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House with greater responsibilities

By Manjula FERNANDO


Parliament itself should be based on an electoral system that encourages greater responsibility, with mechanisms apart from the electoral system to encourage ties between members and the constituencies they represent.

A distinguished political analyst and an expert on constitutional affairs Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha, MP was interviewed by the Sunday Observer on the hotly debated topic – constitutional reforms.He says ‘we would do the best under a modified Executive Presidency based on the doctrine of the separation of powers but there should also be much more accountability for the President, and the Executive in general.’ He voiced that the 17th amendments is a hasty and impractical bit of legislation, but agreed that there must be systems to prevent arbitrary appointments.

Q: The UPFA and the UNP leaders last week initiated a dialogue on constitutional changes. There had been positive comments from both sides on the topic since then. What is your take on this latest development?

A: I think it is very important to keep dialogues going, and I hope both sides will exchange their views in a positive spirit. I have seen some comments on the reforms made by the opposition, which suggest a desire to make political capital out of the discussions. That would be a mistake, since I think there needs to be full confidence on either side that both are looking for solutions, not their own benefit.

Q: There was a move by the Government to extend the two-term tenure of the Executive Presidency by another term. Is this still on the cards?

A: I do not know what was decided in the discussions, but it is clear that this is no longer seen as a priority. That was obviously not something on which consensus was going to be readily achieved.

Q: The main Opposition and the Government agreed to replace the Executive Presidency by an Executive Prime Minister that will be accountable to Parliament. How do you view this?

A: I have never understood what was meant by an Executive Prime Minister, and the term seems redundant for the simple reason that, if you have a President, or a Head of State, who does not have executive authority, the Prime Minister is obviously the executive head of the government.

This is what you find in India or the United Kingdom or Japan or Germany – though in that last place, a Prime Minister elected on the basis of a Parliamentary election is called Chancellor. Adding a redundant title does not make much sense.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

July 2010
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