| by Laksiri Fernando

( December 21, 2014, Sydney, Sril Lanka Guardian) The controversy raised by Professor Kumar David over the ‘abolition’ of the executive presidential system, proposed in Maithripala Sirisena’s Manifesto, is simply unfortunate.

If there is any retraction of the move to abolish the executive presidential system after giving such a promise, by anyone, could arise out of two main reasons: (1) outright treachery (2) practical difficulties. It cannot arise out of the wording of a Manifesto. Such a situation therefore cannot be rectified by revising the Manifesto.

It appears to me that the wording of the Manifesto is formulated considering some of the practical issues without deviating from central issue of abolition of the executive presidential system.

Abolition of the arbitrary or authoritarian powers of the executive presidential system within 100 days is constitutionally feasible. This may amount to the abolition of the existing presidential system. That is what was indicated in the main MOU signed with the UNP and other political parties, as far as I understand. Then there is no need for a referendum. The procedure may be similar to the procedure of the 18th Amendment. If a complete abolition is attempted, for example the system of election of the President, that definitely require a referendum. Those aspects in fact are not the controversial aspects.


A referendum is also feasible within 100 days, if that is a single issue. But anyone who goes through the Manifesto could easily realize that it is not a single issue manifesto. Kumar David may be dissatisfied with that. 

However, the abolition of the executive presidential system has taken the pivotal status in the manifesto. In this respect Kumar David is vindicated. It is the first section of the manifesto. Political measures are outlined to make the necessary constitutional amendment feasible. I have not seen any previous manifesto going into such details of changing the presidential system.

It is possible to argue that if six months were taken instead of three months (100 days), the complete abolition of the executive presidential system is possible with a referendum. Then when are we going to have a new constitution? It is best that task is left for the parliamentary elections. The design of a new constitution obviously requires and should take more time. A referendum is not something a country can have every other day. If the effort of a new president were for a single issue of abolition of the presidential system with a referendum, then it could have easily destabilize the country.

As the Manifesto has admirably outlined, there are other tasks such as the curtailment of corruption, punishing the perpetrators, fixing the Foreign Service, alleviating the economic grievances of the masses that should also take priority within 100 days. The main title of the Manifesto is quite admirable in this respect: “A Compassionate Governance; A Stable Country.”

Kumar has erroneously quoted one paragraph translated from the Sinhala Manifesto as follows.
“In place of the executive presidency with arbitrary powers, a constitutional structure with an executive tied to Parliament through a Cabinet of Ministers will be established”.
My translation of the same paragraphs would read as follows.

“The new constitutional structure would definitely be a constitutional structure with an executive amalgamated to Parliament through the Cabinet instead of the present authoritarian Executive Presidential System.”
There is also a formal translation in the English version of the Manifesto which I would not quote here not to confuse the readers. I do understand why Kumar went for an independent translation for this paragraph while an English version is available. However, he should have re-checked the translation before firing his usual gun.
I am not saying that the Sinhala formulations are ideal or completely clear/correct. It is formulated in broad terms for the general reader. It has not used the term ‘abolition’ (ahosikirima). The terms used in the overall section are ‘change’ (venas kirima) and ‘revision’ (sansodanaya kirima). If one goes through the whole manifesto the language is not ‘revolutionary.’ It is a sober language akin to soft spoken Sirisena.

But what is terribly missing in the translation that Kumar has presented is the phrase “instead of the present authoritarian Executive Presidential System” (daneta pavathina aththanomathika vidayaka janadipathi kramaya venuwata). Then he has also missed a crucial word “new” (nava) before what to be introduced instead of the present.
I cannot claim my translation is perfect. However, I have also given the Sinhala phrase or words (within brackets) that are missing in Kumar’s translation.

I do admit however that in the above (Kumar quoted) one sentence paragraph there is some ambiguity not in respect of constitutional change but in respect of the relationship between the ‘executive and parliament.’ The Sinhala word in the original is ‘sambandawu.’ Kumar has translated it as ‘tied.’ I have has used the term ‘amalgamated.’ The English Manifesto used the term ‘allied.’ I think none is clear because the original Sinhala word (sambandawu) is also not clear and not a constitutional term.

As Kumar has been (or claimed to be) the forerunner of the ‘single issue campaign’ and until recently he appeared to be supporting the ‘common candidate,’ I think he or one his colleagues should have asked a clarification directly from Maithripala Sirisena before coming out openly and calling it ‘treachery.’
It appears to me that Kumar has already made a considerable damage to the opposition movement. Mahinda Rajapaksa must be gleefully laughing. What a tragedy?