By Rajan Philips –
He has done it again. Aided and abetted by self-serving advisers providing vulgar interpretations of the Constitution, Maithripala Sirisena has dissolved parliament in a clear violation of the Constitution. After two weeks of trying, bribing and cajoling parliamentarians, the Sirisena-Rajapaksa government has been able to peel off only nine renegades from other parties, not enough and short by eight to show majority support (113 out of 225) in parliament. All along the President has been insisting that he had a majority in parliament. That was a lie and he knew it. He knew it when he wrongfully claimed that he was exercising his constitutional power properly in appointing Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister because, Mr. Rajapaksa, “in his opinion (is) most likely to command the confidence of parliament.” And some of the President’s fake forensic men argued spuriously that the President’s ‘opinion’ is not meant to be quantified or tested by a vote in parliament. One’s opinion, as a witty former Philosophy Professor at Peradeniya (SV Kasinathar) used to say, is not one’s belch to be left alone!
As the ‘opinion’, or belch, argument was getting blown in their face, the presidential advisers pulled another rabbit out of Article 33 (2) (c) on the President’s power to “summon, prorogue and dissolve parliament”, a rather redundant addition to a routine Article enumerating the President’s Head of State powers. They are mischievously hiding themselves and the President from the very specific provision (Article 70(1)) stipulating that: “the President shall not dissolve Parliament until the expiration of a period of not less than four years and six months from the date appointed for its first meeting, unless Parliament requests the President to do so by a resolution passed by not less than two-thirds of the whole number of Members (including those not present), voting in its favour.”
Rash and Unnecessary
Through his now familiar presidential gazette, Sirisena has fixed January 5 as the date for the General Elections and for the new parliament to convene on January 17. Not so fast. For as I speculated last week, and is now being reported in some media outlets, the Elections Commission Chairman, Mahinda Deshapriya, apparently is not going to move ahead preparing for the election without checking with the Supreme Court about the legality of the President’s precipitous actions. Once again, the President has quite rashly and unnecessarily pushed the country’s institutions and its custodians into confusion, conflict and frustration.
The President’s sacking of Wickremesinghe as PM and the appointment of Rajapaksa in his place was challenged by a majority of the Members of Parliament. That set the Speaker and his staff, the Secretaries and the Sergeant at Arms, at loggerheads. The Speaker was privileging the supremacy of parliament while his staffers were swearing by the presidential gazettes. Dinesh Gunawardena established squatter’s right at the office of the Leader of the House, just as Ranil Wickremesinghe has taken over Temple Trees. He will likely remain there through the election season, if it were to unfold with greenlight from the Supreme Court. Even before the matter gets to Hulftsdorp, there could be differences of opinion among the Elections Commission staff over the legality of the dissolution of parliament, just as there were in parliament over the legality of removing a sitting Prime Minister and the propriety of proroguing parliament.
One way or another the matter is going to be heard at the Supreme Court, for the UNP, the JVP and the TNA are reportedly going to petition the Court. And the Court will likely be called upon to adjudicate on a whole host of questions, not just the dissolution of parliament. Was the President within his constitutional powers in everything that he did and has been doing starting on that fateful Friday, October 26? Who in fact now constitute the government? There are two contending Prime Ministers: one occupying the PM’s official residence and the other occupying the PM’s physical offices. Will the court pick one? Or direct parliament to resolve it before going to an election? And even after an election can the current President be relied upon to appoint the MP whom he may not like but who can demonstrate majority support among Members of parliament? And will the court set objective criteria to help the President form his ‘opinion’ before appointing a Prime Minister? What about the legality of the recent appointments of cabinet ministers who will now become part of the caretaker government? Can they be allowed a free ride of the state’s resources to benefit their election campaigns?
AJ Wilson wrote that “the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka is placed right in the centre of the political maelstrom by the Constitution.” It could be said that in this instance the Supreme Court is being dragged into a political maelstrom by the President of the Republic not on account of the Constitution but in spite of it. What will the President do if the Supreme Court were to, as it most likely would, rule that the dissolution of parliament is unconstitutional and not valid in law? Dissolve the entire court? And leave him as the only one standing in this senseless slaughter of the constitution? Sirisena was elected to constitutionally abolish the presidency. Instead, he is presidentially destroying the country’s constitutional system of government. A lot rests on the Supreme Court to help the country find a way out of this mess.
