Colombo, Constitutional Reform, Politics and Governance

Abolition or reform of Executive Presidency in Sri Lanka?

A pre-presidential election conversation I had with well-known lawyer and activist Javed Yusuf touched upon a number of issues vital to Sri Lanka over the course of 2010 and well-beyond. Javed Yusuf was Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia in the mid-90’s, and in this video strongly argues for the abolition of the office of the Executive President. He notes that the myth of the office protecting the rights of minorities has no basis in fact, noting that no Executive President has really helped the minorities to fulfil their aspirations.

Javed also touches upon issues of post-war reconciliation.

A divergent view is expressed by Dr. Harinda Vidanage. An old friend from College, Dr. Vidanage introduced himself as a political analyst and is today the Director of the Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies (BCIS). Among the issues we touch on, including the nature and extent of corruption in the Rajapakse administration and the presidential elections, Dr. Vidanage explicitly notes the importance of the Executive Presidency in our political system and strongly advocates reform over abolition.

On Page 56 of the English version of Mahinda Chintanaya 2010, the President notes that,

“The Executive Presidency will be converted into a Trusteeship which honours the mandate given to Parliament by being accountable to parliament, establishes equality before the law, is accountable to the judiciary and enacts laws that are accountable to the judiciary, and is not in conflict with the judiciary.”

Five years earlier, on Page 97 of the English version of Mahinda Chintanaya 2005, the President noted that,

“… I expect to present a Constitution that will propose the abolition of the Executive Presidency and to provide solutions to other issues confronting the country. In the interim, I propose to present a Constitutional amendment through which the Executive President will be made answerable to the Parliament by virtue of holding such office. To endorse the responsibility that the President has to the Parliament, I will attend Parliament once a month.”

Debate on the salient points of both interviews, as well as the sentiments in the two versions of the President’s manifesto regarding the office of the Executive, are encouraged.