| by Hana Ibrahim
( January 17, 2013, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) It is ironic that the very parties that vehemently opposed the Executive Presidency, when it was first introduced by then President J. R. Jayewardene , should be now basking in its powers, doing exactly what they warned would happen 35 years ago – destroy democracy.
The Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and prominent leftists who are part of the ruling United Peoples Freedom Alliance (UPFA) were in the forefront of the opposition, decrying the Executive Presidency as a menace, a monster and as a system that would destroy democracy and render useless rule of law in the country. In fact, this was the lament of the SLFP led opposition, which almost always comprised the leftist parties, every time they hit the campaign trail during the 17 years of UNP rule, be it parliamentary, presidential or local government polls.
If one chooses to recall, the then opposition leadership described the Executive Presidency as the worst form of governing system in the country and in what is now apparent as blatant vote garnering pledges, vowed that priority would be given to abolishing the Executive Presidency and reintroducing the parliamentary system once they came into power.
This was a promise made by the 1994 presidential candidate of the SLFP, Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, and her campaign team which comprised incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who damned the Executive Presidential system as contemptible.
However, in what is now deemed routine platform tall tales, neither Kumaratunga nor her successor, have even made a token effort to rid the country of this monstrosity that has brought the country perilously close to anarchy today.
In fact, President Kumaratunga cleverly manipulated things in such a manner to ensure that the system worked well under in her regime, making her the most powerful woman in South Asia.
Indeed it is a sad indictment on the SLFP, and its coalition partners, the leftist parties and particularly the onetime hardliners Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), that they embraced the executive presidency, using it powers to maximum effect.
The conflict between the Executive and the Judiciary that is now being played out has its early ironic twist in Jayewardene’s attempts to impeach then Chief Justice NeviIle Samarakoon QC. He was appointed Chief Justice from the unofficial bar by JRJ, who was sworn in as the first Executive President of Sri Lanka before Samarakoon on 4 February 1978 at the Galle Face Green.
It is to Samarakoon’s credit that he, a legal luminary of a highest order, preferred to resign with dignity intact rather than be subjected to the bullying tactics of the JRJ government.
Highlighting the continuing conflict between the Executive/Legislature and the Judiciary, former Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva was also subjected to an impeachment process during the Kumaratunga regime. However, the move was derailed when Parliament was prorogued.
The impeaching of the 43rd Chief Justice has brought the conflict to a head, showing in no uncertain terms the manifestation of the initial fears of the dangers posed by an Executive Presidency to democracy, rule of law, independence of the Judiciary and fundamental rights of the people.
The ousted Chief Justice is the second highest government official to be ignominiously reduced to near nothing through an Executive decision. Earlier, the former Army Commander was stripped off his rank, medals and pension and spent time in prison, following a warped Courts Martial ruling.
Commenting on the recent tug-of-war between the Judiciary and the Legislature that was in progress, the Tamil National Alliance’s Batticaloa District Parliamentarian Pon Selvarasa rightly said that when the justice is not meted out rightly to the head of the Judiciary, how can a commoner expect justice from the government?
( The writer is the editor, Ceylon Today)