Demanding Abolition Of Executive Presidency Is Like Chasing A Mirage

(MENAFN- NewsIn) By Veeragathy Thanabalasingham

Colombo, April 24: The former Sri Lankan Parliament Speaker Karu Jayasuriya's request to political parties last week inevitably raises an important question. Is it possible to make the abolition of the Executive presidency (EP ) a major election issue again?

Although other politicians have been vacillating from time to time on the abolition of the EP, Karu Jayasuriya has consistently maintained a firm stance on it.


He is not a politician now, but, in his new avatar as the leader of a civil society organization called the National Movement for Social Justice, he has been relentlessly pushing that demand.

Before Jayasuriya, the late Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera, who was the leader of the National Movement for Social Justice, strove hard for the abolition of EP. Sobitha Thera became very worried in his final days because the political leaders who had promised the people in the previous presidential elections that they would abolish the EP failed to fulfil that promise after winning the elections.

An important question is how much the politicians will appreciate Jayasuriya's efforts in his current position. As the presidential election is expected to be held in five months, the former Speaker last week urged political parties and alliances to state their position on the abolition of the EP in their election manifestos.

None of the candidates of major parties in previous elections cared to abolish the EP after coming to power despite making promises.

“The People's Movement for Social Justice has been conducting discussions with social groups across the country. Based on the views expressed in those discussions, it is understandable that there is a widespread opinion among the people that the EP should be abolished. Therefore, the prospective candidates
in the upcoming Presidential election should state their position regarding the abolition of the presidential system in their election manifestos. Those who promise to abolish it should also state the timeline for fulfilling it,” Jayasuriya said in the statement.

So far, no response has come from any major political party regarding his request. One thing is obvious. No important party is going to say openly that the EP should continue. All former Presidents who failed to fulfil their election promise to abolish the EP are still involved in active politics. Gotabaya Rajapaksa is the only one who never made a promise regarding abolition.

Even now, former Presidents Chandrika Kumaratunga, Mahinda Rajapaksa and Maithripala Sirisena are voicing their support for the abolition of the EP. The incumbent President Ranil Wickremesinghe does not have a firm stance on the abolition of EP. His United National Party (UNP) supported the common opposition candidate's manifesto which promised in two presidential elections to abolish that EP system.

The party took such a stand as a strategic move considering the prevailing political conditions of those times, but did not do so out of a genuine interest in abolishing the EP.

President Wickremesinghe, who ceremoniously opened the new session of Parliament for the first time after assuming office in July 2022 and delivered his government's policy statement, said that he would entrust the responsibility of finding a consensus to decide the future of the EP to the
People's Assembly, which he intended to appoint. We all know what happened to that Assembly and the intended consensus.

Although President Wickremesinghe has expressed views on the future of the presidential system in the intervening period, he has never clearly spoken about abolishing it. But it is noteworthy that he had said a few weeks ago that the abolition of EP is not an important issue to be concerned about at present.

As for National People's Power (NPP ) leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake and United People's Power (UPP or SJB ) leader
Sajith Premadasa, who are seen as front-runners in the upcoming
Presidential election, their current position is that although they are for the abolition of EP
the responsibility for it belongs to the new parliament that will be elected in the next general election. They had articulated this position frequently in recent times whenever the issue came up.

However, it is doubtful whether they will come forward to give such a promise with a timeline to
the people through their election manifestos in the current situation.

At the same time, some observers question whether the abolition of EP is the primary concern of the people today. They point out that although in the past the people have overwhelmingly supported candidates who promised to abolish the Presidential system during the elections and brought them to power, it cannot be said that the people supported them just because they made such a promise. There were other concerns.

The political factors behind the impossibility of abolishing the EP
which has been in place for more than 45 years have prevented people from believing that any future President or government will show any serious concern about abolishing it.

There is no doubt that the slogans raised against misrule during Sri Lanka's unprecedented popular uprising two years ago that forced out a President who wielded more powers than any of Sri Lanka's previous Presidents were also anti- EP.

In fact, it was during the popular uprising that it really emerged as a mass demand. But the question also arises as to whether it is possible to carry out widespread protests that can inspire the demand among the people again in the current situation after the people's uprising was suppressed by force.

Will the National Movement for Social Justice, which has made the request to the political parties to state their position regarding the abolition of EP in their election manifestos, be able to mobilize civil society organizations and carry out a democratic campaign to exert pressure on the political parties? Mere media statements
will not sway our politicians.

Although Sri Lanka has been debating the abolition of EP for decades, Sri Lankans are yet to find a political leader willing to relinquish his powers. Will the abolition of Presidential rule always remain merely a topic for political dabate? Will not a leader emerge in Sri Lanka with the necessary political vision and courage to abolish the EP which has been the main cause for the enormous political and social problems Sri Lanka is facing ?

On this occasion, it may be pertinent to recall a question that an Indian journalist asked former President J.R. Jayewardene who introduced the EP, after his retirement from politics and his response to it.

Q: Election promise is made to abolish the Executive Presidency. What do you say about that?

JR: Come and talk to me after they abolish it.




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