Sri Lanka: Can we trust President

A president must know how to use power to assemblegoverning coalitions. Promises to "work across the aisle" are uselesswithout the ability to listen, compromise, devise political strategy, andmarshal support of all the partners.

by Sarath Obeysekera

( December 7, 2018, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Admittedly,professional experience in politics is no guarantee of presidentialperformance, but lack of it should not be such a desirable criterion. So what,then, does professionalism in politics require? Arguably, here are a fewcomponents of competence for would-be presidents from now on.

A president must understand the Constitution, its
history, and the values at its core. This requires not just picking passages to
buttress arguments, but knowing for example, how the communal and anti-communal
tensions that nearly prevented unification continue today. It demands
understanding that the farmers /working class are worried a lot about the
tyranny of the majority.

As Jefferson of the USA put it in his First Inaugural,
"though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to
be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights,
which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression."

A new President who thinks that the mandate to govern
includes the ability to ignore the concerns of those who lost, misses the
meaning of a rightful government.

A president should be able to think and act
strategically, both domestically and internationally. This demands the
capability to understand social, economic, and political systems and their
inter-relationships. It requires a deep thirst for knowledge of the world as
well as our history, the ability to handle cognitive complexity, the capacity
to think long-term, and the skill to take short-term actions that move toward
strategic goals.

A president must know how to use power to assemble
governing coalitions. Promises to "work across the aisle" are useless
without the ability to listen, compromise, devise political strategy, and
marshal support of all the partners. Our disdain for the "political
class" notwithstanding, a president has to be a political animal.

A president should be able to lead a complex bureaucracy.
This requires understanding how large organizations work, what leads to
failure, and how to select those leaders who will do the daily work of running
government. It requires ensuring that communication and dissent flow upward.
When they do not, a president — and a nation — get blindsided. It demands the
ability to turn campaign sound bites into realistic ideas, ideas into policies,
policies into programmes, and to execute those programmes well. Ideology may
propel a campaign, but runs out of steam quickly in the real world.

Such capabilities seem seldom examined or demanded during
election campaigns. This may come from two misconceptions. The first is that
people who are political novices can fix the very political system they
condemn. That is like expecting a plumber to redesign a highway interchange.
The second is that good campaigners will make good presidents, though the
skills required to win are a small subset of those required to govern.

Our political system has serious problems, but it is not
broken. The inability to get things done is a direct result of the design of
our Constitution, crafted to make acting without widespread popular and
political support next to impossible. If we cannot move forward, it is because
there are systemic problems that need to be addressed and, in part, because
presidents have lacked both the understanding and the political skills to do
so. Putting political neophytes in the President’s House may be appealing, but
the results can be appalling. We don’t hand over the controls of jetliners or
fighter planes to just anyone, nor should we hand over the controls of the
presidency to political beginners. Hence, we should seriously think when we try
to find an alternative President, from those who are novices like Cricket
Captains or a Business Magnate or even an ambitious monk.People need to carry
the manifesto of an incumbent president with them when they go to vote next
time and decide. "Can we trust him "?


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