Colombo, December 9 (newsin.asia): Sri Lankan political parties representing minority communities like the North-Eastern Tamils, Indian Origin Tamils (IOT) and Muslims, appear to have lost faith in the Presidential system, with a directly elected President wielding enormous executive powers.
They also vehemently oppose President Maithripala Sirisena’s proposal to tweak the 19 th.Constitutional Amendment to enhance his powers in the guise of removing some procedural anomalies in the legislation.
Initially, the minorities believed that they will have a significant hold on the government because they will have played an important part in the election of the President, a powerful national Chief Executive under the 1978 constitution.
But experience over the years has belied their expectations.
“Sri Lankan Executive Presidents from J.R.Jayewardene to Sirisena have shown that they care for the Tamils only at election time. Once elected, they forget the Tamils,” remarked Suresh Premachandran, leader of the Eelam Peoples’ Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) and a former Tamil National Alliance MP.
“So far, every Executive President has used the extraordinary powers vested in the post to enhance his or her power instead of using them for the common good. The Executive Presidency has spurred dictatorial tendencies in Sri Lanka,” Premachandran asserted.
Earlier, when Sri Lanka had a Westminster style parliamentary system, the minorities felt that their clout was negligible because they were always a minority in parliament, the highest policy making body of the country. Parliaments have tended to be overwhelmingly Sinhalese-Buddhist, given the fact that this community accounts for 75% of the Lankan population.
Therefore, the minorities were glad that in 1978, J.R.Jayewardene abolished the parliamentary system and established a Presidential system and vested humongous powers in a directly elected President.
The Tamils and other minorities acquired a significant role in the election of such a President. In fact, no Presidential candidate could win without some minority support as the votes of the majority Sinhalese were divided among the two major mainstream parties – the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the United National Party (UNP).
But the minorities’ hopes of exploiting their electoral power to secure their demands, were belied.
“Neither Jayewardene, nor Premadasa, nor Chandrika Kumaratunga, nor Rajapaksa nor Sirisena, solved the Tamil problem. For example, none of them acceded to the Tamils’ demand for a federal constitution. Maithripala Sirisena, who would not have become President if the Tamils and Muslims had not voted for him overwhelmingly, has not given the Tamils meaningful devolution of power in the three and a half years he has been in power. Tamil political prisoners are still to be released and a lot of land held by the military in the North is still to be handed back to their Tamil owners,” Premachandran pointed out.
Part of Pro-Democracy Movement
The former MP said that the Tamils must now support the on-going movement for the total abolition of the Executive Presidency.
“By doing so, the Tamils will be participating in the movement for the restoration of democracy in the country. Not just the Tamils and Muslims but the majority Sinhalese too have suffered as a result of the dictatorial tendencies created by the Executive Presidential system. All communities in Sri Lanka are yearning for the restoration of democracy,” Premachandran said.
M.A.Sumanthiran, MP and spokesman of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which has 14 members in parliament, said that under the parliamentary system, the Executive (the Prime Minister and his cabinet) will need to get the support of parliament on a daily basis.
Roots Of The Controversy
The present debate on the Executive Presidency has arisen as a result of some of the recent actions of the incumbent President Maithripala Sirisena.
On October 26, he summarily removed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe when the latter had majority support in parliament. And in his place, he appointed Mahinda Rajapaksa who did not have majority support in the House. This was in violation of the 19 th.Amendment of the constitution which had laid out the conditions under which a Prime Minister would have to go.
Prime minister Rajapaksa stayed in office even after being defeated twice in parliament, when motions of no confidence were moved against him on November 14 and 16.
The President then dissolved parliament in violation of the 19 th.Amendment, which had said that parliament should have completed at least four and a half years of its five year term before it could be dissolved. Or parliament should have requested its own dissolution by a resolution passed with a two thirds majority. None of these conditions had been respected.
President Sirisena and Mahinda Rajapaksa have been claiming that the President had not violated the constitution. They quote clauses in the 19 th.Amendment which appear to support their contentions.
The opposition United National Front, the TNA and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) vigorously counter these claims quoting chapter and verse from the constitution.
The matter is now before a seven-judge Supreme Court bench which is expected to deliver its judgment before December 15.
Amending the 19 th.Amendment
However, irrespective of the case in the Supreme Court, President Sirisena has said that he proposes to amend the 19 th.Amendment to clear it of some ambiguities in relation to his powers and also to remove some procedural anomalies.
He proposes to do this without diluting the 19A’s core objectives.
One of his advisors said: “The 19A had created the Independent Police Commission, which is good. But the President has lost the power to sack the Inspector General Police. This curbs his executive power and creates practical problems in the implementation of policies.”
Mahinda Rajapaksa of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) feels that the 19 th.Amedment must be done away with altogether because it makes a mockery of the institution of Executive Presidency by severely clipping the latter’s wings.
However, the parties of the minorities point out that abolition of the Executive Presidency was in the election manifesto of the President and that he is duty bound to fulfill it.
“The abolition of the Executive Presidency along with power sharing with the provinces is at the core of the new draft constitution, which had the support of all parties,” said M.A.Sumanthiran of the TNA.
“Therefore the TNA will not support any move to increase the powers of the President by amending the 19A,” he added.
This sentiment was echoed by the All Ceylon Makkal Congress leader Rishad Bathiyutheen, and the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress leader Nizam Kariyappar,according to a report in Virakesari.
Both the ACMC and SLMC are wedded to the abolition of the Executive Presidency because it facilitates dictatorship.
(The featured image at the top shows Sri Lankan Tamil leaders Selvam Adaikalanathan, M.A.Sumanthiran, the then US Ambassador Atul Keshap, and Suresh Premachandran talking to a US delegation)