‘50% plus one’ captures public fancy but have we forgotten about abolishing EP?

Friday, 6 September 2019 00:30 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

ERASE THE VILE THING – To be fair by the UNP, at least they’re mouthing the ‘right’ platitudes. To be fair by the SLPP, they’re not deceiving anyone by making their sentiments about 18A known, nor their hope in presidentialism. To be fair by the JVP, they could change their mind and either not run for the executive or militate together with likeminded others after their election ‘victory/success’ to have it abolished. To be fair by civil society/the larger national interest, we can only trust that all the abolitionists are serious about their commitment – at least, this time… yes, well, QED!


IF ALL GOES WELL, in a little over three months from now the voting population of Sri Lanka will go to the polls to elect the country’s next executive president. Now the focus of the polity seems to have shifted to the numbers game, as some early number-crunchers in the presidential race are pleased to call it. There has been a lot of debate, discussion and a sensible measure of agreement about the unlikelihood of any single aspirant securing the prized 50% of the vote plus one. Just a minute – have we all forgotten that we were supposed to abolish the executive?

By no means has civil society forgotten. But they have fallen silent as the usual suspects have begun in earnest to jostle for public attention. More than being about parties and promises made or polices and projects fallen by the wayside, the narrative of the presidential contest has taken the shape or form of who makes the best bet to inveigle second, third and even fourth preferences. Well, how about the first preference of many fed up and reflective citizens that the executive is an albatross of the first order that needs to be laid low by the cruel blow of a constitutional reform? 

So much has been made of the JVP’s throwing of its hat in the ring. It has certainly set the cat among the pigeons of presidential hopefuls in both major parties who might have hoped to canter through to be first past the post in a straightforward two-horse race. But Anura Kumara Dissanayake’s well-timed entry into the race – red herring or bête noire – may have scuppered the hopes of another ‘budding/blossoming’ candidate who’d had his nomination announced only a week before the Reds’ show of strength at Galle Face Green. And the JVP-led alliance – the NPP – seems to be striking the right chords across a cross section of demographics. So much so that some academics have even suggested that not only the customary 500,000 third-force votes, but twice that figure is possible. For it is not only protest votes but pragmatic supplicants to whom such a seemingly principled candidate could appeal.

Be that as it may, even a million red-ink-stained votes in the match bag won’t make the JVP leader skipper of a national side… although it will make AKD a formidable enemy in the general elections field and a fortuitous ally in the House for anyone hoping to push unpopular legislation through – in the immediate aftermath of two flushes of electoral success. 20A, anyone? Which begs the question: Why is the JVP aspiring to the post it passionately preached against and practically flogged to death in parliament to have the executive presidency abolished? Don’t tell me they think that you and I believe EP stands a snowball’s chance in hell of being erased or even simply emasculated if AKD doubles the traditional haul of a third-force candidate? 

So many commentators don’t think of the JVP as a third force anyway. The critics point to their poor showing at past presidential polls in the decades ago when they did contest. While cynics undermine the legitimacy of their challenge some twenty years since their last executive showing on a plethora of grounds. Some see them as spoilers fielded by those who would bankroll a party of principle to undermine a populist aspirant who’s looking dangerous. Other observers think it poetic justice that those who have never governed will attract the protest votes of an electorate fed up to the back teeth with the chicanery of so-called ‘good governance’. Several more with an agenda or axes to grind will lend their support to the pragmatic pitch a progressive element such as AKD will bring to the whole tenor of the presidential race…   

To my mind, that is not the issue as such. Not to be difficult. But the res to me is why more stakeholders in our national interest than at present aren’t agitating for the albatross to be laid low with the cruel bow of constitutional reform. Do I repeat myself? Very well then: I repeat myself – in a good cause! And I’m not much impressed by the likes of present UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe repeating the tired old mantra of how his tried and tested (or is that tried and failed) party is committed to abolition. 

Such ‘commitment’ has shown no little laxity of late. There has been painfully slow progress on the reforms agenda; for all the gains such as 19A, RTI, etc. secured. And some important and integral items on the list – such as a panoply of national reconciliation and transitional justice imperatives – have been shelved; apparently, for reasons of realpolitik rather than any rational conviction. The ‘good governors’ in our late great experiment with a new brand of democratic-republicanism left the real action – peace-with-justice – too late. And in the end, delivered too little in terms of true results; especially for all the time taken, and all that trust of ours invested but squandered. First in being as culpable of criminality as their predecessors; then in playing the victim when wounded by the coup but regaining no small measure of time-honoured arrogance after the courts of judgment as well as public opinion saved them; and last but not least, in aspiring to moderate democracy on a national front but practising Machiavellian dictatorship behind closed doors.

(Journalist | Editor-at-large of LMD | Writer #SpeakingTruthToPower)

Recent columns