More about the presidential system

Friday, 25 June 2021 00:36 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


Champika is a genius. But, the volume of retrogressive and superstitious ideas he has socialised with it and the consequential damage done to the society is immense. He simultaneously plays the role of both the philosopher and the exorcist. It is an obvious contradiction


In my article last week titled ‘The puzzles of Sri Lanka’s crisis’ I analysed the role of Champika Ranawaka in the political arena, a prominent figure in the queue of political leaders aspiring for national leadership, raising two simple questions. One question was on the presidential system; and the other on organic fertiliser. 

In the prevailing political culture in Sri Lanka the questioning of this nature may not be palatable to political leaders, and it is more so with their followers. The leaders who are ready to confront intense questioning are usually smart and more advanced than those who are not. 

2015 transformation 

I still believe that if Sri Lanka had been able to manage the political transformation of 2015 optimally, and effect necessary reforms, probably it would have prevented the country from falling into a state of failure and bankruptcy, and paved the way for marching the country forward with ease and carried to a greater height in a manner that it would no longer be possible to reverse the process. 

But it ended up in a pathetic situation analogous to the proverbial narrative of the broth cooked by seven cheats, as the leaders who took over the reins of the political management of the people’s victory maneuvered it surreptitiously to achieve their selfish gains, driven by hunger for power. Now Sri Lanka has to pay a heavy price for this mistake, committed knowingly or unknowingly. 

There were three opposing criticisms to my critique published in the social media. One by Lakshitha Bambarande and the other two by Bandula Chandrasekara and Anuruddha Pradeep Karnasuriya. The latter two can be considered as two key figures in Champika’s political campaign.

Bandula shared his opposing views with me before publishing them in the social media. As the ideas we exchanged in this regard do not cause any harm to Champika and his political campaign or to Bandula or me, I felt it is important that they must be published for the knowledge of the readers so that the reader could understand how the two groups perceive these issues. 

The first comment Bandula shared with me after reading my article is as follows: “In 2015, Champika had initially pointed out that the abolition of the Executive Presidency was not possible as it required a referendum. It was only after that the others realised it. So, there is no point in blaming Champika for that. Many people, including you, have made mistakes in the past. There is no point in writing about them again and again ... nothing moves in a linear trajectory... I do not think you are doing anything other than targeting Champika and attacking him.” 

The reply I sent him was: “No, I have a big question about 2015. Why did they not go into a referendum and abolish the presidential system? It does not call for a great intelligence to understand that a referendum is needed to abolish the presidential system. On the other hand, if at all it was decided to continue with the presidential system, what was it that had prevented the President being subjected to the rule of law?” 

His response was, “It has been done adequately by the 19th Amendment. Still there are weaknesses in that too… However, there is no point in bringing in Constitutional Amendments that will destabilise the country. The presidential system cannot be changed simply without having a comprehensive reform of the electoral system. It happened in Nepal.”

Adherence to retrogressive attitudes

The following is a note I sent to Bandula. “Bandula, I have no personal grudge against you or your leader. After all, I am not a contestant for political power. But I do not regard a leader who sways with stupid and backward attitudes of the people as a good leader. My judgment of a good leader is one who works to change the backward attitudes of the people. It is only such leaders that I regard as good leaders. I need not tell you that your leader does not fall into this category. 

“In fact, Champika is a genius. But, the volume of retrogressive and superstitious ideas he has socialised with it and the consequential damage done to the society is immense. He simultaneously plays the role of both the philosopher and the exorcist. It is an obvious contradiction.” 

Bandula’s reply to my remarks was as follows: “You continue to attack him. You have never talked about his positive changes and trends. There may be criticism of some views and ideas he had held in the past. It was on those ideas that the LTTE terrorism was defeated based on that ideology. We did not talk of killing Tamil people at that time ... nor did such an incident happen in the south either. It was an aspect I had not seen in politics.”

My response to this was: “I have no personal grudge or hatred against Champika. I have my own criticism on all the leaders in the country. In my opinion, Champika’s contribution towards plunging Sri Lanka into a failed, ugly and miserable state is immense. If Champika wants to move forward, first of all, he must subject himself to a serious self-criticism. “

Bandula’s response to that was: “Is this valid for Champika only? The instances are immense when you have supported the other leaders without criticising them... In any case; Champika is a leader who is ready to change himself, which he has demonstrated in practice. The problem is that you fail to recognise it...on the other hand no one can blame him for his stance against separatism. 

“On such issues, criticism of those claimed to be so-called pacifists are often hypocritical. Therefore, the self-criticism that you advocate for Champika is without base or justification. I must say that his view on the future governance is very modern. In this respect, he stands ahead of all the other politicians today. He has already displayed it to the country by managing the ministries he held in three governments led by two different forces. But it is sad to say that none of these facts has been appreciated by you.

