For those who want the Executive Presidency dumped and to revert to the old Parliamentary system, the shenanigans unfolding in the ‘Mother of all Parliaments’ in the United Kingdom must be shocking to witness. There, Parliament has been turned into a political tool by a beleaguered Prime Minister who, having lost vital votes, is running [...]


Lessons from UK’s parliamentary turmoil


For those who want the Executive Presidency dumped and to revert to the old Parliamentary system, the shenanigans unfolding in the ‘Mother of all Parliaments’ in the United Kingdom must be shocking to witness.

There, Parliament has been turned into a political tool by a beleaguered Prime Minister who, having lost vital votes, is running a minority government with back-stabbing by the hour and the Queen asked to prorogue the House of Commons, dangling a snap general election as the only way out to the impasse. The country, as a consequence, seems to be descending to a state of economic paralysis. The level of vitriol and nastiness has intensified through social media and with the Opposition itself at sixes and sevens no one really knows what is next.

The entire contentious issue revolves around how the country should leave the European Union. Many see this as the Prime Minister’s circuitous route to have a second referendum on the matter with the issue now turning into a Public vs. Parliament crisis.

It is largely the UK’s business community that is in a state of ‘suspended animation’, while the people are now seemingly in a mood, after almost three years of uncertainty of arguing among themselves, seemingly fed up either way – if the UK is to leave the EU with a deal, or no deal. This is the third Prime Minister since they had the Referendum, where the people by a narrow margin opted to exit the EU.

Proponents of the Executive Presidency would argue that the instability of the British Parliament, and a government at the mercy of a parliamentary majority leads to chaos. Britain, where parliamentary democracy began, is currently a textbook example of this instability. President J.R. Jayewardene in introducing the Executive Presidency referred to a strong Executive who is not subject to “whims and fancies” of an elected legislature, but also saw to it that the Sri Lanka Constitution was a mix of the parliamentary system and the presidential system. The then Trotskyite leader N.M. Perera denounced it as a “hotchpotch’ system. This week’s pathetic conduct of the UNP Ministers who were absent from the House to answer questions did no favours to those who argue in support of parliamentary government.

That is why we have often said there is no particular magic in either system; that a parliamentary dictatorship can be as bad as a presidential dictatorship. In the UK, at least, there is a Queen as the Head of State as a stabilising factor. Though as the Sovereign, she usually acts on the advice of the Prime Minister, she still has a constitutional role to play in being the glue that keeps the nation together.

In an Executive Presidency, like what we have experienced here, the Head of State (who is also the Head of the Government) is a partisan politician, the head of a political party striving to contest and win elections. Given the way we have seen Executive Presidents operate, it is clear Sri Lankan politicians cannot handle the job. The case of the ‘constitutional coup’ of last October is an example where the Executive President’s action was the classic epitome of one person throwing the country into a state of near anarchy, and the people under the bus.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe outlined those dark days in contemporary Sri Lanka’s political evolution while addressing the Maldives Parliament earlier this week, but last ditch moves the previous week in Colombo to do away with the Executive Presidency seem to betray ulterior motives on the part of the country’s political troika – the President, the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition.

The President finds himself between a rock and a hard place unlikely to contest again however much he wants to; the Premier boxed into a corner by a party in revolt; and the Opposition Leader clearly unhappy he has been deprived of contesting again by a constitutional barrier. Some may argue that politics is not always altruistic, but if the final goal is something for the good, the means towards that end is arguably, irrelevant.

Yet, even this exercise has been thrown out of the window as the Opposition Leader finds it too late to give his support to abolish the Executive Presidency, what with his party’s presidential candidate already announced. There will, therefore, be no tectonic shift on the Executive Presidency, the once burning issue seemingly deftly taken out from the national agenda with National Security taking its place in the upcoming election.

The decay of the public service

Last week’s main story in this newspaper must surely be disconcerting to many. The news item referred to some 70 senior public servants, going up to the level of District Secretaries (the successor to the former Government Agent) being on the mat for illegal activities ranging from issuing sand-mining permits to sexual assaults.

The deterioration of the public service has been happening for a long time and sadly, very little has been done by successive administrations to arrest the declining trend. Even in this case, politics has crept into the ‘story’ with an Opposition MP accusing the Minister of hounding these officials and arguing that these suspects are anti-government officials whom the Minister wants out of the way come election time. Unfortunately, even the nomenclature of a public servant has changed now to government servant.

The deterioration of the public service reflects the malady in the country. Once the very model of rectitude, the Sri Lanka Administrative Service (SLAS) — the successor to the Ceylon Civil Service (CCS) — has been corrupted beyond redemption. It was only the other day that the Executive President’s Chief of Staff was caught red-handed accepting a bribe in a hotel car lot. To say that politicians have presided over this rot is not an over-statement.

Independent Commissions enacted through the 19th Amendment have not had the desired results in a merit-based public service, which includes the Police. The public servants of yesteryear were once ridiculed for considering the ARs (Administrative Regulations) and FRs (Financial Regulations) as their ‘Holy Book’. Today, many wouldn’t know what they mean and politicians aspiring to be President may not be interested either as long as these ‘government servants’ do their bidding.


Share This Post


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked.
Comments should be within 80 words. *


Post Comment

Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.