18 June, 2021

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Term Extension: President’s 2020 Dilemma? 

By S. I. Keethaponcalan

Dr. S. I. Keethaponcalan

President Maithripala Sirisena surprised many people by asking the Supreme Court (SC) whether he has “any impediment to continue in the office of President for a period of six years.” Sirisena was elected to the office on January 8, 2015 for a term of six years because the constitution stated that the President “shall hold office for a term of six years.” To an uninformed observer this might sound like an unnecessary or crazy question.

The problem is that Sirisena won the presidential election with the assistance of forces that wanted to re-restore democracy in the country. Sri Lanka drifted into an authoritarian mode of governance under the previous regime. The Sirisena-led coalition, which included a faction of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), the United National Party (UNP) and a number of small parties, promised a reform program within 100 days. Consequently, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was introduced and approved in May 2015. The Amendment reduced the term of office of the president to five years. The Amendment also allowed the President and the Prime Minister to continue in their respective offices “subject to the provisions of the Constitution as amended by this Act;” the 19th Amendment. Therefore, it was clear that the incumbent president should hold office for a term of five years. The Supreme Court conformed this on January 14, 2018. By asking the question the President demonstrated his willingness to extend his term by one year.

Why Now?

President Sirisena was an enthusiastic participant of the democratization schemes undertaken by the government in power. If I remember correctly, Sirisena even stated that he was willing to reduce the presidential term to four years, instead of the five years eventually agreed upon. So, why does he want to stay in power for an extra year now? Sri Lankan media covered this story reasonably well. Yet, in my view, the question why the president wants an extra year was not answered adequately. One of the theories (published in the Colombo Telegraph) suggested that Faizer Mustapha, the minister in charge of Provincial Councils and Local Government, made Sirisena believe that he was entitled to an extra year and influenced him to approach the SC.

Nevertheless, it is possible that the presidential query was a result of discussions and examination of politics of the next presidential election, which will be held in 2020. The SC’s response to the question confirms the next election in 2020. It is possible that Sirisena does not foresee another term in office for several reasons. Therefore, he was trying to maximize the current tenure by staying in power for another year.

2020 Dilemmas

One, as soon as he was sworn in as president on January 9, 2015, Sirisena publicly proclaimed that he would serve only one term. This was a promise made to the country. In the early days of his presidency, Sirisena was compared to Nelson Mandela by some overenthusiastic commentators. For example, Kathleen Gallagher and Agatha Hultquist wrote an article entitled “Sri Lanka’s Mandela,” albeit with a question mark. Sirisena has a long way to become Sri Lanka’s Mandela. Nevertheless, the President would like to leave behind a good image when leaving the office. He may try to keep his promise by not contesting the next election. This however, is not a major problem. He may be convinced to contest for a second term by his able advisors, including Faizer Mustapha, or they will find an excuse for him to contest again. 

Two, even if the President decides to contest in 2020, winning could become really problematic. Currently, he does not have the full backing of his party, the SLFP. Former president Mahinda Rajapaksa has formed his own party called the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) and a portion of the SLFP members of parliament, provincial councils and local bodies are loyal to Rajapaksa. Rajapaksa also remains extremely popular among SLFP voters especially in rural areas. The SLPP is contesting the forthcoming local government election separately. Rajapaksa and his party will be emboldened if they manage to win a large number of seats and bring several councils under their control. This will pose a serious challenge to Sirisena’s authority within the SLFP because more SLFP members will cross over to the Rajapaksa faction within and outside parliament.

Even if the SLPP does not score well in the local government election, Sirisena will lead a fractured SLFP in 2020 because of the fundamental policy and personal differences between Sirisena and Rajapaksa factions. Rajapaksa and his loyalists are extremely unlikely to accept Sirisena’s leadership even if the two factions come together as suggested by some party seniors. Sirisena will face a challenge from a SLPP candidate, probably a Rajapaksa brother because, according to the constitution, Mahinda Rajapaksa cannot contest in 2020. Compared to Basil Rajapaksa, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa is more popular among Sinhala voters. However, Gotabhaya’s candidacy could galvanize all pro-democracy and moderate forces in support of the opposition. Therefore, the possibility that Basil Rajapaksa will be fielded cannot be overruled.    

UNP Support?

The point is, Sirisena cannot win the next presidential election without the UNP support. If this is true, the pertinent question is, whether the UNP will throw its weight behind Sirisena. As of today, the indications are that the UNP will be unlikely to back Sirisena for president in 2020. First, UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe has his own presidential ambitions and probably 2020 will be his last chance to give it another try. Second, the current realities are different from the realities of 2015. In 2015, the UNP needed a proxy to unseat Mahinda Rajapaksa. In 2020, the UNP would not need a proxy and can field its own candidate. Moreover, in a three-way matchup involving the SLFP, SLPP and UNP, the UNP’s chances are extremely promising. Therefore, there is no reason why the UNP should support Sirisena.

