Doomed President & Presidency By Ameer Ali

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When J.R. Jayewardene succeeded getting his constitution for an executive presidency passed through the Parliament in 1978, the author of the previous constitution Dr. Colvin R. de Silva was reported to have asked JR one simple question: “What would happen if this Presidency falls into the hands of a mad man”? Thereafter, Colvin was also reported to have wished to be a minister just for a couple of weeks only to destroy that constitution. Today, that Presidency is not in the hands of a mad man but a monomaniac.

It did not start that way however, when President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was elected in 2019. Although he was chosen overwhelmingly by Sinhala Buddhists, he at once declared as a president for all communities bringing a sigh of relief among the minorities. He also shunned the pomp and pageant attached to his office and appeared in public as a simple man. He did not even don the national dress but appeared in a western suit to avoid being identified as an ultra-nationalist. Contrary to all parliamentary conventions, he took his oath of allegiance not in the precincts of the parliament and in front of the representatives, but in the surroundings of historic Ruwanwelisaya and in front of Buddhist prelates. He presented himself as a man of action and a president with a grand vision. All this won him kudos even from his critics.

But he complained that he was hamstringed by the 19th Amendment of the constitution, which restricted his powers and made difficult translating his vision into reality. One of the first tasks of the new government therefore was to bring in the 20th Amendment and got it passed through parliament with an element of subornation and gave GR what he wanted. It was from that time onward GR began to show who he really was. A parliamentary democracy was turned into a presidential autocracy and governance virtually turned into a one-man show. He militarized the country’s administration, picked his own team of advisors called Viyathmaga, endeared himself with the Sangha, instructed public officials that his circulars should be considered as orders, devalued the independence of judiciary, commandeered the Central Bank, warned the media of distorting what he said and did, took the economy under his control, with five of his family members in the cabinet controlling an estimated 75% of the national budget, and led the country for over two years along a mysterious “alternate way”, as described by one of his handpicked Central Bank Governors, in search of “prosperity and splendour”. It was all a mirage and ended in unmitigated disaster never experienced before in the history of Sri Lanka. Scarcity, poverty and despair marked the milestones in GR’s alternate way. People are dying while standing in queues to buy essentials. Starving families are leaving the country in search of food, and a ten-year old girl was mercilessly beaten and cut by sword for stealing something to feed herself and her family. Even kindness had charity had taken a back seat under this regime. Is this the discipline and virtuosity that the President promised govern his paradise? The country in short is facing an economic Armageddon.

With just over $2.1 billion in foreign reserves at the end of February this year, and a staggering $26 billion foreign debt to be paid before the end of 2023, GR seems to have realized finally that IMF assistance was unavoidable, but still refusing to calling it a bail out. IMF, according to one report, had bailed out Sri Lanka sixteen times before, but whether the seventeenth would be enough to get the battered and bankrupt economy back on its track is doubtful. Because the problem facing the country is not only economic but also geopolitical, ethno-religious, environmental, judicial and moral. It would be impossible for GR and his clan to continue in power and rule the nation like a family fiefdom. The situation demands a new approach. IMF cannot create a miracle and become a game changer. GR and the executive presidency are doomed. What was created for him must also end with him. How long would they last or how soon would they depart depends on how the people and opposition parties are going to react.

As Anura Kumara Dissanayake of JVP said in a public rally, there is no need for an election to bring down this regime. For example, it was not election that chased the Shah out of Iran and it was not election that brought down Ferdinand Marcos in Philippines. Instead, it was the immensity of people power coordinated by charismatic leaders that caused regime change. When coordinated mass rallies multiply even weapons of military fall silent. Masses are out on the streets already, but there is no charismatic leadership to coordinate that protest to pose challenge to the regime. This absence would not therefore bring about an uprising to topple the regime but anarchy which could be suppressed by the military. Anarchy is worse than tyranny, and the powers outside the country that are currently exerting pressure at the moment do not want anarchy to destabilize Sri Lanka. That may favour the regime. Opposition parties, are actually letting down the masses, because of their disunity and jostle to outmanoeuvre each other. None of them, except NPP and the 43-Brigade, has even a manifesto let alone a credible program to present before the people. It appears that these parties are waiting for the regime to complete its term in three years to fight another General Election. Are the masses prepared to endure the suffering until then?

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Disclaimer: Doomed President & Presidency By Ameer Ali - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect point-of-view

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