Text­book au­to­crat who is shift­ing goal­post

Sunday Times (Sri Lanka) - - OPINION -

The 1960 gen­eral elec­tions gave J.R. Jayewar­dene rea­son to be­lieve that the Bri­tish par­lia­men­tary sys­tem will not work in Sri Lanka. A poll took place in March that year af­ter the gov­ern­ing Ma­ha­jana Ek­sath Per­a­muna coali­tion im­ploded spec­tac­u­larly. But nei­ther of the ma­jor par­ties—the United Na­tional Party ( UNP) or the Sri Lanka Free­dom Party ( SLFP)-- gained a ma­jor­ity and a sec­ond elec­tion was held a bare four months later.

In 1966, twelve years be­fore the 1978 Con­sti­tu­tion, Mr Jayewar­dene pub­licly sug­gested a French-style Pres­i­den­tial sys­tem that would grant a politi­cian elected by the peo­ple the pow­ers to keep the coun­try stable while Par­lia­ment grap­pled with the va­garies of po­lit­i­cal winds. But look where it has got Sri Lanka now.

The coun­try is me­an­der­ing through an un­prece­dented ad­min­is­tra­tive co­nun­drum. The pub­lic sec­tor is func­tion­ing in a vac­uum. There are no Min­is­ters, no Prime Min­is­ter and no bud­gets. Only the Ex­ec­u­tive Pres­i­dent.

This is the 40th year of the Ex­ec­u­tive Pres­i­dency. And de­spite rou­tine blus­ter dur­ing elec­tions from politi­cians of all hues to abol­ish this sys­tem, it per­sists with the re­sult to­day of dire in­sta­bil­ity in the coun­try wors­ened by shame­less chi­canery in po­lit­i­cal quar­ters.

Dur­ing the sec­ond read­ing of the 1978 Con­sti­tu­tion, the SLFP’s Sir­ima Ban­daranaike made a state­ment op­pos­ing the Ex­ec­u­tive Pres­i­dency, say­ing it paved the way for a dic­ta­tor­ship. Lanka Sama Sa­maja Party leader N M Per­era, not in Par­lia­ment then, wrongly pre­dicted that the Ex­ec­u­tive Pres­i­dency would only last the term of that Par­lia­ment. And he warned that, should it stay longer, “the en­su­ing chaos would put democ­racy it­self into peril”. Both Ms Ban­daranaike’s and Dr Per­era’s po­lit­i­cal prog­e­nies have, nev­er­the­less, basked in the sun­shine of the Ex­ec­u­tive Pres­i­dency when they got the chance.

Mr. Jayewar­dene’s other con­cern was that the first-past-the­p­ost sys­tem did not do jus­tice to the UNP which could get more votes than oth­ers-- like in 1970-- but lose the elec­tion badly. So he brought in the Pro­por­tional Rep­re­sen­ta­tion sys­tem. There are mer­its in both his ar­gu­ments. But the po­lit­i­cal sys­tem be­came much too cor­rupted and de­praved along the way for any of this to serve the coun­try ben­e­fi­cially.

To­day, Maithri­pala Sirisena, who was elected on a plat­form to abol­ish or, in the very least, re­duce the pow­ers and priv­i­leges of the Ex­ec­u­tive Pres­i­dency—and, in­deed, went around the world grand­stand­ing that he was the one Pres­i­dent who shed power vol­un­tar­ily—has not only used the pow­ers re­sid­ing in him but usurped pow­ers not with him!

Mr Sirisena’s ob­du­rate re­fusal to ap­point Ranil Wick­remesinghe as Prime Min­is­ter de­spite him com­mand­ing the con­fi­dence of Par­lia­ment is a text­book case of an au­to­crat who be­lieves the Premier must hu­mour the whims and fan­cies of the Pres­i­dent. This is an im­peach­able of­fence, even as the coun­try stum­bles for­ward to yet an­other pe­riod of un­cer­tainty her­alded by the abuse of the Ex­ec­u­tive Pres­i­dency.

In his ex­clu­sive in­ter­view to the Sun­day Times a fort­night ago, Mr Sirisena said he would re­solve this cri­sis once the ma­jor­ity in Par­lia­ment is re­solved. Then, he be­gan shift­ing the goal­posts—as he is wont to do—and now says he will set­tle it in a week.

The Pres­i­dent to­day is not part of the so­lu­tion he cre­ated with his ‘Oc­to­ber 26 Rev­o­lu­tion’. He is the prob­lem.

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