The crack between the UNP and Sirisena is already evident. The bond scam and the alleged involvement of some UNP members in it has already strained relations. Under pressure, the President is talking tough. According to newspaper reports, a UNP minister has called the president a thief or in his words a “pickpocket president.” In response, the president has walked out of the cabinet meeting. These issues could be a precursor to a permanent separation. In fact, the UNP might escalate confrontations as a strategy in the near future and the separation would become a reality sooner or later. Therefore, the President may be thinking about his 2020 dilemmas when he asked the Supreme Court if he can stay in office until 2021.    

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Latest comments

  • 3
    0

    This gentleman missed the boat and messed up everything by becoming the chief of SLFP. He embraced all those who worked against him and booted the ones who put him in the top seat. He could have stayed neutral and left a great legacy at the end of his term. All feel sorry for the man and his plight, all because of getting wrong advise from wrong people.

    • 1
      2

      Silva: This is the nature of those nutured by the Buddhist Priests, touching their feet and worshipping them.

      According to some sel lipi discovered, our people had been in the habit of leaving their wives at the termple in the morning and collecting them in the evening after paying a bounty.

      We are the descedndants of the 700 thugs brought by Vijaya and the 700 nprostitutes brought from India.

  • 2
    3

    Renounce LTTE first before you write from overseas about politics in Sri Lanka please. “NOVA” PhD is of not much value in the US academic community.

  • 0
    0

    The only good thing is Sirisena has no intention of doing any of the following:

    1 Take action against UNP MPs involved in the bond scam. Make no mistake that no MP will go to jail.
    2 Kicking out SLFP members supporting the new party led by Mahinda
    3 Instill discipline within SLFP.
    4 Lasantha Wickramatunge and Welikada prison riot reports will never be followed up since MARA regime members will be exposed.
    5 Take action on the 34 reports on serious crime and fraud involving SLFP members.

  • 2
    0

    There is every possibility for someone who is completely different and out of your political predictions will emerge, contest and win the 2020 Presidency as chances are miniscule for people to accept someone from the current lot again. Therefore, it is too early to give your opinion. I have been telling this for quite some time now. If SLFP, UNP, SLPP/JO or even JVP think that they are the only people who would contest at the next Presidential Election, they are very much mistaken. It is highly unlikely that people will forgive any politicians for the current predicament of Sri Lanka. People are utterly disappointed in politicians. Therefore, they might seek someone out of the box. How about a “humble-Buddhist-dictator.”?

    • 3
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      Champa ;- Humble Buddhist Dictator, why humble – it contradicts you requirement of a dictator- , why Buddhist and who wants a dictator? Are you off your nut?

      One thing is for sure, give this lot another 10 years and we can be sure of a bloody uprising – this time a joint venture of the Sinhala + Tamil + Muslim youth.

      This joke cannot go on for ever.

      I love to be alive at that time, but unfortunately that wont be.

      • 1
        0

        Sinhales+Tamil+Muslim youths joint venture!
        That might happen only when JVP+AKD shed the snake skin camouflage.

  • 2
    0

    MS queried the period of his tenure. The SC delivered the verdict and that was it! No rocks hurdled at the CJ’s house or white-vans.
    MS is unable to bridle the endemic corruption.
    Is he on the correct path to bridle corruption? Yes looks like.
    Once the bond-issue is settled, he must go after the Russian freighter purchase and then and …………and then …………and then!
    Will it help if he stays on after 2020. Yes but let the people confirm this.

    • 3
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      If RW is attacked, then MS too has to answer as to why he changed former FCID commissioner grand lady from her position ?

      Why he interfered there at tha ttime, all was ready to arrest GOTTA or some army men ?

      • 0
        0

        Simon de silva: Do not worry yourself. MS will come out with a long harrangue, never to the point.

  • 1
    0

    The current crop of politicians have so debased and devalued themselves, that a real chance exists for a non-party, credible and reliably non-corrupt (both financially and morally) person, of educational or professional merit to emerge. The myth of “Political Experience” as being necessary, is demonstrably invalid.
    An important factor for success is that the single most meritorious candidate, should be chosen to present himself. The value of the “single candidate’ concept to clinch victory, is established in the mind of the Sri Lankan constituency.

  • 0
    0

    The present crop of politicians have so debased and discredited themselves, that there is a real chance that a person of integrity, competence, honesty (both financial and moral) may emerge from the professional and educated sector.
    It is important that the best should be identified and presented as the a single choice. The electorate is well sensitized regarding the imperative of the “single candidate” concept. The need for “political experience” is demonstrably, a negative qualification.

