Executive Presidency: Will follow 2015 reform trajectory – Sajith

Presidential hopeful Sajith Premadasa said today that, if elected to office, he will continue to follow the constitutional reform trajectory of the current United National Party (UNP)-led government, amendments to the executive presidency included.

At a press conference at Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera’s official residence this afternoon, Premadasa told RepublicNext that the “process will continue”, but stopped short of confirming that the executive presidency will definitely be abolished at some point in his tenure as President.

On a previous occasion, Premadasa commented that no scientific survey had been carried out on the demand for abolishing the presidency. He also told journalists then that the sociopolitical realities of 2015, when UNP-backed President Maithripala Sirisena came into power with a mandate for abolition, had since undergone some changes.

However, his supporters in the UNP later insisted that the party’s desire to see the much-maligned executive presidency abolished remains unchanged. Asked if he had readjusted his position since clinching the party’s nomination, Premadasa offered the following clarification.

“When I was asked a specific question as to what the public thinks of the executive presidency, I gave that answer. However, if you observe the resolutions passed at the Working Committee meeting which cemented my nomination, we have said that, with regard to devolution, electoral reform and the presidential system, we will continue with the process that commenced in 2015,” he said.

Asked if the presidency would eventually be abolished in a culmination of this process, the UNP deputy leader said, “That all depends. There’s a process. We can’t decide at a table whether to abolish it or not. There are constitutional procedures that have to be followed. The process will continue.”

On a separate note, in response to questions about a late-night meeting with President Sirisena yesterday, Premadasa said the talks had focused on the “current situation” of the country, refusing to elaborate on any particulars of the conversation. There was speculation that it had to do with obtaining Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) support for his campaign.

He told RepublicNext, however, that he is open to receiving support from any legitimate party that upholds the constitution.

“Certainly I will accept support extended by legitimate political parties upholding the constitution of our motherland, who have pledged their support to uphold the constitution, the unity and territorial integrity and sovereignty of Sri Lanka,” he said.

Asked if sections of the UNP were unwilling to be associated with Sirisena, given his actions in October last year that saw the party unconstitutionally kicked out of the Yahapalana coalition, Premadasa said:

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“I made an appeal to the whole country [indicating] that doors are open for any political party, with likeminded principles — parties that are pro-poor, pro-people, pro-growth and inclusive growth and believe in basic human rights, i.e. political, civic and human rights. Those who are in compliance with the principles that we follow, I have no objection to joining up with us,” he said.

Premadasa declined to comment on his rival Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) presidential candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his ongoing battle in the courts over the legality of his citizenship.

“I do not prioritise issues pertaining to rival candidates. I focus my fullest attention on the policy vision I have enunciated, and I’m very keen on talking about those issues,” he said.

He did, however, imply that the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa was behind the ongoing trade union strikes that have brought sections of the public service to a standstill.

The Housing Minister was also noncommittal about the issue of the UNP’s prime ministerial candidate.

“This is a presidential election,” he said.

The objective of today’s press briefing was to announce fresh support extended to the UNF’s presidential candidate by former minister and Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) veteran Athauda Seneviratne and former UNP Anuradhapura district MP W. B. Ekanayake.

Speaking to reporters, Seneviratne said that, looking at the years of corruption that has stained the SLPP on the one hand, and the controversy surrounding the Central Bank bond scam and its implications on the UNP on the other, he took a decision to support Premadasa, confident that damage caused to the country by a future UNP government would be minimal in comparison.

Noting this, a journalist asked Premadasa if his government would punish the wrongdoers behind the alleged bond scam.

“Law enforcement and other relevant officials will have complete freedom to carry out their duties in eliminating corruption and other irregularities. As politicians, we must not interfere in that,” he said.

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