By Rasika Jayakody –
Sri Lanka’s proud history of Parliamentary democracy is now at peril with President Maithripala Sirisena grossly violating the constitution by appointing a Prime Minister who has failed to demonstrate a Parliamentary majority. He has exacerbated the subsequent political crisis by proroguing Parliament without any consultation with the Speaker, once again in contravention of the constitution.
As a result, the country, which has a history of long and unbroken constitutional democracy, is now on the verge of an unprecedented public unrest. The ousted Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, has defied the President’s order and continues to occupy the official residence of the Prime Minister at Temple Trees, with throngs of party supporters protecting him day in and day out. Persistent calls by the international community, civil organisations and political parties to convene Parliament immediately to discuss the crisis has fallen on deaf ears as the President adamantly continues his course of action.
On Friday, 118 MPs gathered in a committee room of the Parliament to pass a resolution against former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s appointment as the Prime Minister and the continued prorogation of Parliament. The United National Party (UNP), the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC), the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) unanimously supported the resolution urging Speaker Karu Jayasuriya to act on it immediately. In response, the Speaker told the parliamentarians that the President assured him he would reconvene Parliament on November 07, and promised to issue a gazette notification pertaining to the convention of the House, before the weekend.
There have been shocking revelations of attempts to bribe parliamentarians into switching allegiance since the day of the prorogation. UNP Parliamentarian Palitha Range Bandara informed the Speaker that he was offered USD 2.8 million to support former President Rajapaksa and has now released recordings of the attempted deal into the public domain.It is crystal clear that the enormous trust the public has placed in their lawmakers is being brazenly and unapologetically traded, a mockery of the concept of parliamentary democracy.
As of Saturday night, there was no sign of the gazette and the UNP MPs have already threatened to force open the doors of the legislature on November 07 and conduct Parliament themselves should the President fail to convene Parliament without delay. This is a serious threat and does not augur well for rule of law, peace and stability.
One man who holds the key to lead the country out of the current political and constitutional deadlock is Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, a senior and level-headed politician who is respected on both sides of the aisle.
As Speaker, Jayasuriya is empowered to convene Parliament. Former Speaker Joseph Michael Perera has already set precedence in this regard, by ruling on November 19, 2003, that “the exercise of the power to summon, prorogue and dissolve Parliament must always be exercised in consultation with Parliament and this function must be accepted at all times as being subordinate to the legislative power of the people conferred on Parliament by article 4 (a).”
Allowing the legislature to perform its legitimate functions is the only way to break the protracted political deadlock and it is Speaker Jayasuriya who must step up and the lead the country out of the current morass.
It is his time to decide on if he wants to be recorded in the annals of history as the man who stood for the democratic rights of the people and protected the supremacy of Parliament by upholding its right to convene at a crucial moment, or as the man who allowed strong adversarial forces to overpower him when the nation needed him the most.
By sidestepping the issue at this critical juncture, Jayasuriya will only contribute to the constitutional coup, engineered by President Sirisena and his political party, and legitimise an “illegal government” sans a Parliamentary majority.
This is arguably the most decisive moment in Sri Lanka’s post-independent history, as the country’s constitution and the democratic traditions are on the verge of being compromised in the name of power politics. All eyes are now on Jayasuriya to see if he will navigate the troubled waters and uphold the rights of all citizens, without succumbing to pressure, intimidation and manipulation.