09 October 2019

ABOLITION: A bluff of presidential proportions

It's now established. No one was really interested in abolishing the Executive Presidency. Still, there was a lot of talk about it a few weeks ago, which of course prompted this article for the Daily Mirror. So is it irrelevant now? Well, there's something about talk. About walking. And walking the talk. Some people tried to hoodwink us, didn't they? Good to know who they are as we go to vote! 

Colombo Fort Magistrate Ranga Dissanayake has issued an interim order preventing protesting disabled soldiers from entering the Lotus Road and being anywhere close to the President’s and Prime Minister’s office.

Obviously the judge had to make a determination based on a petition.  I have no quarrel with judges. I have an issue when governments can’t sort out the issues of disabled protestors. I have an issue when governments are dismissive of men who sacrificed so much to rid the country of terrorism. That’s tragic. 

But let’s be light here. Let’s move from the tragic to the comic or, if one wants to be charitable, to the ‘less tragic’. In a word, Karu. That’s Jayasuriya. The Speaker. 

Karu Jayasurya, in a media statement, has said ‘a large number of people’ had wanted him to contest the next presidential election. Few candidates will say otherwise. It’s as though they are really not interested but they reluctantly consent because ‘people’ want them to. Maybe these ‘people’ were important to him. Let’s leave it at that. 

Some have said that Karu would be a ‘national’ candidate; he would give up his UNP membership so that he can be a neutral or independent candidate with appeal to all sectors, political groups etc. We’ve had ‘podu apekshakas’ (common candidates such as Sarath Fonseka and Maithripala Siriena) who have essentially devalued that word/term.  Not much to gain from that tag. His business. 

Karu Jayasuriya would not be a ‘common candidate’. He is a UNPer and would be the choice of his party. That itself is a come-down for a man of his calibre given the track record of that party. Forget the time when the UNP and JVP tried to figure out which party could kill more people, even just the last 5 years have shown that Karu’s party is anti Sri Lankan (UNHRC Resolution 30/1), corrupt (Central Bank heist) and incompetent (look around you!). Still, in my opinion, nominating him would a) sort out the leadership crisis in the UNP, and b) give the UNP the kind of coherence it would need if they have to head into the Opposition a few months from now.  

He’s supposed to be a ‘candidate for reform’. Well, that’s what his party was up to the past five years. Not just his party but the entire yahapalana coalition which included Ven Madhuluwawe Sobitha Thero’s movement for a saadhaarana samaajaya (a just society — did I hear JR’s echo right now?), the entire community of funded voices (read, NGOs that claim to be but are not a part of civil society) and of course Chandrika Kumaratunga. They came up with a ‘reform candidate’, Maithripala Sirisena. Sirisena and Karu’s leader Ranil Wickremesinghe did ‘reform’. Well, they wanted to or rather said they would. They didn’t. They couldn’t.  All old wine. Stale. Again, Karu’s business.

My issue is with another old line that Karu wants resurrected: abolishing the executive presidency.  Haven’t we heard that before? Haven’t those who almost swore they would abolish once elected, conveniently shelved that part of their respective manifestos? 

Then again, just because they didn’t or couldn’t or wouldn’t, it does not necessarily mean that Karu is using the whole abolishing project as a slogan deemed to be useful. He could be and I am pretty sure he is serious about it. In that case one has to question his political intelligence. 

Karu ought to know how constitutions are changed. The president is not the Legislative entirety of the country. Laws are made or amended by Parliament. Saying ‘I will abolish the executive presidency’ is therefore the claim of a political neophyte. When Karu says something like this, one can’t really decide whether to call it comic or tragic.  

I have issues with those who propose the abolishing of the executive presidency and are dead silent about the 13th Amendment. Note: no one, not even the die-hard devolutionists, are calling for elections to be held to the now dissolved provincial councils. Devolution is dead, politically. It is resurrected only by Eelamists (open and closeted) to hoodwink Tamil voters who’ve been fed Eelamist historiography and duped on grand statehood dreams. The issue is that abolishing the executive presidency while keeping the 13th intact takes out an important safeguard against the 13th being used to facilitate the division of the country.  Karu hasn’t uttered a word about the 13th Amendment. Neither do those who have been vociferous about abolishing the executive presidency.  

Now had he done so, i.e. called for the abolition of both, one might take him seriously. But this is a monumental bluff that is unbecoming of the man.  We take it along with the noises made by other presidential hopefuls in his camp, Ranil Wickremesinghe and Sajith Premadasa. The former states he’s ready to bring in a new constitution (again something that Parliament has to handle, followed by a referendum). His backers commissioned to draft a constitution came up with a federal ‘solution’ all but in name. M.A. Sumanthiran is on record acknowledging that such subterfuge is necessary (for the Eelam project to be furthered). The latter talks of ‘maximum devolution’. What’s ‘maximum’? He has not spelled it out and one does not expect him to do so either. ‘Maximum devolution’ is as monumental a lie as ‘abolishing the executive presidency’.  It’s the tired line tossed out to hook the Tamil voter.  

He can say something though. He could answer the following questions. 1. What is the mechanism through which the executive presidency can be abolished (use two A4 papers, at least)? 2. What do you have to say about the 13th Amendment: was it legal, was it effective in terms of outcomes envisaged, does its existence threaten the unitary character of the state in the event the executive presidency is abolished, is it not a colossal waste of money and do people even want it (going by the absolute absence of agitation on account of the councils being non-functional)? 

As things stand, this talk of abolishing the executive presidency is a bluff. A bluff of presidential proportions. Karu Jayasuriya, given his track record, does not deserve association with that kind of project. Some may be taking him for a ride. Maybe he wants the ride (I hope not!). Either way, ‘bluff’ is not something I believe he wants to be a part of.  Let’s see.