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Columnist Javid Yusuf urges President, Premier and Opposition Leader to ensure abolition of EP, adoption of ER

Javed Yusuf 700 01
Reputed columnist Javid Yusuf has expressed hope that the country’s three leaders President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe and Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapakse would rise to the occasion and not fail in their duty to the country to abolish the Executive Presidency with sustainable Electoral Reforms. They should not let them to be added to the list of lost opportunities that Sri Lanka has had to face, in its journey since Independence.

In his column in the Sunday Times, Javid Yusuf states:

“Several news reports in the past few days have revealed that the three main political leaders in the country, President Maitripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa agree that the Executive Presidency (EP) should be abolished.

The news reports are rather sketchy and do not reveal how the three leaders arrived at such a conclusion at this point of time, when there had been no consensus among them during the past four years. All three have, in the past, expressed their commitment to abolishing the EP. The President and the Premier had pledged to do so before the January 2015 Presidential Elections, while the Opposition Leader had made a similar pledge during successive election campaigns.

What is significant now is that, all three show signs of moving in that direction. This indeed gives the country a glimmer of hope in its journey towards further strengthening democracy.

The meeting held last week (to discuss the 20th Amendment proposed by the JVP) between a delegation led by its leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake and a UPFA delegation led by Mahinda Rajapakse, further confirms there is some movement towards abolishing the EP.

Both Anura Dissanayake and Mahinda Rajapaksa weighed their words carefully when they spoke to the Press regarding their meeting. However, it was clear that further discussions would take place.

During the discussions, the Opposition Leader had indicated to the JVP delegation that, in principle, they were in agreement about abolishing the EP, but believed that it should be addressed together with the question of Electoral Reforms (ER) and the 13th Amendment, which they believed were inextricably linked.

The argument that the EP should be abolished, and while, at the same time, changing the current system of Proportionate Representation to a mixed electoral system is not without merit. The concern is that, mere abolition of the EP, without ERs, could result in unstable Governments.

In 1994, President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, probably, opted to go for a comprehensive Constitutional Reform process to abolish the EP, rather than a piecemeal Amendment, precisely for this reason. If a stand-alone Amendment to abolish the EP had been adopted in 1994, her Government would have been rendered unstable, as it only had a majority of 1 in Parliament.

Both President Sirisena and Premier Wickremesinghe should not have any difficulty in addressing these concerns articulated by the Opposition Leader, as their Manifesto in January 2015, too, promised ERs.

Additionally, President Sirisena promised to present a 20th Amendment to the Constitution, embodying a mixed system of Elections, during his efforts to persuade the Mahinda Rajapaksa camp in Parliament to support the 19th Amendment.

Thus arriving at an agreement with regard to ERs will not be an insurmountable hurdle for the three leaders. The only problem will be the time factor. Given the previous experiences of ERs at the Local Government and Provincial Council level by the present Government, it is unlikely that a process of Electoral Reform can be completed in time for the next General Elections, if the normal route is followed.

In any ERs the most time consuming component is the Delimitation process. One way of overcoming this hurdle is to avoid the need for Delimitation, by adopting a different approach for the forthcoming General Elections only. This could be done by utilising the current 196 Polling Divisions as the Electorates in the Mixed system of Elections. The 29 National List seats could be utilised (or increased to the extent necessary) to reflect the proportionality of the votes cast. If an increased number of seats on the National List are required, it can be justified on the basis that it is only for the forthcoming General Elections and is a small price to pay for ensuring the EP is abolished.

In designing such a package of ERs, every effort should be made to ensure that no political grouping or community is disadvantaged by this temporary arrangement. If any such disadvantage cannot be avoided, despite all such efforts, that political grouping or community should make a sacrifice in the larger National Interest of abolishing the EP.

If the above process is adopted, the abolition of the EP and ERs (designed only for the next General Elections) can be completed within six months.

Simultaneous with the above exercise, a multiparty Committee should set about the process of drafting a more permanent and sustainable ER package and endeavour to have it passed before the next General Elections.

The Delimitation process that such ERs will inevitably entail can be embarked upon after the formation of a new Government.
The other major concern that Mahinda Rajapaksa had expressed to the JVP delegation was the issue of the impact the abolition of the EP would have on the 13th Amendment. These fears relate to whether the removal of a strong EP from the Constitutional Architecture can facilitate any secessionist tendencies in the Provinces.

This, too, is not a matter that is difficult to address. The Constitutional Assembly proceedings initiated by this Government, have thrown up some ideas to deal with these fears. Although the EP will be abolished, there will still be a President who would wield certain powers laid down in the Constitution. Such a President will be the Head of State and Commander of the Armed Forces. He will have the power to declare war and peace.

The institution of the Presidency that replaces the EP could be Constitutionally entrusted with the power to take steps to prevent any secessionist moves, if and when such moves are made.

The inclusion of such provisions are made easier by TNA Leader R. Sampanthan having already agreed in the Constitutional Assembly deliberations, to the inclusion of such anti secessionist provisions in any new Constitution.

If the EP is abolished, together with ERs and necessary changes to the 13th Amendment as above, it will result in a win-win situation for all political parties. Most importantly, it will be a victory for the people and the country.

Additionally, there will be a bonus for Mahinda Rajapaksa. He is currently debarred from contesting for the Presidency. With these changes, he will be able to contest for the post of Prime Minister who will be the head of Government.”





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