The 2015 legacy of Sobitha Thero
A painful irony of the last two weeks of presidential antics is that the President has timed them to coincide with the third anniversary of the death of Venerable Sobitha Thero, but for whom Maithripala Sirisena will not be where he is today. After gatecrashing Sobitha Thero’s birth anniversary earlier this year to vent his political spleen, Sirisena was a no show at the third commemoration event, which turned out to be an occasion for rallying civil society activists against the current actions of Sirisena, the same man whom they had spiritedly championed as the common candidate in the January 2015 presidential election. While Sirisena’s actions are politically abhorrent to anyone positively informed in politics, they are also personally painful to everyone who invested their energies in the yahapalanaya movement that led to his monumental victory in January 2015. What began as a monumental victory has now ended in a colossal betrayal.
Jayadeva Uyangoda has powerfully articulated the personal and the political involved in what has now become the Sirisena phenomenon. Fittingly, Uyangoda was the principal participant in this year’s Sobitha Thero commemoration and delivered a characteristically profound and sincere speech with a clarion call to civil society to wake up and protect the country’s system of democracy from the blatant and insidious attacks against it. Although, Sirisena avoided the commemoration event, he did not fail to notice the growing nucleus of a new movement to challenge his acts of betrayal and to restore the path that he has abandoned. The fear of the growing strength of this movement is an additional reason behind the President’s sudden decision to dissolve parliament.
In 2014, Mahinda Rajapaksa chose to call a presidential election, against the better advice of others in his government, to take advantage of a mistakenly auspicious astrological timing, and to avert the risk of campaigning later in a more uncongenial economic situation. In this year of grace, 2018, Maithripala Sirisena has self-servingly decided to dissolve parliament, to take advantage of the security of his remaining tenure as President, but in utter disregard of the need for governmental stability to navigate the economy through rather challenging times. In his calculations, he will still be calling the shots after the elections, in appointing a new Prime Minister and a new government that will prop him as a presidential candidate for a second term in office.
But to modify the old saying, many a plan of mice and Maithri might just go awry. In fact, every one of his plans throughout this year has gone wrong. The February Local Government elections were a disaster for the President. His machinations to move a No Confidence Motion against Ranil Wickremsinghe ended in embarrassment. No one else in the UNP would trust Maithripala Sirisena to become his Prime Minister. And, finally, his marriage of convenience with Mahinda Rajapaksa has turned out to be hugely inconvenient for the Rajapaksas. Already, it has been reported, Mr. Rajapaksa has berated SB Dissanayake for cooking up the current scheme without checking the numbers in parliament.
All of sudden, it is 2014 and 2015 all over again. As I wrote last week, in one fell swoop, so to speak, Sirisena has switched the political locations of Mahinda Rajapaksa and Ranil Wickremesinghe. He has deprived MR of the electoral advantage of being an opposition leader and saddled him with the burden of defending all the indefensible actions of a government. If and when elections come, MR will have to ride into a rather worse economic headwind than what he had tried to avoid in 2014. MR now has to carry the deadweight of an unpopular President on his shoulders. The Rajapaksas may well tell Sirisena to stay home and not to show up on their election platforms.
On the other hand, by sacking Ranil Wickremensighe, Sirisena has given him the biggest blessing in disguise. Thanks to Sirisena, RW now has the UNP and its allies solidly behind him. They can now say good riddance to those who crossed over for two-week long ministerial and semi-ministerial positions, and look to receive strategic cross-overs from other side where there will be cutthroat competition over candidate selection. While the JVP was puritanical about extending support to Wickremesinghe in parliament, they may not be blind to the advantages of a common electoral front in an election that will for all intent and purpose will become a referendum on Sirisena. The TNA can go to its traditional homeland hustings on an exceptionally high note. Whatever way the vote turns beyond the Palmyra curtain, it is not going to be of any help to Maithripala Sirisena.
