ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, April 08, 2007
Vol. 41 - No 45
Financial Times  

Point of View

Powerful President a plus factor for Sri Lanka

By Lal de Mel Past President, Federation of Chambers of Commerce & Industry of Sri Lanka
I had the pleasure of listening to the Chairman of the APRC Prof. Tissa Vitharana, when he addressed the members of OPA earlier last week and wish to commend him for his sincere efforts to bring peace to Sri Lanka through an All Party consensus.

He acknowledged the fact that the minorities desire an elected Chief Executive for Sri Lanka and suggested an executive Prime Minister and two Vice Presidents. He accepted the criticism that there is a need to change the designations. He accepted the role played by the Presidents of Sri Lanka in protecting the citizens in this multi-ethnic and multi-religious country.

I was happy to read a recent newspaper headline “Powerful President a plus factor for Sri Lanka says ADB” and decided to bring to the notice of the readers the danger of throwing the baby with the bathwater by replacing the President by an elected Prime Minister less detached from party politics.

I believe the need is to use our experience with the Presidency, to enhance the role of the President as the guardian of democracy and all the people of Sri Lanka. Few suggestions based on experience which can be implemented without delay are given below:

1. Remove the power of the President to dissolve the Parliament.
2. Remove the power of the president to extend the term of office of the parliament through a referendum.
3. Detach any future President from party politics, as far as possible.
4. Review the checks and balances between the President and the Parliament to strengthen the democratic process.

While extending my best wishes to Prof. Vitharana in his efforts to usher peace through the All Party Process, I wish to point out that in most countries it has been a systematic process. A good example is Northern Ireland where the two leaders appear to have accepted a self-rule deal after about four hundred years of conflict.

The government of India honoured the Indo-Lanka Agreement that envisaged a Referendum to decide whether the Eastern Province should be merged with Northern Province. The de-merger of these two provinces because of inaction has created a cry for implementation of the ‘JR-Rajiv’ Agreement.

The Sri Lankan forces have largely restored conditions conducive to the practice of democracy in the Eastern Province. This development needs to be used to conduct a Referendum in the Eastern Province as specified in the Indo-Lanka Agreement. This needs to be followed up by the devolution of maximum possible power to the Eastern Province as envisaged in the Provincial Councils Bill and in the Mahinda Chintana Vision Statement. It needs to be followed up with a workable ceasefire agreement, pending the resolution of the National Question through an All Party Process.

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