The Old Fox would spin in his grave if he knew the betrayal by his beloved party of his constitutional brainchild the Executive Presidency. Junius Richard Jayewardene was dreaming of creating that institution for years. When the United Front government made known its plan to introduce the Republican Constitution of 1972, it is said, he suggested a presidential system. He realised his dream in 1978 and became Sri Lanka`s first ever Executive President claiming as he did that the only thing he could not achieve with the help of his powers was to make a man a woman and vice versa. However, he managed to reduce his parliamentarians, save one or two, to gender confused imbeciles who submitted undated resignation letters to him with no questions asked.
According to press reports, the UNP is going to move a proposal in Parliament in November that the executive presidency be abolished. We thought the present UNP leader was for that institution with reduced powers. It is a supreme irony that while the executive presidency is being rejected by the very party that created it, its vociferous critics who promised to abolish it are defending it with might and main. The SLFP is all out to retain it.
The executive presidency became anathema to the SLFP when its prospects of securing it were bleak. After its crushing defeat in 1977, when the UNP obtained a five-sixth majority in Parliament, the SLFP could not hope for a comeback. Therefore, it made a peg of the executive presidency to hang its anti-government campaign on. But, the SLFP made a U-turn, following President Chandrika Kumaratunga`s victory in 1994, having managed to prevent the JVP from entering the presidential fray by agreeing to do away with the executive presidency.
In 2005, the then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa renewed the SLFP`s pledge to scrap the executive presidency under duress, as he was desperate for the JVP`s support at the presidential election held in that year. However, it was not a genuine desire to abolish the presidency that brought him and the JVP together. They joined forces to prevent their mutual b te noire, UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe from becoming President. Today, President Rajapaksa has conveniently forgotten that promise and the JVP is on the warpath demanding that he honour it.
The UNP wants the presidency abolished as it is not confident of securing it in a contest with President Rajapaksa, whose popularity is at its zenith. On the other hand, the UNP is busy cobbling together a grand alliance against the government and the JVP has struck a discordant note. The UNP`s campaign against the executive presidency therefore smacks of an attempt to woo the JVP, which has embarked on a protest campaign against President Rajapaksa s broken promise.
Here, we have another irony: In 1994 and 2005, the SLFP won over the JVP by undertaking to scrap the executive presidency and today the UNP is trying the same trick to secure the JVP`s support!
The JVP has ruled out the possibility of coalescing with the UNP. But, it says it will consider supporting a common Presidential candidate, if he undertakes to abolish the executive presidency upon election. A candidate who fits the bill is hard to come by. However, the JVP will have no problem with siding with the UNP in Parliament, if the latter moves a resolution to that effect, though it is only wishful thinking that the Opposition could muster enough votes to achieve their goal.
An attempt at scrapping the executive presidency without the support of an incumbent president and his or her party, be it the SLFP or the UNP or a coalition led by either of them, is as futile as trying to make an omelette without eggs! It is only a president at the tail end of his or her second term who will want to do away with the executive presidency. President JRJ did not want to do so as that institution was his own creation and President Kumaratunga did not have time to think of such a move as she was retired by the Supreme Court in 2005. President Premadasa was assassinated before he completed his first term and D. B. Wijetunga was only a stop-gap president. It is certainly too early for President Rajapaksa`s and his party s support to be enlisted for that purpose.
So, we will have to live with the executive presidency indefinitely.