When Sri Lanka’s war was fought to a bloody conclusion in 2009, there was some hope that the military defeat of Tamil secessionism would be matched by a constitutional settlement of Tamil political grievances. No such thing occurred and instead the victorious state expanded its own authoritarian potential by abolishing presidential terms limits and terminating or weakening key procedural limitations on presidential power. Taken together with attacks on the independence of the judiciary, a clampdown on social dissent, and widespread militarisation of civil administration, this instantiated an unprecedented regime of presidential authoritarianism in the country. This had the potential to fundamentally alter the trajectory of Sri Lanka’s constitutional development from one of a flawed but fairly robust South Asian democracy to a control democracy animated by populist nationalism. Fortunately, the democratic spirit and electoral traditions proved to be more firmly rooted within the polity than was thought, and the excesses generated under the post-Eighteenth Amendment constitution created the discontent necessary to see a rollback of this regime within less than five years.
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.
The expansion of the presidency is simply just that and also manifests itself in a manner that makes it more obvious than any other arm of governance sees in the structure. A massive expansion and extension in height of the structure is made to accommodate the all powerful presidency and its attendant arms of executive power and control. From the outside the whole structure is visually impenetrable, but appears as a centrifugally unifying circular structure. It's appearance certainly goes beyond the traditionally understood cultural elements of the architecture of palaces and monasteries and borders on being an ultimate symbolic object representing the highest of the high in an abstracted form.
Internally the spatial relations isolate the space of the presidency and the executive offices surrounding the presidency controls access to the space occupied by the presidency. Also while the presidency has visual control over its executive offices, spatial and physical control is limited, though access to all these areas being through a strong single space at the base of the presidency that controls this access. The legislature and the judiciary are overwhelmed by the new structures and new supports independent of the legislature have had to be erected directly from the available firm ground to support parts of it. The access to the supreme space of the judiciary is made easy from the executive where the renovations needed to the judiciary made inevitable by the damage caused by the expansion of the executive leads to the addition of a new series of stairs to access the main space. In the process the judicial structure is now a roof terrace accessed from the executive offices. Extreme strain is placed on the legislature with it the additional weight and is now completely unrecognisable even as the formative base and supporting structure on which the executive stands.
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.