Executive Presidency as a curse

Principles in politics are like snow in hell. The JVP did their damnedest to prevent Mahinda Rajapaksa being appointed Prime Minister in 2004. The latter had gone all out to scuttle an alliance between the JVP and the SLFP the same year. But the following year, the JVP worked itself into the ground to ensure Rajapaksa's election as President. Today, the JVP is threatening to campaign against President Rajapaksa at the next presidential election! From 2001 to 2004, the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and President Chandrika Kumaratunga clashed so fiercely that the former's UNF government got sacked. President Kumaratunga, it may be recalled, even accused Wickremesinghe of having blocked her son Vimukthi's admission to Royal College, when he was the Minister of Education. But today Chandrika and Ranil are as thick as thieves. SLFP (M) leader Mangala Samaraweera publicly stated while the war was raging that the then Army Commander Gen. Sarath Fonseka was not fit to lead even the Salvation Army. Today, Mangala's heart is melting for Gen. Fonseka, who, he says, steered the county to victory in war against terrorism and therefore deserves a better deal!

We also have UNP General Secretary Tissa Attanayake calling the executive presidency a curse! He wants it scrapped immediately. Now he is talking! But, why this indecent hurry? He had no problems with that institution while it was under UNP's control, did he? None of the UNPers uttered a whimper of protest when JRJ created the executive presidency and reigned supreme followed by President Premadasa and President D. B. Wijetunga for 16 years.

In 2000, President Kumaratunga unveiled a draft Constitution aimed at restoring the supremacy of Parliament and devolving power at the regional level. The UNP shot it down in style! The UNPjoined forces with the JVP to torpedo her constitutional package claiming that she wanted to enjoy the powers of both the President and the Prime Minister during the transitional period.

Why didn't Attanayake campaign against the executive presidency calling it a curse at that time?

What prompted President Kumaratunga to try to abolish the executive presidency was not any love for democracy. Her plan was to clear a constitutional barrier and continue to be the Head of State after completing her second term as President by returning to Parliament. It is also not out of any love for democracy that the UNP wants the executive presidency scrapped now. The SLFP acted in a similar manner and campaigned against that institution from 1978 to 1994 because it was not confident of winning a presidential election.

The executive presidency should be abolished, all right but it cannot be done the way one changes clothes. Constitution making is a complex process and unless it is handled properly we are bound to repeat the blunders that characterise the present Constitution.

A new Constitution will have to contain, inter alia, provision for devolution. Are we going to retain the 13th Amendment or introduce some other devolution model in its place? What does the UNP propose by way of devolution? Does it want the Provincial Council system to remain or does it propose any other form of devolution? What about the electoral system? Are we going to stick to the present PR system or revert to the first-past-the-post system or adopt the so-called German model which has the features of both systems?

These are only some of the fundamental questions that need to be answered before we embark on drafting a new Constitution, if we are to avoid a plethora of amendments as well as unfortunate situations which make governance impossible like the one we faced from 2001 to 2004, when the Executive President lost control over Parliament and the Prime Minister became the de facto Head of State.

The question that critics of the present Constitution should ask themselves is whether its repeal and the introduction of a new one should receive top national priority at this juncture when the country is struggling to manage a host of postwar problems such as resettlement, rebuilding and defending her hard-won victory over terrorism. First things first!

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