18th Amendment, Colombo, Constitutional Reform, Peace and Conflict, Politics and Governance, Post-War

A timeline of duplicity: Promises to abolish the Executive Presidency

Groundviews created this timeline to highlight various promises and statements made by the President and government over abolishing the office of the Executive President.

Click and drag the slider at the bottom of the timeline above to adjust the time scale. Click here to view larger version of this timeline, where you can also view it as a list of events / stories. Click on any pop-up / event to get a URL link to the full news story.

This timeline only records select statements and news stories after October 2009. A Google search of news stories from 2005 to 2008 reveals a number of instances where the incumbent President promises to abolish the office of the Executive Presidency, in line with his Mahinda Chintanaya manifesto of 2005 (e.g. President pledges Constitutional reforms). And even before, in 2003, Mahinda Rajapaksa, as leader of the opposition noted that, “As a party we still stand for the abolition of the executive presidency. Until the last minute we will be trying to abolish this.

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.”

The backtracking over abolishing the Presidency is clear as far back as November 2009, and echoed by other supine apparatchiks in government soon after. In a particularly revealing interpretation of the Presidential election results in January 2010, Maithripala Sirisena, the SLFP General Secretary at the time noted that,

“…in light of the extraordinary victory achieved by President Mahinda Rajapaksa at Tuesday’s poll, the abolition of the executive presidency could not be a panacea for all ills as claimed by the UNP-JVP combine. It was a mandate to continue with the existing presidential system of governance.”

However, till around May, the timeline records a number of instances where members of government as well as leftist political parties noted that the executive presidency would be abolished. Key amongst these voices were Constitutional Affairs Minister DEW Gunasekara and senior presidential advisor Vasudeva Nanayakkara, also head of the Common Left Front. One recalls that the basis upon which the Left parties supported the election and manifesto of Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2005 was on the promise of the abolition of the Executive Presidency.

Soon after Parliamentary elections in April 2010, the government found itself in a politically unassailable position and unsurprisingly, began to have second thoughts doing away with the Executive Presidency. Bizarrely however, the Presidential Media Unit in July stated that the President and the Leader of the Opposition had reached a consensus in principal to abolish the executive presidency and replace it with an executive premiership responsible to the Parliament.

The concept and form of an “executive premiership” was unclear. Renowned constitutional lawyer Rohan Edrisinha noted in an interview in August that the idea of an Executive Prime Minister is not just confusing, but dangerous to boot since it actually enhances the powers of the President. And so even though Mahinda Rajapaksa had the gall in July to say that he “never said anywhere that the Executive Presidency should be abolished”, discussions with the UNP and the Leader of the Opposition continued anchored to the abolition of the Executive Presidency.

And though now moot, authors on Groundviews had also expressed a similar degree of skepticism over Sarath Fonseka’s promise, when he was contesting the Presidential elections, to do away with the office of the Executive as it now stands. Kusal Perera in Believable Change” with unbelievable evasiveness: Sarath Fonseka’s manifesto notes,

The promise of abolishing the executive presidency, was the promise that brought this otherwise impossible grouping together. All other issues have been lately accommodated to make the candidature a populist one. Yet this most important promise of abolishing the executive presidency is too vague to be believable as included in the manifesto. All what Gen (rtd) Fonseka’s manifesto promises is that he would restore democracy and win the peace” for which he says, Within a month cabinet papers will be presented for the approval of a ‘Constitution Amendment Bill’ to abolish the Executive Presidency. That simply is everything about abolishing the executive presidency.

Given the backtracking, duplicity and downright hypocrisy of politicians, some argue that it is the Sri Lankan voter – unable and unwilling to hold those they elect to political office accountable – who ultimately has to take responsibility for this on-going farce, and a Bill that if passed on 8 September, spells the end of democratic governance in Sri Lanka.

Also see Abolition or reform of Executive Presidency in Sri Lanka? for two key videos on arguments both for and against abolishing the Executive Presidency. For promises made before 2005 to abolish this obnoxious political office, read How Many Times Was This abolition of exec presidency promised? by Kusal Perera.