Anuruddha Pradeep on presidential system

Anuruddha Pradeep’s comments on this dialogue are rather amazing. The democratic credentials that he has attached to the presidential system operative in Sri Lanka are of great value. He states, “A full-fledged presidential system or a semi-presidential system like ours, per se, is not anti-democratic. America or France is no less democratic than Britain or India. This has been said a hundred times. It has also been pointed out several times in your newspaper as well. But you do not see the truth because of your ignorance and personal hatred against Champika.”

He goes on further stating, “There was no practical possibility of replacing the semi -presidential system in 2015, with a cabinet system. Champika is blamed for that because of ignorance and hatred of Champika. If a system of cabinet governance were to be instituted, it was necessary that either an amendment to the constitution was brought in or a new constitution was adopted. Despite the attempt to amend the Constitution under Ranil’s leadership, the Judiciary did not permit it, as it was not in compliance with the Constitution. 

“Anyone with an iota of knowledge of the Constitution and the political science will understand that the initial draft of 19th Amendment was not a legislation that should or could not have been effected. Practically there was no space in the political sphere at that time to adopt a new Constitution. How could a new Constitution have been adopted when no party had commanded at least one half of the Parliamentary seats? 

“The adoption of a new Constitution requires a referendum as well, in addition to a two-thirds majority in Parliament. That was not a thing that could have been achieved under the circumstances prevailing at the time. It is only those who lack the understanding of practical politics who assert the possibility of adopting a new Constitution at that moment. It is a folly to believe that everything should happen by Constitutional Amendments. 

“This stupid belief is a malady bequeathed to the country by the leftists in Sri Lanka. They persistently clamoured that something they refer to as the Executive Presidency needs to be changed. There is no Executive Presidency as such in this country. What this country has is only a semi-presidential system. It is not as anti-democratic as it sounds. The problem in Sri Lanka lies not in the Constitution but in the political culture. It is mostly those who lack knowledge on the concepts of constitutionalism and politics that tend to think that there is a problem in the Constitution.”

What has really happened?

After Maithripala Sirisena had left the ruling party on 21 November 2014 to join the opposition to become the common candidate, a memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed on 1 December 2014 between the common candidate and Ven. Sobhitha Thero on behalf of 49 political parties and civil society organisations clearly specifying its intention in regard to the presidential system as follows: “The abolition of the current Executive Presidency within six months and establishment of a parliamentary system accountable to the people in its place.” 

Surprisingly, the next day, the common candidate signed another memorandum of understanding with the JHU, which was in stark contrast to the one already signed with Ven. Sobhitha Thero. The MoU signed with the JHU states that the tyrannical powers of the presidential system will be removed, and the system will be reformed so that the President shall be held accountable to the Parliament and the Judiciary. The JHU also had a draft of the Amendment to the Constitution for the reform it intended to implement, which it had got prepared by Sarath Nanda Silva, who is considered to be the major culprit behind the destruction of the judiciary of Sri Lanka.

The JHU did not command as much people’s power as the 49 organisations that signed the first MoU the day before. Under the circumstances, the common candidate should not have signed an agreement that was completely contrary to the approach agreed upon in the MoU already entered into with the 49 organisations with regard to the presidential system. So much so, the JHU too, should not have persuaded the common candidate to sign such an agreement. 

This act, I came to know, at that time itself, had led to cause a deep concern and consternation in Ven. Sobhitha Thero. This explains the harsh and suspicious nature of the behaviour of the JHU leaders at that time. 

Anuruddha Pradeep’s observation that there was no practical possibility to adopt a new Constitution or amend the old one can be considered as a fabricated lie designed to veil the truth. The idea of ​​abolishing the presidential system was abandoned not because the people had not granted enough power for that; the truth is that the common candidate had already abandoned the idea of ​​abolishing the presidential system at the outset of the presidential election. 

In a statement issued by the common candidate for the Presidential Election titled ‘A Maithri regime’ it was clearly stated, “A Constitutional Amendment will be introduced within the first 100 days of my tenure treating it as an interim period, to translate the Executive Presidency, which in its current form leads to a dictatorship, into a position of the Head of State which is linked to the Parliament through the Cabinet of Ministers and accountable to the Judiciary.” 

Punishment for pettiness 

If a greater parliamentary power was needed for adopting a new Constitution or effecting a Constitutional Amendment, what should have been done was to call for a parliamentary election soon after the victory of the presidential election, without any further delay. As the President himself has later stated, it was not done in order to prevent the UNP from gaining a greater parliamentary power and thereby creating a distortion in parliamentary representation. Perhaps, the way the JHU too would have thought about it at that time could be the same.

By this factional approach and cliquism, President Sirisena as well as the leaders of the JHU may have speculated to build a strong third force. Yet, in the end, the entire Yahapalana Movement including them and also the whole country was plunged into a total mess and utter destruction. Their factional approach eventually destroyed the country, in addition to destroying themselves.

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