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It is like building castles in the air while the promises are going if not gone with the wind. Tuesday July 15 marks the second anniversary of what is perhaps the most blatant of the broken promises given to the people - the solemn and oft-repeated pledge to abolish the Executive Presidency which the PA described as a curse.
Yet, at this point of time our Plus cover story shows the government appears to be interested in a proposal to build a palatial one-and-a-half-billion rupee mansion along with a secretariat at Sri Jayewardenepura Kotte for the head of government. They say that if the system of government is changed and the Prime Minister becomes the chief executive with the President as a figure-head, then the new mansion will be the residence of the Premier and his or her office.
Cutting part of the ground from under this castle, Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe has vowed he will not move into this mansion if he is elected as head of government.
At present Temple Trees, the residence of the President is like a fortress with rooftop troops armed with anti-aircraft guns and most of the roads around it closed causing traffic chaos at peak hours daily. When the official residence is moved to Sri Jayewardenepura, that ancient capital will probably resemble China's 'forbidden city', with the rulers cut away from the people physically and otherwise - thus providing an Ivory tower environment. Road users in Colombo may well breathe a sigh of relief and the cost of the project may be funded from the sale of some of the prime land vacated, but would this exercise be wholly worthwhile?
When Britain faced a similar problem from the IRA, things were handled quite differently - with a new railing around No. 10, Downing Street being raised. New Prime Minister Tony Blair found that No. 10 was not big enough for his family, so instead of building a new mansion at public expense he just moved to No.11.
All that apart, the unprecedented 62 per cent and others who voted for the abolition of the Executive Presidency have been given evasive answers and devious excuses - such as a crafty link with the Devolution Package.
If it is only for the abolition of the Executive Presidency, the government won't find much difficulty in getting a two-third majority in Parliament with the UNP, the NDUNLF, the JVP and other parties ready to support it. But the package may not get the required majority. So the two issues may be put to a referendum. Would it mean that if the people reject the package, it will also be taken as a sign that the Executive Presidency could go on. If that is so they might as well say they were wrong. Now that they are in the saddle, they don't want to abolish this form of government. Otherwise an accusation could well be levelled of maintaining a false front or staging a political circus with the people as clowns.
If the government is still sincere about abolishing a system that so obviously promotes dictatorial trends, it must set an early date and keep that promise.
If the law is generally an ass, then crimi- nal defamation laws could be seen as a primitive ass that look pretty stupid, inconsistent and irrelevant to the enlightened thinking of modern democratic societies.
Out of any crisis or conflict, something good could arise if attitudes are right. Thus we welcome the Media Minister's assurance that recommendations by the R. K. W. Goonasekera committee for the repeal of criminal defamation and other restrictive laws would be seriously considered by a parliamentary select committee. Moving amendments to the motion for the appointment of the select committee, the UNP also has called for the abrogation of the criminal defamation laws so that Sri Lanka could move with the times and introduce a media culture in keeping with the modern and enlightened democracies.
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