Abolition of Executive Presidency may cause anarchy – Justice Minister
Posted on June 8th, 2022

By Shamindra Ferdinando Courtesy The Island

Intervention made by lawyer and fiscal officer in Aeroflot affair extraordinary.

Justice, Prison Affairs, Constitutional Reforms Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapaksa, PC, has warned that the abolition of the Executive Presidency hastily, will plunge the country into anarchy.

The SLPP Colombo District MP said that as the Executive Presidential system has been tied up with the electoral system and 13th Amendment to the Constitution, it couldn’t be done away with.

Dr. Rajapakse said so appearing in a live Swarnavahini interview Monday night (06).

Lawmaker Rajapakse said that the abolition of the executive presidential system without making absolutely necessary constitutional safeguards through other means would definitely threaten Sri Lanka’s unitary status.

Reference was also made to how the Provincial Councils could undermine unitary status if the appointment of Governors, who exercised the executive powers, was done away with. Therefore, the relentless demand of those continuing the ongoing public protest campaign extremist at Galle Face couldn’t be addressed, Minister Rajapaksa said.

In a wide-ranging interview, Dr. Rajapakse discussed several issues at hand, including the alleged conspiracy involving an unnamed Justice Ministry employee and Attorney-at-Law Aruna de Silva, who appeared for the plaintiff Ireland-based Celestial Aviation Trading Co Ltd in a case against Public Joint Stock Company Aeroflot, the circumstances under which UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe was offered premiership and the inclusion of citizenship clause that had been in the 19th Amendment, in the proposed 21st Amendment to the Constitution.

Dr. Rajapaksa said that JRJ enacted the 1978 Constitution and brought in new electoral system believing the UNP could never be defeated. But, for 27 years, the UNP couldn’t regain the presidency.

Since Chandrika Bandaranaike’s Kumaratunga’s triumph at the Nov 1994 presidential election, the UNP’s efforts to regain the Executive Presidency failed, MP Rajapakse said, reminding how the UNP scuttled Kumaratunga’s bid in 2000 to abolish the system. The UNP set fire to the new draft Constitution in Parliament as it didn’t accept the provision the Executive Presidency would be abolished within two years after the enactment of the new law.

Responding to another query, Dr. Rajapakse said that if President Gotabaya Rajapaksa decided to resign, the issue could be settled. If that happened, Parliament could select any member of its choice but it would be from the ruling SLPP, the Justice Minister said. Therefore, a SLPPer would serve the incumbent President’s remaining period, the Minister said, pointing out that in spite of differences among some sections of the government group the SLPP remained the single largest party.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa was elected in Nov 2019 for a five-year period. How could we be sure that Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s successor would be better than him or far worse, Dr. Rajapakse asked? A smiling Minister pointed out in case of a vote in Parliament, the new President could be Basil Rajapaksa, he or somebody else from the SLPP. The SLPP group comprised 145 members whereas the SJB received 54 seats out of whom three had so far switched allegiance to the incumbent dispensation.

Dr. Rajapakse said that enactment of the 21 st Amendment was nothing but a prerequisite for revival of the national economy. The requirement for a new Constitution should be dealt with subsequently, the Minister said, dismissing concerns the government was on the wrong path.

Referring to views expressed by Prof. Alfred Jeyaratnam Wilson, the architect of the 1978 Constitution, in ‘The Gaullist System in Asia’, Dr. Rajapakse justified the Galle Face protest launched nearly two months ago, demanding the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Dr. Rajapakse said that the son-in-law of S.J. V. Chelvanayagam foresaw the current crisis 40 years ago.

Asked to explain how he now accepted Wickremesinghe as the Prime Minister after having condemned him on so many occasions, Dr. Rajapakse emphasised the UNP leader was capable of handling the situation. The Justice Minister reiterated his faith in Premier Wickremesinghe. However, the SLPP dissidents’ first choice had been the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB).

Dr. Rajapaksa said that the dissident group comprising 53 lawmakers wanted the SJB to take over the government. We assured the SJB of our support and readiness to accept some ministerial portfolios. But, the main Opposition repeatedly declined,” Dr. Rajapakse said. The SJB’s position remained the same even after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa invited SJB leader Sajith Premadasa to accept the challenge.

Against the backdrop of the SJB’s decision not to accept their offer there wouldn’t have been any purpose in moving a No-faith motion, Dr. Rajapakse said.

Responding to calls for early parliamentary poll to settle the continuing political-economic-social crisis, lawmaker Rajapakse said that the electorate was not in a mood for election. Had there been a general election now, all current members of Parliament would lose their seats, Dr. Rajapakse said.

At the onset of the interview, the three-member panel of journalists questioned the Justice Minister over the Aeroflot affair, amidst furious Russian reaction to the unprecedented detention of their flight at the BIA on June 02. The minister acknowledged that the lawyer accompanying the fiscal official was an extraordinary development. The Minister said that there was no requirement for the official of Commercial High Court of Western Province to deliver a court order to the concerned official at the BIA. The court official and the lawyer had shown undue interest in the matter and therefore the need for an inquiry couldn’t be ignored.

Dr. Rajapakse said that the Justice Ministry would inquire into the conduct of the court official as the Supreme Court exercised the powers to investigate lawyers. The Justice Minister admitted without hesitation that fiscal officials had been routinely influenced by various interested parties and used them for illegitimate purposes.

The Justice Minister also admitted that suspicions had been raised over the possibility of the fiscal officer and the lawyer being used by a group of conspirators who carried out the project.

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