ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka must abolish the all-powerful executive presidency within the week and strengthen parliament without paving the way to a similarly dictatorial premiership while ensuring adequate checks and balances, opposition leader Sajith Premadasa said.
In a fiery, strongly-worded speech in parliament on Tuesday, Premadasa said President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the entire government must resign.
“The time has come to change the executive presidency. Let us use this opportunity,” he said, to applause from MPs of his party.
Addressing prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa directly, Premadasa said certain government MPs opposed giving him more powers when drafting the 20th amendment to the constitution.
The amendment restored the powers taken away from the presidency by the previous 19th amendment that was passed under the Yahapalana government of President Maithripala Siresena, who incidentally called for the reinstatement of the 19th amendment with further amendments on Tuesday.
The opposition leader said it is abundantly clear that rather than just rescinding the 20th amendment, the entire executive presidency should be abolished.
“But that doesn’t mean a prime minister that can do whatever he wants either. There needs to be checks and balances,” he said.
Referring to the wave of public protests seen islandwide against the government’s handling of Sri Lanka’s worsening economic crisis, Premadasa said the on-the-ground demand is for President Rajapaksa and the entire government to step down.
“This government must resign from president downwards. That’s the reality.”
The Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) leader said he doesn’t believe that not all MPs in the government are bad or that all MPs in the opposition are good, and that smart, capable people exist on both sides that can form an intelligent team that can see Sri Lanka through the present crisis.
“I don’ t think this country deteriorated over 74 years [since Independence]. If that’s true, then free education has been a sham, as was [the Mahapoloa university scholarship] and even winning the 30-year war,” he said.
As government MPs attempted to heckle him, Premadasa said, somewhat uncharacteristically: “We have no problem recognising good thigns. You have no backbone to acknowledge the good done by our side. Spineless group, listen to what I’m saying without shouting like idiots.”
Premadasa also rejected a call by President Rajapaksa for an interim administration with representation from all parties.
“We must unite, clearly. But not for position, and we cannot allow a 113MP majority to be formed again to ruin the country once again. Let’s unite on a principle that will see our country’s problems resolved,” he said.
“I’m also open to being criticised by our people. There will be no disciplinary inquiries; no one will be removed from the party,” he added, pointing to his own MPs, seeming responding to speculation of factionalisation within the SJB.
“We won’t accept interim cabinet ministries; we won’t participate in ministerial musical chairs,” he said, adding that the SJB MPs have no desire for power or position.
“Our team has no desire to wear presidential or ministerial mantles. We will come with the blessings of the people, not for power and privileges,” he said.
The opposition leader called for a proposal in parliament to abolish the executive presidency this week.
“Let’s use everything at our disposal and do it this week if we can – we actually can; wasn’t [former Chief Justice] Shirani Bandaranaike ousted in a matter of hours? – let’s begin the process of abolishing the executive presidency this very week,” he said. (Colombo/Apr05/2022)