Executive Presidency abolition blocked, MPs who campaigned on abolition platform responsible

Cartoon by Namal Amarasinghe

September 20, 2019 (LBO) – Last minute moves to advance proposals to abolish Sri Lanka’s Executive Presidency were blocked yesterday, ironically by Members of Parliament who campaigned on an abolition platform.

In a sudden twist of Sri Lanka’s ongoing Presidential election drama, President Maithripala Sirisena summoned an emergency cabinet meeting in order to discuss proposals to abolish the Executive Presidency. It appears that there was a rare meeting of the minds between the President and the Prime Minister to move the abolition issue forward.

In 2015, powers of Sri Lanka’s Executive Presidency were diluted in major constitutional reforms. These reforms were brought in by a government elected on a platform to abolish the Executive Presidency. Although the electoral mandate was for complete abolition, negotiations between political parties after the election only allowed them to go half way. Thus some powers were devolved to the Prime Minister and the Cabinet, while other powers remained with the Presidency.

Presidential elections are scheduled for November 16th. With the end of the term of the sitting President less than two months away, an overture appeared to have been made by him to attempt to completely fulfil his election promise to abolish the Executive Presidency. The Prime Minister seems to have responded to this overture in good faith, only to have it scuttled by Ministers in his own government.

As the Executive Presidency issue moves to the forefront, Speaker Karu Jayasuriya has presented himself as a candidate contesting on a platform of abolishing the Executive Presidency. The highly respected senior politician has said in unequivocal terms that his Presidency would be the last Presidency.

The Tamil National Alliance (TNA), a party without whose support the UNF will find it nearly impossible to win the Presidential election, has stated that they are firmly in favour of abolition of the Executive Presidency, and expressed disappointment with those members of Parliament who have opposed the most recent effort.