If You Can’t Be President, Abolish It

One party despot’s attempt to avoid an election

Ranil during the coup, via ABC Australia
This is the definition of taking your toys and going home. Except the toy is a nation.

Ranil wants to be President. He’s wanted to be President since his uncle invented the Presidency in 1978, and he’s been trying since 2004. Every year since he’s run some puppet and in 2015 the puppet finally won. That puppet has, however, become a real boy, and really deranged. What Ranil truly wants is to be President himself.

But even he knows that isn’t possible. Ranil was never that capable of eye contact in the first place, and he’s botched his 2015 mandate something proper. Right now the main person in his corner is Ravi, who’s a straight up crook, and most of his party has sided with someone else.

The Presidential election has just been called, and it looks like he won’t be able to run. What to do?

What any petulant child would do. Take all the toys and go home. If Ranil can’t run for President, why should anyone run for President? Abolish the whole thing!

It’s a cunning move, because No President is very popular. No President is the right thing to do. But this is very much the wrong time. And that matters.

The current government promised to abolish the Executive Presidency, as has every candidate in my lifetime. 2015 was a change election and they had multiple, multiple chances to do so.

  • They could have done it in the first 100 days, when they were capable of doing anything.
  • They could have done it on the 5th of September, 2018 when the JVP tabled the 20th amendment.
  • They should have done it when the sitting President went apeshit and staged a coup in October.
  • They definitely should have done it after that President’s security negligence got hundreds killed in the Easter Attacks.
  • They should have done it already when that President threw Muslim citizens under the bus, exposing them to racial violence to cover his tracks.

At none of these times did Ranil call for the abolition of the Executive Presidency.

He only called for abolition when it benefitted him personally — a day AFTER the Presidential Election was called. The move sounds democratic, but is in reality dictatorial. And frankly immature.

Abolishing the Presidency is not like closing your Facebook account. You have to get a 2/3rds majority in Parliament, which is like herding cats, with money. You have to get the current President to propose a referendum and he is, as mentioned, deranged. Every voter in the country then has to approve the referendum. Ranil’s ‘plan’ was to do all of this in two months. For reference, it took the UNP that long to find their Twitter password.

In the best case possible, Sri Lankan citizens would have to vote twice, within a few weeks, to A) elect a President and B) abolish the President. Do you abolish the office before you elect the inhabitant, or after? Do candidates run not knowing if they would exist? Can you just cancel a Constitutionally mandated election? What if you cancel the election and the referendum fails? Has anyone thought this clusterfuck through, any more than my children when they steal toys from each other? At home this just ends with everyone screaming.

As much as I support abolishing the Presidency, this is last-minute, idiotic, irresponsible bullshit. Abolishing a country’s highest office is not simple. The entire voting system may have to change to give bonus seats in Parliament to enable stable governments. There are multiple stakeholders involved. Every citizen is affected, especially future generations.

Changing a country’s Constitution should not be a tactical thing you do because of your own personal electoral fortunes. This is like ripping out a hotel’s plumbing because you feel constipated. The very act of proposing such fuckery reduces respect and trust in the Constitution at all.

I support abolishing the Presidency, but this is not the way to do it, and how we do this matters. The original sin here is not the Presidency, it is this manner of short-sighted fuckery which cripples future generations. Ranil’s uncle rammed through the 1978 Constitution to entrench his own power. He died peacefully in his sleep and we’re living with the mess.

This is what the nephew is doing now, but with even less of a mandate. He’s trying to do it at the last minute, at the nadir of his power.

Many good and decent people support abolishing the Presidency even in this rushed way, but it is wrong. It’s not worth breaking the process of democracy for a particular result. The process is more important. Democracy is the process.

The Process

The responsible thing is to elect a new President with weakened powers because we already called that election two days ago, and because elections mean something. This is a stupid election, but it is also a constitutionally mandated, scheduled election. Elections should not be overturned at the last minute because the people in power are scared of them. That is not democracy.

So let the process run. Then, run a Parliamentary election campaign on this very issue. At that election people can choose to abolish the Presidency, and also elect the Prime Minister who will most directly assume those powers. That mandate can put pressure on the incumbent President to call a referendum, and then people can vote on that.

This may take a year, and it may not abolish the Executive Presidency at all, but this is the right, democratic and frankly adult thing to do. And that is ultimately what we’re fighting for. We want a better democracy, not just ‘No President’.

The sad result of this idiocy is a divided democratic movement. Ranil is in effect throwing the Presidential election to a known authoritarian and death-squad type because he doesn’t want to lose personal power. The result of his scheming will not be the abolition of the Executive Presidency. It will be the installation of a true despot.

Ranil can’t just take his toys and go home. The Constitution is not a toy, it’s not his, and this is our home. Ranil should leave our toys and go home by himself.