In 1996, it is said that the United National Party at is convention resolved to abolish the executive presidential system. And that was a position they have held on to until now or said to be their official position.
In the last Parliament, when we had a constitutional assembly when this issue of Executive Presidency came up, the President who was Prime Minister then, quite categorically said that’s the UNP Stand, “we are for abolition of the Executive Presidency”.
But now that he is the Executive President, we don’t see anything; we don’t hear anything about abolishing Executive Presidency. In point of fact, when the 21st amendment was passed, what was presented to the country was that the powers of the Executive President are being curtailed, 20th Amendment enhanced, 18th Amendment enhanced it, 20th Amendment enhanced it further.
So it was said that we are going back to the 19th Amendment, the powers of the Executive Presidency was being curtailed, but none of the executive powers of the president have been curtailed. I said that at the debate on the 21st amendment also. That was a fraud on the people because what was presented to be the amendment, did not achieve that and the president happily carries on as The Executive President with full executive powers.
And although the UNP’s stated policy, is abolition of the Executive Presidency, he has made two throne speeches, and he has not said that he will abolish exhibited presidency.
There is one matter that I want to deal with in the short time that is that I have today and that is to do with the Tamil National Question. The President has, in fact, the president has dealt with it quite categorically. He has said the right things except one important thing which I will come to in a moment; he has dealt with at pages 12 onwards of the English version.
He has said that he and Hon. Sampanthan came to this house in 1977 several attempts have been made to resolve this issue and not been successful but now he says we wish to succeed this time. He doesn’t say how he wishes to succeed. Except to say that several issues that he has highlighted will be dealt with.
Particularly that of land, military held lands, we are not satisfied with what he has said here, nor what has happened on the ground. What he has said here is he will have discussions with the Military, and we saw that happening in Jaffna Katchchery recently when he came over he was merely at the, almost at the mercy of the military asking them “are you able to release some more?” Almost pleading with them, he didn’t behave like an executive President.
Going back to the 1985 map?
But on the other issue of forest, wild life, archaeology etc. he dealt with a forest issue here, he says we will go back to the 1985 map and that is most welcome. Only question is when he will go back to the 1985 map? It must be done immediately, there’s a policy decision taken by the cabinet, and we are told that that is the policy decision of the cabinet, so it must be immediately done. You have the 1985 map, you don’t need to do anything in between, and you just have to go back to the 1985 map. It requires just one day. So we are waiting to see when that is going to happen.
One small para on office of the missing persons
Then he has just one small paragraph with regard to the office of the missing persons, this is a very serious issue. In our discussions with the president we have told him even the LLRC, the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission which President Mahinda Rajapaksa appointed soon after the end of the war, that gave its report on the 31st of March 2011; even in that report it says just over 3000 persons were surrendered to the security forces in the last few days of the war.
Where are the 3000 Tamils surrendered as reported by LLRC
Your own commission, government’s own commission says … it says many were surrendered but it says over 3000 who were surrendered as such have gone missing. How can people go missing like that in there thousands? So merely having an office of missing persons; and we supported that legislation, but after that not one single case has been investigated in to find out what happened to the persons who surrendered. What happened? It’s not enough to say they are no more, how did it come to that stage? If you surrendered to the security forces how can you go missing? Thereafter he’s dealt with the issue of devolution of power, there are five issues that we identified when we had talks with the government, and I must say in this document, in his speech he has dealt with all those five matters but with regard to the Police powers he merely says there is a short one sentenced paragraph at page 16 that says there is no change in Police powers.
What does it mean by no change in police powers?
Now we don’t understand what that means. Is he saying there’s not going to be any change? The status will remain or is he saying there won’t be any change to what is in the constitution. If there is no change to what is in the constitution then the police powers must be devolved. So he has left it ambiguous, I suspect deliberately. The matter that I wanted to end with is that he says maximum devolution of power within a unitary state, you cannot have a maximum devolution of power within a unitary state.
The President knows that more than anyone else. The President campaigned on the platform of a federal state. In 2005 when he contested for Executive Presidency, in the last Parliament when he was Chairman of the steering committee of the Constitutional assembly he very specifically said that he stands for a federal state and now he has done a summersault and he says within a unitary state.
Maximum devolution of power cannot happen in a unitary model
With a capital “U” and a capital “S”. Signifying that the scheme of government will be Unitary. And he ends by saying I will not allow separation of the Country. We are not asking for a separation of the County. We are for a united undivided even indivisible country. Don’t divide the country, but share power in a meaningful way, maximum devolution of power cannot happen in a unitary model and therefore we reject this throne speech on that account alone.
(Excerpts from Hon. M.A. Sumanthiran M.P’s speech made in Parliament on the adjournment debate on 09 th February 2023)