Sri Lanka’s inability to constitutionally resolve ethnic demands for power-sharing and autonomy had by the 1980s led to active armed conflict and involved the regional power India in the conflict. Under Indian pressure and facilitation, the Indo-Lanka Accord was signed in 1987, which among other things obliged the Sri Lankan state to devolve power. This was undertaken through the Thirteenth Amendment, which established a system of devolution to Provincial Councils. This introduced not only a new layer of representative institutions to the architecture of the state, but devolution also had to be reconciled with the overarching principle of the unitary state. This latter aspect circumscribed the outer limits of provincial autonomy quite narrowly from the outset. Notwithstanding this, the full potential of the system has never been realised not only because of the central state’s constant efforts to claw back powers and but also because of the disinterest among Tamil nationalists in the system as being too little too late.
The January 2015 presidential election saw the victory of the common opposition on a platform that had constitution reform, and in particular the reform or abolition of the executive presidency, as its centrepiece. Notwithstanding various compromises during its drafting, the recently enacted Nineteenth Amendment represents a substantial change for the better in Sri Lanka’s governing arrangements. In the best possible reading, the President no longer commands, but has to work in cooperation with a Cabinet of Ministers that is responsible to Parliament. This can be seen as restoring a semblance of balance to a constitution that had given the presidency overwhelming pre-eminence before. It has reduced the terms of both President and Parliament to five years from the previous six, it has provided that these terms are (more or less) fixed, and it has reintroduced the two-term limit on presidential office. It has made the President’s exercise of power susceptible to the fundamental rights jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. Re-empowered independent commissions would oversee key state services and the Constitutional Council will regulate presidential appointments. Thus the Nineteenth Amendment establishes both a better structural balance between the executive and the legislature, and a substantial framework for de-politicisation. It will have to be seen how well it is implemented.
Time and the added strain of the enlarged upper level superstructure begins to tell on the foundations of the original structure on which it is all resting, causing the radical flaw in the ground which had hitherto been ignored to become more obviously visible. Cracking and slippage in the ground must be addressed if the whole edifice is not to come tumbling down. To this end small chambers and structures are built out to hold the slippage. These structures are built out from the existing structure and are claw like elements extended out in all directions, with the hope of holding on to the slippage and getting stability. While the people have access to the new structures, since they are held up from above and structural support also from above, uncertainty as to its sustainability is very high. Access to the centres of power are also through the upper levels and thus controlled by the presidency.
The structures needed to hold these new elements in place especially from above are to be both highly over designed for the purpose and also lends a clumsy appearance to the whole whatever the efforts to make them appear a natural extension of the main structure. Other spatial changes include a more complex set of relationships between the various arms of government and the renovations made to the existing spaces to accommodate these make the structures of space increasingly indecipherable.
The removal of some of the spatial relations related to the hyper presidential situation can only be seen as a reduction of the stresses placed on the original foundations and flaws. While this will certainly prolong the life of the structure to a degree, the fundamental flaws existing in the ground continue to exist and are now more that ever visible for all to see. While the grand structure of Presidentialism managed to hide some of the flaws by distraction, what now happens is that the flaws are much more obvious and the dismantling of some of the structures could prove to be difficult and in some situations perhaps impossible. The drawings begin to suggest what the new scenario could look like, but because the fundamental flaws still remain the suggestion may be to strip the structure down to basics and start again by addressing the ground conditions, but even here, instead of the expensive underpinning of the existing structures, it may be more viable to demolish and build anew a structure that addresses all the issues including those of the site.