Timely information on presidential elections
The Executive President by D.C. Ranatunga. Reviewed by Dhananjani Silva
The Executive President, a little booklet by D. C. Ranatunga, provides those interested in Sri Lankan politics with an insight into the four Presidential elections from1982-1999. With a concise summary of voting patterns and pen sketches of the Presidents in readable and informative style, the book will certainly be of interest as we approach another crucial poll.

While going in chronological order, the booklet is not short of historical background, outlining the role of the Governor who was allocated the role of the Executive President during the days of the British rule.

“Led by the invitation of the chiefs and welcomed by the acclamation of people, the forces of His Britannic Majesty have entered the Kandyan territory and penetrated to the Capital. Divine Providence has blessed their efforts with uniform and complete success. The ruler of the interior provinces has fallen into their hands, and the government remains at the disposal of His Majesty’s representative,” begins its first chapter ‘The era of the Governors’.

These lines are taken from the prelude to the Kandyan Convention signed on March 2, 1815, explaining how, the author writes, the British attack on the Kandyan Kingdom was justified. The rest of the chapter summarises how the British administration developed till the Soulbury Constitution, that introduced a Parliamentary system that restricted the Governor’s status and his powers.
“The Soulbury Constitution provided for full internal self government except for a few subjects like defence, trade and safeguards for the minority communities where the Governor could exercise his discretion after consultation with the Ministers concerned. On all other matters he could act only on the advice of the Ministers,” the book reads.

Between 1798 and 1948, 29 Governors had administered the island. With Ceylon gaining independence on February 4, 1948 the post of Governor gave way to Governor-General. However, when the new Constitution was adopted on May 22, 1972, the non-executive President took the place of the Governor-General. The 1978 Constitution established the Presidential system in the country where the “President of the country became the Head of the State, the Head of the Executive and of the Government and the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces”.

J. R. Jayewardene was sworn in as President in February 4, 1978 and after completion of four years in office, he decided to call for a Presidential election on September 17, 1982.

In between, chapters such as ‘The first Presidential elections’, ‘New President in 1988’, ‘Caretaker President’, ‘First woman President’ and ‘Mandate sought for second term’ deal with the first, second, third and the fourth Presidential elections where J. R. Jayawardene in 1982, R. Premadasa in 1988, Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga in both 1994 and 1999 were declared elected.

The controversy whether the next Presidential elections should be held in 2005 or 2006 which arose following an announcement that President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga had been sworn in for a second time has now come to an end with a decision that elections should be held before November 22, 2005.

Hence to study the voting patterns in the upcoming Presidential Elections, ‘A new President’ is the ideal chapter to refer to. The names of the candidates in the order in which they will appear on the ballot papers, the symbol allotted to each candidate and the name of the political party are all given in this chapter.

Based on the facts and figures provided by the Elections Department, the final chapter sums up the recent elections, how the major parties fared in each electoral district and the winners of the elections at a glance.

A veteran journalist, D. C. Ranatunga’s earlier publication The Twelve Parliaments of Sri Lanka, which summarises the Parliamentary system in Sri Lanka has ‘gained recognition at the country’s supreme legislature’ with Dinesh Gunewardene having quoted from it during parliamentary sittings a few years back.

A handy guide for all those who are keen to study the Presidential system in Sri Lanka, The Executive President is a timely and informative reference volume.

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