27th February 2000

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Presidency: new moves

It now seems that the government is prepared for some sort of political sleight of hand to retain the Executive Presidency in its tenure of office. Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister, Professor G. L. Peiris has apparently "cleared the air'' regarding this issue during an intervention in parliament. He has said that the Executive Presidency will be retained during the transitional period, at the end of which the country will revert to "Westminster style government.''

The President's recent move to "return to parliament'' it seems was only for the cosy photo-op of the budget. Will this President do anything to keep out of parliament, even as its Prime Minister, in the next six years?

No amount of political casuistry can conceal the core intention of the government in the bid to retain the Executive Presidency, through its immediate term of six years. If a new constitution is promulgated, it will be in force, and there will not be any questions of "transitional provisions'' that are envisaged in an older document.

It has been fairly obvious for a long time now that this President and her government have enjoyed the immense powers that go along with the institution of Executive Presidency. This was apparent from the time the government decided to renege on its promise to dismantle the executive presidency a promise given in writing to a political party in print in its manifesto and verbally to the people during the 1994 national polls.

But the new rationale to have the cake and eat it too is a good example of political expediency at its nadir. There are many questions that can be legitimately asked about this transitional manoeuvre, such as why the government has had this compelling need to retain the Presidency for the next six years?

If the government is so disenchanted with the Presidency, that it opts to constitutionally dismantle the institution, doesn't it follow that retaining it during a "transitional period'' is for the express purpose of making use of its negative attributes?

Such patent lack of bona fides in the actions of a government, is depressingly indicative of the sort of political culture that prevails in this new millennial political ethos. There is chicanery and sleight of hand in abundance; and the worrying factor is that there doesn't seem to be the need anymore for subtlety when manoeuvres are made for politically expedient purposes.

Not that subtlety is alright. But even the veneer of subtlety is now brazenly abandoned in a devil-may-care attitude towards public opinion by a government that has, well, obtained 51 per cent of the vote and claims the people are with them all the way.

As a sideshow, there has also been the acerbic exchange of letters between the President and the leader of the opposition. The merit of the President's arguments and those of the opposition's may lie in the details.

What's important to us from a national point of view is how the interaction between the two key political leaders of the current time will impinge on solving the nation's crisis.

Any goodwill that's being created between the two parties will appear to be an illusion. The President's typically fault - finding reaction to the opposition and the Opposition Leader's voyage complaining about extraneous issues-like for instance, a cartoon in a state run newspaper, to say the least, are examples to which politics here have plumetted. Both calculating to sow discord.

Liam Fox has failed. All the best to Knut- Vollebaek.

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