It is rarely that politicians act according to their conscience. Most of them are in fact devoid of the voice of conscience. They allow themselves to be put in the straitjacket of party discipline and meekly choose to echo their leaders` voices for fear of reprisals in case of expressing dissent, which is usually mistaken for defiance and often severely dealt with. This kind of enforced uniformity of opinion has been gnawing away at the country`s democracy and nourishing the dictatorial tendencies of political leaders.
However, UNP MP K. N. Choksy, PC has proved that politicians who have the courage to be true to their conscience and express themselves are not yet extinct. In spite of the UNP`s brouhaha over the Vote on Account (VoA) for the first quarter of the next year, which the government secured the passage of in Parliament the other day instead of an appropriation bill, former Finance Minister Choksy has said it is democratic and fair in that the next Parliament should not be bound by a Budget presented by the incumbent government. `To my mind, both as a citizen and former Finance Minister,` he says in a statement we published yesterday, `it would be inappropriate to present a Budget and bind, possibly, a new government for the greater part of the next year.`
Mr. Choksy`s view on the VoA is obviously at variance with the position of the Opposition, especially the UNP, which tried to pressure the government to present a Budget so that it could pick holes in it and gain some mileage. The government, too, wriggled out of a difficult situation with the help of its VoA without exposing its hand to the Opposition. However, the presentation of a Budget was not desirable with a few months to go for a general election, though an advantage has surely accrued to the government.
Mr. Choksy, who is also an eminent lawyer and former Constitutional Affairs Minister, has made no bones about his stand that the executive presidency must stay, perhaps with some of its powers modified, where necessary. It may seem that he has struck a discordant note at a time the UNP is campaigning for the abolition of that institution which was ironically its creation. But, the fact remains that the UNP never wanted the executive presidency scrapped. It is only too well known that its campaign against that institution is of recent origin and aimed at mustering the JVP`s support to defeat President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
The executive presidency has too much of power concentrated in it and the national legislature is reduced to a mere appendage of the President when his or her party captures power in Parliament. When a rival party forms a government, the executive presidency becomes virtually impotent as was the case during the 2001-2004 period, when President Chandrika Kumaratunga and the UNF government openly clashed with the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe acting as the de facto Head of State. In spite of all these flaws, the country would not have been able to defeat terrorism without the executive presidency which helped the Head of State to bring about the much needed political stability during the conflagration and prosecute the war effectively. But for the executive presidency, the present government would have fallen even before the armed forces reached, say, Muttur. A joint effort by the UNP, the TNA and the JVP to defeat the last Budget and bring down the government at a time the armed forces were trudging ahead against tremendous odds in the Vanni and the country was under unbearable foreign pressure to call off military operations against the LTTE, came a cropper because of the executive presidency which held the government together.
This country has had the executive presidency since 1978, 16 years under the UNP and 15 years under the SLFP so far. Therefore, the question is why the country should expend its time and energy on the abolition of the executive presidency at this particular juncture when there are many other issues warranting national priority. We cannot but agree with Mr. Choksy on his dispassionate view devoid of petty partisan politics: `The institution [the executive presidency] should not be abolished in a hurry. The powers attached to the Office could be reconsidered and modified where necessary. But, the Office itself should be continued. The Opposition in Parliament, I am confident, will look at the issue in this perspective and make a well considered decision. The issue is of vital importance to the nation.`
Mr. Choksy has pointed out how the executive presidency could be used for the benefit of the nation in this post-war period. While giving President Rajapaksa the credit for having wiped out terrorism and restored economic progress, Mr. Choksy stresses the need for the President to accomplish an important national task-establishing ethnic understanding and amity among communities. `Using his leadership in national issues, `Mr. Choksy says of one of the biggest post-war challenges before the President, `he should be able to achieve this directly by means of a political settlement with the Tamil parties in Parliament and thereafter present the outcome for Parliamentary acceptance. Then the Executive Presidency would have proved its full worth.`
Let these words of wisdom be heeded by one and all without playing dirty politics with national issues which require a consensual approach and early resolution if the country is to achieve progress.