January 9 marks exactly a year since Maithripala Sirisena ascended to the country’s highest office. Sirisena, who had been the Opposition’s ‘Common Candidate’, campaigned on the back of the promise of establishing a ‘Good Governance Regime’ under the theme Maithripalanayak, Sthawara Ratak (Compassionate Government, A Stable Country). Much has changed in the year, following Sirisena’s stunning election victory over Rajapaksa.
However, by the government’s own admission, many of the promises made in its initial 100-Day programme were not delivered in the given timeframe, while some continue to be delayed. The programme was highly ambitious to say the least and delivering on the promises made in the programme proved difficult, particularly as Sirisena had to deal with a significant number of die-hard loyalists of the former President, who mounted a robust challenge to his control over the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP). Many of these loyalists elected as SLFP MPs at the last general election.
The most notable feat achieved in the 1st year of Sirisena’s presidency was the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which curtailed powers of the all powerful Executive Presidency and made the holder of that office responsible to Parliament limiting the term of office of the President to five years
The most notable feat achieved in the 1st year of Sirisena’s presidency was the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which curtailed powers of the all powerful Executive Presidency and made the holder of that office responsible to Parliament limiting the term of office of the President to five years. The amendment annulled the much criticized 18th Amendment and restored independent commissions that had been in place under the 17th Amendment. The Constitutional Council (CC), comprised both MPs and members of civil society, has been given some of the powers previously vested with the Executive President. Independent Commissions which come under the CC are now functioning after their members were appointed.
Nevertheless, the final draft of the 19th Amendment that was adopted has come in for criticism due to its diluted nature, particularly regarding the composition of the CC. The CC comprises 10 members, seven of whom are MPs. This was not what was envisaged at the initial stage, where it was proposed that the majority of the CC should comprise of non-MPs. However, Sirisena had to compromise in order to win over a majority of his own SLFP MPs so as to ensure the bill obtained the required Parliamentary majority.
Speaking at the state funeral of Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera, President Sirisena vowed to abolish the Executive Presidency as desired by Ven. Sobitha Thera, who campaigned for that cause for years. In pursuit of this goal, the government is due to present a Parliamentary Resolution on ‘Constitutional Assembly,’ which will begin the process of drafting an entirely new Constitution, devoid of the Executive Presidency. As such, Sirisena’s second year in office will begin with this initial step at abolishing the Executive Presidency.
The passage of the much delayed National Drug Policy was also one of the more notable achievements of the Sirisena Presidency in its first year as envisaged in the 100-Day programme that was completed on schedule.
However, following the victory of the United National Party (UNP) at the August 17 General Election and formation of a ‘National Government, the Right to Information (RTI) Bill has now been granted Cabinet approval. It will first have to be approved by the Provincial Councils before it is tabled for Parliamentary sanction.
Sirisena failed to ensure the passage of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution, regarding electoral reform. The process of introducing the amendment though, has already begun and the government has pledged that it will be adopted by the time the next Local Government Election is held in June this year. If all goes according to plan, the election will be held under a new mixed electoral system.
Objectives such as introducing a Code of Conduct for MPs and adopting a National Audit Bill remain unfulfilled.
In terms of law and order, Sirisena’s government has been severely criticized for not holding alleged corrupt elements of the Rajapaksa regime to account. In fact, Sirisena has opted to rope in pro-Rajapaksa MPs through ministerial posts and other benefits. This has been somewhat successful, though it has opened him up for even more criticism as some of those MPs also face serious allegations of wrongdoing.
The appointment of defeated Sirisena loyalists through the National List, the continuing expansion of the Cabinet, and accusations of nepotism are also dogging the President, as he completes his first year.