  • 1
    0

    IF people are thinking about SLFP, UNP and SLPP they are all thieves. for the whole three years, the major issue is bond scam which happened just 30 days after the new govt was formed. Sri lanka is, politically in decent and uncivilized country. In an accountable society even presidents reactions about Sabitha’s building expenses, how the telecommunication frequencies were sold, how advertising budgets were assigned would be investigated. but, those are simple when we here how every appointed person is a thief in every ministry oe agency, department. That is nepotism. those do not have a place as the PM, FM and Central bank governor are the issues. PResident looks very dishonest and sloth like too. the incomptency should be because, they all are in the same camp.
    In a decent country, Only the JVP are suitable for voting again and should be voted.

  • 0
    1

    YOu tamils analyze politics in a very strange way. I think only objective is your EELam. Otherwise, what did you read about Sri lankan politics. Ranil wickrmasinghe has ganged up with Some bohra businessman, Tamil professionals and businessmen and emptied the banks and employee providend funds. do you think any voter would vote him if they can make any sense of the country. Tamils are asking why we can not be this and why we can not be that. See what Arjun Mahendra did. He made his S
    IL filthy rich and ran away with the help of Ranil Wickramsinghe.

  • 3
    0

    In SL, villagers say: “the devil who departs will do so, very angrily, without sparing even the clay pot (Koraha) in the kitchen”.
    What president My3 is doing today is something similar to that. He who declared he was a non-partisan presidential candidate, destroyed simultaneously the UNP and the SLFP. I don’t know if this destructive mentality comes with one’s original affiliation with destructive leftist movements.
    Since My3 and RW had no plan for the country when they won the election on Jan 08, the entire country is now in trouble. What happened on January 8, 2015:
    1. UNP that was not supposed to be in power is now in power. Since the win was unexpected the party leader or deputy leaders had no idea whatsoever about the country’s development. Even today, after 3 years they think they can continue to criticize Mahinda and people will listen to them. What a pathetic assumption!
    2. My3 had a blind trust on UNP’s ability to revive the economy; now that it has ended up in utter failure, he is dreaming of another jackpot win by taking over the economy.
    Mr. President, this is not a time to gamble. If you don’t know what you are doing please discuss the possibility of dissolving parliament with the consent of UNP and you too can resign and hold both Parliamentary and Prsidential elections.
    Can we go on like this? Just think!

    • 0
      0

      Even in 1994, Ranil was prime minister and the president was SLFP.
      Why UNPatriotic party is so weak.

  • 3
    1

    This article serves the purpose of reminding the people of recent history, which is a necessity because Sri Lankans have reputation of having short memories. But Sri Lankan politicians exploit this feature to feather their own nests. Promises and undertakings of politicians have no values as they are made just to attract the gullible voters. I make no bones about it to say that I feel cheated and think now that I should have heeded to the opinion expressed that “Both are the same”. I understand that HE is going around saying that once the “culprits” are locked up HE is going to leave office as a man who has accomplished his mission. UTTER NONSENSE. That is another stunt in the wake of LG Elections. Insiders tell me that HE is performing another Central Bank in Sri Lanka Telecom through his brother as the Chairman. Already that company is in debt to the tune of Forty Billion bucks. The CEO is made inactive and yet paying Rs 10 Million bucks a month till the end of his contract. A Troika was appointed to run the day to day affairs headed by the Chief of Finance. He too resigned knowing very well what is going on. A board member resigned after realizing that he too should not be lead on the Garden Path. The company has the guts to float a debenture leading it to be another CEYLINCO. How can HE leave when he is enjoying the taste of the blood HE sucks?

  • 1
    0

    We have a Prez with a farmer background and mentality. The guy is living in the stone ages. Recent pronouncements reinvoking the liquor ban on women is a glaring example of what this guy is thinking and doing. He has also asked the PM to jail the culprits responsible for the bond scam. Little does he know that this is not the responsibility of the PM but that of the courts to decide whether guilty and mete out punishment. That said, MS is a much better leader than the previous crooks linked with the Rajapakse clan and for the sake of the country we will need to put up with him .until the rule of law and economy is strengthened and more importantly all the rogues like MR, GR, BR, NR CR, Baluwansa, Gonorahpilla, Vasugona, Banduhora, kehelipuka, and bootlickers, GLP, DJ, and bunch of criminals in the JO are found guilty and jailed. Also time for MRs civil rights to be revoked and jailed for abuse of power which can so easily be established. RW, what the f…k are you doing is not bringing in a case of abuse of power against the Ex prez hora.

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