying that the head of the next government will be the Prime Minister, according to the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. Speaking at a public event in Nivitigala, on Saturday, he said the onus was on the people to elect a clean person as the next Prime Minister.

The President has got it right at last, but stopped short of referring to his own position vis-à-vis that of the Prime Minister. He has apparently sought not to attract public attention to his predicament as a lame duck President with reduced powers. In reality, the position of the Prime Minister is already much stronger than the President’s.

The 19th Amendment having taken full effect, the President’s statement is tantamount to an admission that he is only playing second fiddle to the PM. An argument was once peddled, in some quarters, that some provisions of the 19th Amendment did not apply to the incumbent President. But, it was proved wrong by the Supreme Court opinion on the length of his term.

The President is at the mercy of the UNP, which keeps undermining his position in the government without clashing with him openly. The UNP is comporting itself with a great deal of restraint as it wants the present government to continue till the next national level election. There is absolutely nothing the President can do if the UNP refuses to co-operate with him. He is dependent on the goodwill of the UNP and the PM to prevent himself from being treated as a figurehead. This fact became evident when he intervened to stop a fuel price increase and grant railway workers a pay hike. Having failed to have his directives implemented, he fell in line to avoid a confrontation with the UNP-controlled Finance Ministry. He also failed to save his loyalists who sought to oust the PM and lost their ministerial posts.

When the Joint Opposition made quite a stir, the other day, by claiming that the 19th Amendment did not debar former President Mahinda Rajapaksa from seeking a third term, we questioned its wisdom of trying to make him President again. We argued, quoting constitutional experts, that the executive presidency was no better than a titular post and anyone desirous of savouring powers should try to secure the post of the Prime Minister.

What’s up the President’s sleeve? The SLFP says Sirisena will be its presidential candidate. Is it that he is now willing to settle for the ‘titular’ presidency and help someone else secure premiership in return for the latter’s support for him at the next presidential election. In 2015, he got elected, promising to abolish the executive presidency. Now, the presidency is without most of the executive powers or, in other words, as good as abolished. He can claim that his promise has been fulfilled! Those who are lambasting him for having reneged on his pledge to the late Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera and demand that the presidency be done away with should ask themselves whether the game is worth the candle. The President’s statement at issue has come in the wake of the tabling of the 20th Amendment by the JVP, in Parliament. One may ask what powers the JVP wants removed from the presidency and vested in the post of Prime Minister, which is already the stronger of the two.

The wisdom of those who are striving to make former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa the next President also stands questioned. Do they want Gotabaya to be under the next Prime Minister whoever it may be?

As for President Sirisena’s call for the country to elect as the next PM a person who is above board, people will have to start walking the streets, in daylight, holding lighted lamps and searching for an honest politician.

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