In fairness, to conclude, one might ask the question what could Sirisena have done as President when he could not work with or personally get along with Ranil Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister. At the basic practical level, Mahinda Rajapaksa gave him the answer when he reportedly told Sirisena that he (MR) was surprised by the President’s willingness to remove a Prime Minister from the numerically largest party in parliament. If it were up to him (MR), he would have just managed the situation. That is the difference.
There was another alternative path open to Sirisena that he neither saw nor was directed to by his ill-equipped advisers. That would have been to take the high, moral road, that Sobitha Thero had traced earlier and what Shri Jayaprkash Narayan had taken in India to unseat Indira Gandhi and upend her Emergency Rule over India. That would have been to apply consistent moral pressure on Wickremesinghe, in cabinet, in parliament and even publicly; and to expose his (RW) deviations from the promises and paths of good governance. Taking the high moral road involves some pre-requisites, which at the minimum will include: a moral frame of reference, a strong backbone and a pair of clean hands. Sobitha Thero and Jayaprakash Narayan had all of them and more. We can hardly place Maithripala Sirisena in the same league.
critique / November 11, 2018
MS will end up in jail or he will be wiped out by his friend MR soon. You do not have an eternal foe or friend in politics. Karuma will come back to Maithri soon.
JD / November 11, 2018
Rajan Phillip: So, the UTHR was UNP and was not really anti-LTTE. Mahinda Rajapske won the Local elelctions as SLPP leader. That option is stuill avaialble for him. Ranil on the other hand can lead as the UNP leader. It is not presidential elections. So, either the Mahinda Rajapske or Ranil won’t be able to say Maithipala Sirisenawona second term on our shoulders. Stop contitution BULL $hit. People know it. I thin Anura Kumara Dissnayake desteoyed JVP for everybody else. Now many accusations against himm looks true. My Question is after the elelctions whether AKD moves to Ireland. You did not write about Wigneswaran and his new party, Wijayakala Maheswaran’s husband was killed by LTTE. then she came out ans said LONG LIVE LTTE. MAVAI Senathiraja ganged up with Ananda Sangaree but he is back with TNA of which the leader is Sumanthiran
RuwanL / November 11, 2018
Who is responsible for this mess? This is an out come of an unsuitable person being appointed as the president of the country! Ranil should take the blame primarily as he did not have the guts to contest the presidential election. He knew that he will lose! Its a shame that a grand old party like the UNP is lead by a leader who thinks he cant win! He should have been changed! There are many honest UNPers that are capable of taking the party to greater heights! Its time the UNP makes a change!
It was very clear at the elections held in February 2018 the people were not happy with the policies of the UNP! The 19th amendment to the constitution brought about by the UNP violates our fundamental rights as if the President at an election realizes that the confidence of the Government is not with the ruling party in the parliament then he should be able to dissolve parliament and let the people select their representatives in the parliament! it should be noted that UNP does not have a clean record at the moment with the Central Bank robbery as many ministers and the Premier are totally responsible for the scam!!!
Real Revolutionist / November 11, 2018
At last majority people are able to heave a sigh of relief; thanks to the presidents wise step to dissolve the house, deriving a provision from the controversial 19th amendment to the constitution.
Stop uttering nonsense, those who are frustrated & get ready to contest the elections, that’s the best democratic opportunity to be given to people rather than letting culprits led by the bond scam champion to destroy the country for another year.
Sarrij / November 12, 2018
R W is passe.
Holding general elections is the best democratic solution to the present conundrum.
Fresh, younger, and honest blood is the need of the hour.
Patholaya did the right thing calling for fresh elections.
Rajiv Tennekoon / November 11, 2018
No one seems too concerned about the vulgar interpretation of the constitution in 2015.
No one saw Jayadeva Uyangoda articulate this vulgarity in 2015.
Neither did we see Sobitha Thero talking about this.
We certainly did not see the author of this article lamenting about this vulgarity in 2015 either.
