COLOMBO (THE ISLAND/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) – President Maithripala Sirisena has, true to form, cut the Gordian knot once again.
He used Article 33 of the Constitution (Sinhala version) in justification of the dissolution of Parliament.
His action has stirred up a real hornets’ nest.
His critics call it unconstitutional; they use Article 70, introduced by the 19th Amendment, to bolster their argument.
Needless to say that the Constitution is replete with ambiguities, and ad hoc amendments thereto have made the situation far worse.
President Sirisena has sought to lay the blame for the dissolution of Parliament solely at the feet of former Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, whose confrontational approach, he says, made governance impossible as it created a conflict between the Legislature and the Executive. The United National Party (UNP) says he has done so because he failed to muster a majority in the House.
Arguments, being put forth for and against the dissolution of Parliament, have both merits and demerits.
The case against prorogation of Parliament was heard in Washington, London, Paris, Canberra, Ottawa, etc. and President Sirisena was found guilty ex parte, so to speak.
It is heartening that the dissolution issue is going to be taken up at (the law courts of) Hulftsdorp, in Colombo.
The Supreme Court of Sri Lanka alone is empowered to determine whether the presidential action at issue is consistent with the Constitution or not.
Troubled by a mortal fear of elections, President Sirisena and the UNP, ably assisted by the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), did their damnedest to postpone local government and Provincial Council polls.
Having had to hold the local government polls in February owing to pressure and suffered humiliating defeats, they went so far as to manipulate the Provincial Councils Election (Amendment Bill) in the most undemocratic manner to postpone PC polls.
Now, it has so happened that they who put off PC polls for fear of an electoral contest have had to face a general election, no less!
Following the appointment of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa as the Prime Minister on Oct. 26, the UNP, the TNA and the JVP, refused to go to the Supreme Court while insisting that his appointment was unconstitutional; instead, they called for a floor vote in Parliament to sort out the dispute.
Now, they are accusing the President of having violated the Constitution again by dissolving Parliament, but, in this instance, they have done the very obverse of what they did previously; instead of daring the President and the PM to get the people’s approval at a general election for the sacking of the UNP-led government and the dissolution of Parliament, they have decided to move the Supreme Court!
All alleged violations of the Constitution must be referred to the Supreme Court without exception; selectivity in invoking the jurisdiction of the apex is tantamount to hypocrisy.
When President Sirisena acted arbitrarily without heeding either Parliament or the Constitution as the leader of the yahapalana government, he received ecstatic applause from the very people who have now cottoned on to the fact that the country’s supreme law and the national legislature should be respected.
They rejoiced when Sirisena misused the mandate he secured at the last presidential election to appoint Ranil Wickremesinghe Prime Minister, though the latter had only 42 seats in the 225-member Parliament as opposed to the United People’s Freedom Alliance’s (UPFA’s) 144 members.
They did likewise when President Sirisena sacked Chief Justice Mohan Peiris and then arbitrarily reinstated the ‘impeached’ CJ, Shirani Bandaranayake, without parliamentary approval.
The President claimed the post of the CJ had not fallen vacant because the impeachment of Bandaranayake was wrong and, therefore, deemed that Peiris had never held that office.
Strangely, no action has been taken against Peiris for functioning in that post, giving judgements, drawing his salary, enjoying perks, signing vital documents etc.
The UNP and its allies created President Sirisena to destroy their political enemies. They cheered him on when he took on the Rajapaksa camp with might and main.
He has now turned on them!
The 18th Amendment, which led to the concentration of more powers in the executive presidency, was introduced to enable Mahinda Rajapaksa to act like a king.
The 19th Amendment, which replaced it, has some progressive features, but it was brought in to strengthen the position of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe vis-à-vis President Sirisena.
Hurriedly introduced, it has resulted in some more constitutional ambiguities and flaws.
The proverbial silver lining as for the present situation is that the conflict is to be taken to the Supreme Court, where the warring parties can present their impassioned arguments for or against the dissolution of Parliament.
Let politicians and partisan experts be urged to step aside, allowing learned judges to do their job.
The Island is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 23 news media organisations.
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