And so, an election for the seventh Executive President of the Republic has just concluded. We might say “the Executive President is gone; Long live the Executive President” as a new Head of State and Head of Government prepares to take his oath either today or tomorrow. The question the country may still ask is, [...]


Enter the seventh Executive President


And so, an election for the seventh Executive President of the Republic has just concluded. We might say “the Executive President is gone; Long live the Executive President” as a new Head of State and Head of Government prepares to take his oath either today or tomorrow.

The question the country may still ask is, if it still ought to be a case of ‘Long live the Executive Presidency’. The victor may want it that way, the vanquished will probably have second thoughts.

The one who promised to abolish the Executive Presidency in 2015 must surely have reflected on the promise he reneged on. Had he stuck to what he promised then, he could well have had a job, remaining as Head of State and Commander-in Chief of the Armed Forces. This, he must have rued, as he was scrambling to get himself a Parliamentary seat through the back door of the National List at the 11th hour.

The outgoing President’s last acts have been replete with controversy; from the retirement package he obtained ostensibly in return for agreeing to approve a debatable US grant and a pardon reeking with controversy. This was the culmination of a brief innings at the crease as Executive President where a few good deeds were overshadowed by many instances of double-speak, a blatant violation of the Constitution he had taken an oath to uphold and ample demonstration that the politician in him could not rise to be a statesman. In short, he was unfit for the job.

He served a purpose in 2015, then took himself too seriously. Having no team of his own, he surrounded himself with officials who had their own agendas orchestrated by those who still wish to continue setting the national narrative. The lost soul in the big seat got entrapped by that unseen wall of secrecy that is the Presidential Secretariat.

His officials started deserting him as a coterie took hold of his every decision even to the extent of submitting Cabinet papers under his name without the knowledge of the Secretary to the President. One-time Secretary Austin Fernando’s letter on resigning was a damning indictment on the way the Executive Presidency of this country was run by a cabal.

This is exactly what must not happen to the incoming President and a question that is most relevant today as the final results pour in. The new President must learn from the mistakes of all his predecessors who held that exalted office. Of course, they were not all bad and evil, and some had good records to their credit, more than others.

One of the fundamental deficiencies at the Presidential Secretariat is the ‘Kremlin-like’ secrecy. It has resulted in a disconnect with the people – the voters who carried them to their new chair. It was an office where even a ‘people’s president’ did not realise there was a groundswell of opposition from within his own ranks. Only when alerted by an Opposition MP that there was an impeachment motion against him in Parliament, did he come down from his pedestal and sit on the steps of the Secretariat building with his MPs for a photo shoot to display to the public that he had their support. Various back channel moves with the then Speaker eventually squashed moves to oust him from office.

Former Presidents have just jumped into planes and left to foreign lands without a ‘by your leave’ from the public. The country was not told if the trip was official or private. There was one of them who regularly got snubbed by the British PM when the UK Government got wise to the fact that the Sri Lankan President was coming on essentially private visits, but wanted a meeting at No. 10 to make it a state visit.

The national airline’s aircraft have been kept waiting on the tarmac till the President and entourage arrived to emplane, and kept in foreign airports until they arrived from other destinations to connect back to Colombo. Accumulated losses to the people’s purse from such conduct by Executive Presidents have cost the airline dearly.

These were just some of the ways in which the office of the President has been used, misused and abused. Yesterday’s election will eventually throw up one winner. All of them made solemn pledges to the King and Queen Voter that they would be exemplary Presidents. The problem is that they all do.

No doubt they are all well-intentioned. Just that the path to hell is paved with good intentions. Groups of individuals are smacking their chops, praying for their candidate’s victory so they can see what is in it for them.

An old saying is that ‘one lesson we learn from history is that no one ever learns from history’. And that unless we learn from history we are doomed to repeat its mistakes. This applies to various aspects of socio-political-economic life, and in this instance we wish to focus on the Executive Presidency.

Yes, the 19th Amendment has reduced its once all-embracing powers. And yet, the manner in which the office, as long as it remains even in its emasculated form can make – or disrupt a nation.

The people are unforgiving and expectations are always high with the advent of a new Administration, in this case a new elected President. But the baggage the two principal candidates carried with them is the worry for many. Whether you looked right or you looked left, it was the same. Unfortunately, the ‘good guys’ seem to be on the wrong platforms – they were the untested, and therefore the unspoilt, and consequently, the unelectable.

In their interviews with this newspaper, both main candidates were asked the identical question. While the SLPP candidate responded by saying “wait and see” and that his team will be picked “based on merit” and that he knows to pick “the right person for the right job”, the NDF candidate replied saying that his Government will have no place for those facing corruption charges – and that is “set in stone”.

All the election rhetoric will need to be put into practice by yesterday’s victor. The phrase ‘the proof of the pudding is in the eating’ will be what is now left. Even Machiavelli said that the first method of estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the people around him. King and Queen Voter will now have to sit back and witness how the new President plays his part as the country’s seventh Executive President.  It has cost Rs. seven billion to elect him. It should be worth the cost.


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