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12th September 1999

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    Executive Presidency will stay

    These turnarounds are more amazing than Muttiah Muralitharan's spin bowling. After making a renewed pledge that the government will present legislation to abolish the Executive Presidency before this year is up, the government has floated the idea that the Executive Presidency will be retained. After all the hoopla is over, the Executive Presidency stays, but it has taken a full five years for the PA government to realise that the office should be retained.

    Though there was always something dubious about the government's wishy washy promise to abolish the Executive Presidency, this statement in the penultimate year of the government's rule takes the cake. It displays curiously and paradoxically the very nature of the Executive Presidency which seems to be an institution that encourages whimsical inconsistent leadership.

    A President, insulated from popular sentiment by a coterie or cabal of close advisors, is classically placed in a situation that is conducive to capricious decision making. In the short history of the Sri Lankan Presidency, this tendency has been manifest. J R. Jayewardene after an initial good start seemed to get carried away with his powers almost to the point of becoming totally autocratic, R Premadasa was so insulated from the country's political mood that he ended up with an impeachment motion against his name in parliament, and D B Wijetunga was quite a lame duck who nevertheless in his short stay in power acquired an aura very disproportionate to his accomplishments.

    All these Presidents seem to have in some way been affected by the confining nature of the Presidency, and it seems that the arbitrary decisions made by the incumbent President about the fate of the office she holds, is a continuation of this trend of Presidents losing their sense of equilibrium once in office. The office of the Presidency seems to be like some heady narcotic. With its confining nature the office makes incumbents lose touch with the political realities on the outside.

    The Presidency has also now lent itself to what will surely go down in history as one of the most farcical political pantomimes played out before this country's people. It started with the gathering consensus during the Premadasa Presidency that the Executive Presidency should be abolished. This resulted in the People's Alliance making a promise that the Executive Presidency would be abolished within months of the PA being elected to govern. Then came the prevarication, the hedging, and the outright hypocrisy of the government which was determined to retain the Presidency while pretending all the while to be confused about whether to abolish it or not.

    Finally , as if none of that happened before, the PA decides to retain the Executive Presidency with a business as usual announcement by its secretary. This at least would have left a lot of egg on the face of the gentlemen of the LSSP, who continue to make a lachrymose sideshow of the fact that they are not satisfied that the Presidency is being retained. In this behaviour, these gentlemen come out as the most pathetic. Either they should have the guts to get out of the alliance if they feel strongly that the promise to abolish the Presidency should have been honoured, or they should honourably keep their peace, and also their mouths shut. Having done neither, they look like the saddest clowns in the whole pantomime.

    The government wriggled out of the promise about the Presidency, mainly because its political life depended very simply on the Executive Presidency being retained this fact being obvious with the PA enjoying a mere one seat majority in parliament. But political expediency is no excuse for being ruthlessly hypocritical about the whole issue. It would have been much more honourable and gracious for the government to have accepted the fact that the Executive Presidency was needed to finish the term of office for which it was elected.


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