Senior Minister D. E.W. Gunasekera yesterday said that the executive presidential system could be abolished through the passage of a simple constitutional amendment in Parliament with a two thirds majority.
The General Secretary of the Communist Party of Sri Lanka (CPSL) MP Gunasekera insisted that even if the move to field a common candidate seeking a mandate to do away with the executive presidency succeeded, there was absolutely no guarantee he or she would do it. The winner would never give up executive powers and therefore every effort should be made to avoid another costly election, he said.
The CPSL Chief was responding to Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) push for far reaching constitutional reforms including the abolition of the executive presidency. The JHU launched its project at the BMICH on Tuesday (June 3). Addressing political party representatives, including UNP National Leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe, Ven. Athuraliye Ratana Thera called for reducing the powers vested in the executive president.
The Ven. Thera said that a president who was not answerable to parliament and could not be summoned to court shouldn’t be allowed to hold so many ministerial portfolios.
Asked by The Island whether the JHU, too, would campaign against the executive presidency at the next presidential elections, Ven. Ratana insisted that their endeavour was to prevent another election.
The JHU effort was to do away with the executive presidency through constitutional means, Ratana Thera said, adding that all political parties represented in parliament as well as all those wanting genuine change of system should campaign vigorously to prevent another presidential election.
Both the CPSL and JHU members, Gunasekera and Ven. Ratana agreed that abolition of executive presidency should be a key element in a new Constitution if it was to meet the aspirations of all Sri Lankans. Responding to another query, they stressed that decisive electoral reforms, too, should take place simultaneously along with the abolition of executive presidency.
Minister Gunasekera said that Sri Lanka should adopt what he called the German model––a mixture of existing Proportional Representation and the former First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) to ensure that all communities were represented in Parliament. A mixed electoral system had been created for local government polls though it was yet to be implemented.
Minister Gunasekera recalled the important role played by MEP leader Minister Dinesh Gunawardena in adopting the mixed system for local government polls.
Ven. Ratana said that the JHU, too, believed that reintroduction of FPTP system or a mixture of FPTP and PR systems would be necessary to ensure political stability.
Asked to explain the incumbent president’s role in case all UPFA constituents, especially its dominant partner, the SLFP agreed, Minister Gunasekera said that the three-member left party alliance comprising the CPSL, LSSP and Democratic Left Front (DLF) felt that the President should return to Parliament as the Executive Prime Minister. The minister said that ongoing attempts in some quarters to retain executive presidency with some cosmetic changes should be strongly opposed by all right thinking people. Whatever those trying to retain the executive presidential system might say, there was a ground-swell against the current system, the minister said.
UNP spokesman Galle District MP Gayantha Karunatilake told The Island that the party would campaign for the abolition of executive presidency at the next presidential election.
UNP Kalutara District MP Ajith P. Perera said that President Rajapaksa would never agree to give up his executive powers, though some of his coalition members were calling for reforms. The reality was that the SLFP would reflect President Rajapaksa’s opinion and, therefore, the Opposition should be prepared to face next presidential election, the MP said.
The attorney-at-law said that the UNP remained committed to a proposal made in March last year that it would seek approval for a new Constitution at a referendum after having won the next presidential election. Asked whether the UNP would cooperate with the JHU’s move, MP Perera said that those wanting to do away with the present Constitution should realise that the incumbent president wouldn’t give up his powers willingly. Therefore, it would be necessary for a cohesive action plan to defeat the incumbent president at the next polls to pave the way for the realisation of the UNP’s goal. “Would President Rajapaksa give up an opportunity to go for a third term after having introduced 18th Amendment especially for that purpose?” MP Perera asked.