In my last week’s column I wrote about the Executive Presidency and how its powers have been used and abused by almost all holders of that office leading up to the present President. I also expressed my reservations about the traces of ‘affirmative action’ that the proposed amendment to the Constitution that intends to replace the Executive Presidency is suggesting. I do not wish to dwell on it any further, but wish to state that if no other compromising formula is spelt out and available,
I would go with the proposed amendment rather than accept the current Executive Presidency system that has had social, political and economic repercussions on a remarkably progressive scale.
However, one must realize that in order to implement the policies and principles of a given political platform, one must make sure that the particular political platform has more than a fighting chance at the polls. Various agendas have been suggested by various quarters at various times during the last two decades, but all these agendas that advocated the abolition of the Executive Presidency system fell flat after the winner took office. In the case of Chandrika Kumaratunge, it was sheer ineptness and lack of desire on her part to depart from her natural tendency to acquire absolute power, while in the case of the present ruler, he gives the unambiguous impression that he is determined to pass down the baton of power to his offspring, if not to his siblings. This was evident in the manner in which the infamous 18th Amendment to the Sri Lanka Constitution was ‘passaged’ through Parliament. On the other hand, the present cry for abolition of the Executive Presidency is a direct result of the incumbent’s desire y to cling on to power at all costs.
Against such a bleak backdrop, the current political field has some serious contenders who might have, as was pointed out earlier, more than a fighting chance at the next presidential polls. The following list, consisting of prominent men and women, has been compiled by me after rendering due consideration to various factors that usually ‘matter’ in a national election. Readers must note that the names are arranged in the alphabetical order based on the last name of each candidate. There is no weightage, I repeat, none whatsoever, given to any other factor in the order. Let us examine them one by one.
• Bandaranaike, Chandrika
• Dr. Bandaranayake, Shirani
• Fonseka, Sarath
• Gunasekera, S.L.
• Jayasuriya, Karu
• Venerable Maduluwawe Sobhitha Thera
• Premadasa, Sajith
• Warawewa, W.T.M.P.B.
• Wickremesinghe, Ranil
Chandrika Bandaranaike was elected to the office of President of Sri Lanka after the tragic death of the then UNP Presidential candidate, Gamini Dissanayake, slain by the Liberation Tigers of Tami Eelam (LTTE), during the Presidential campaign of 1994. After assuming power under such tragic conditions and disorderly circumstances, and on a platform that promised the electorate that the Executive Presidency would be abolished, it was unfortunate that abolition was the last thing on her mind. Chandrika not only reneged on her electoral pledge, but she also began an era of disorderly pattern of governance and the extent to which she reached out to humiliate and ridicule her opponents surpassed many landmarks set by her predecessors, both J.R. Jayewardene and R. Premadasa.
Her rule during the two terms in which she managed to secure herself in the exalted halls of power, had no parallel in all of Sri Lanka’s history. Inefficiency in administration, unchecked waste, appalling sense of punctuality, ‘unpresidential’ language used on public platforms, unleashing the cruel sensitivities of some of her Cabinet Ministers: All contributed to one of the most forgettable governances of the land from King Vijaya downwards.
Dr. Shirani Bandaranayake
Dr. Shirani Bandaranayake hit the headlines after she was impeached in the most lopsided manner, by the present regime. The sheer travesty that was enacted and displayed in her removal from the office of Chief Justice created many a shock in the Colombo legal circles. The very whispering of her name generated waves and many an observer and listener were sent into hiding for the effects of the fear-psychosis had such drastically alienating influence.
Yet, she created an enormous amount of sympathy among the intelligentsia and academics around Colombo and other major town centres. However, the failure on the part of the Opposition to carry the ‘impeachment story’ to the streets and the general masses had a dampening effect on the whole episode.
Sarath Fonseka made an unsuccessful attempt at the last Presidential Elections. However, though he lost, he managed to score the highest number of votes for a losing candidate, both as a raw number and a percentage, surpassing all numbers recorded after the present leader of the UNP assumed office. Much has been written about Fonseka and in fact, of all political leaders of today, he stands as the leader who was the most popular, next to President Rajapaksa.
S.L. Gunasekera is a President’s Council and a well-known figure among the Colombo intelligentsia and political activists. The innumerable occasions on which he has shown his guts and courage against all odds have spoken volumes for his determination. The image of unimpeachable honesty and integrity has created an aura around this gentleman and that alone would go a long way to measure him in good stead. The special stand he took in the instance of the impeachment motion against Chief Justice Bandaranayake won him many friends.
Karu Jayasuriya and Sajith Premadasa
Both Karu Jayasuriya and Sajith Premadasa launched an unsuccessful attempt at displacing Ranil Wickremesinghe from the leadership of the United National Party (UNP). They won many a friend and ally during that time, but it is not clear whether those friends and allies are still there with Karu and Sajith at the moment. The emerging realities of the present day politics might eclipse their stature unless they adapt themselves to a more robust and daring journey in politics. Jawaharlal Nehru said, “Being too cautious could be the greatest risk that one can take,” and in that context, both Karu and Sajith might have to rethink their approach to politics and general strategy.
Venerable Maduluwawe Sobhitha
Venerable Maduluwawe Sobhitha Thera has shown tremendous courage and leadership in initiating the process of amending the 1978 Constitution. At a time when almost all religious dignitaries have, perhaps with the exception of the High Priest of Malwatte Chapter, chosen to keep mum about the unjust way the government is run and the general mayhem created by the henchmen of the ruling clan, Venerable Sobhitha Thera’s efforts need to be applauded without any qualification.
Warawewa came to the limelight solely due to his delivering the dissenting judgment on the infamous ‘White Flag Case’ that was filed against Sarath Fonseka. Coupled with this, his involvement with the drafting of the proposed Constitutional Amendments gave additional momentum to his being talked about as a potential political candidate who could be trusted.
Wickremesinghe stands alone as the perennial loser among all these contenders. His lack of leadership qualities and his being identified with the powers that be, has only scorn from the diehard UNP supporters and the middle-of-the-road intelligentsia. Eighteen years in the dump-yard of election-losses do not augur well for a potential contender. His most untimely utterances and unwise political stances taken at critical times have reaped the harvest and the people have taken a decisive stand with regard to this contender. Not paragraphs and chapters but books could be penned about the way in which Ranil has brought down the most celebrated political party of Sri Lanka.
It was only a cursory attempt at identification that was made by me regarding each of these contenders. However, the critical factors that would determine the winner of the Presidential Elections are:
1. Name Recognition
2. Visionary Image
3. Winner Image
4. Clear principles and policies
7. TRUST of the People that the pledge given would be fulfilled. The ultimate deliverable is the abolition of the Executive Presidency and the candidate that is chosen would be judged by the people on the TRUST factor and whether the word given by the candidate in the past has been delivered. The choice is yours.