Was it because it was “their” guy(RW) on top at that time? Or, was it that they wanted the “devil”(MR) out of the picture so bad that they were willing to do anything, unconstitutional or undemocratic or illegal or otherwise? Or, was it because all these “un”civil society peddlers were too busy taking the self appointed “International Community” money to peddle their interest?
If this is not the height of hypocricy, then nothing is. Its unimaginable that all these “Good Governance” activists and their foreign masters have suddenly woken up and got a conscious. Suddenly, everyone is up in arms over the constitution and democracy. Let the people decide who they want to govern this country. Not the NGO whores or the Western robber barons.
Let the people decide.
chiv / November 11, 2018
Rajan, Your assessment of MS , facts and narration of events are reasonable. I believe this was MS plans from day one when he took over as president . This is true face of MS the politician. After failing miserably now in desperation he is willing to go to any extent for his own self gain. Lankan political history is full of such characters.
Punitham / November 11, 2018
Stunning. This author is truly great.
Ahfzll / November 11, 2018
With all due respect to the situation and the legalities, whatever the circumstances, any major decisions concerning the People of Sri Lanka by whoever – MUST be ratified by the PEOPLE or the different people’s representative – preferably in Parliament.
Both the Friday proclamations of the current President MUST be ratified by Parliamentarians!
Should the People’s voice NOT be considered as in a situation like this, it tantamount’s to a failed Democracy by treachery.
nalmen / November 11, 2018
already the rats are deserting a sinking ship
slfpers are joining slpp in drovesand sira will be the only slfper left
nalmen / November 11, 2018
ranil is a far cry from jayaprakash and sobitha
he is in a different league
Eagle Eye / November 11, 2018
“Thanks to Sirisena, RW now has the UNP and its allies solidly behind him.”
Not the UNP MPs who lost their pension. They curse Ranil and Karu for the blunder they committed. Probably, Ranil might compensate for their losses from ‘Bond Scam’ money.
Eagle Eye / November 11, 2018
There is a set of dumb Diplomats representing so called ‘Developed Countries’ in Sri Lanka. They just ignore the basic rules that have to be followed by a Diplomat. When President dissolved Parliament and gave the opportunity to people to decide through an election, these dumbos say that is not acceptable. I am wondering whether these guys live in Developed Countries or in a place where ‘Jungle Rule’ prevails.
K.Pillai / November 11, 2018
Rajan Philips calls MS ‘Vitriolic”. Some may call MS “Lotusholic”, “angelic”.
Of importance and interest is the answer to “Why did MS dissolve parliament?”
We now know that MS had difficulty working with RW. This is all too common in coalition governments and both should have tried to iron differences. MS revealed that a few months back he offered the PM-ship to Karu J. Politely declined. Then to Sajith P. Declined. Are these ways ‘to iron out differences’?
MS then sacks RW. MS did not try a ‘No-Confidence-Motion’.
Just after the sack, MS could have dissolved parliament.
Instead he appointed MR as the PM.
MS wanted a certain result come what may.
This is a coup d’état, fortunately without guns and/or blood letting.
Time to call it a coup? This way of changing a government is illegal.
Ajith / November 11, 2018
If the Parliament election go ahead as advised by the Sirisena in January, people have to unite irrespective of race, religion or language, irrespective of their political party difference with one and only demand that is the executive presidency should be removed at any cost. We should not go with their verbal promises only but with clear legal obligation to their promises.
Thanga / November 12, 2018
JD is writing rubbish. He is hiding a whole pumpkin under a plate of rice. Mr.Maheswaran, the spouse of Wijayakala Maheswaran, was killed not by the LTTE but by an EPDP assassin. The leader of the EPDP is now a cabinet member under Mahinda Rajapaksa. Check your facts before you write. As for President Sirisena, he is acting blatantly illegal against the constitution. Nowhere in the constitution is said that the President can dissolve parliament. That is why he did not cite the relevant article/paragraph that gives him power to dissolve parliament. That is why many are now questioning his sanity. He has brought international shame on Sri Lanka. He has excelled some dictators in African states in subverting a country’s constitution.