2 July, 2022


When Does The President’s Term End?

By S. I. Keethaponcalan

Dr. S. I. Keethaponcalan

Many people in Sri Lanka thought that President Sirisena would leave office in January 2020. The conventional wisdom was that Sirisena’s “term issue” was resolved when the Supreme Court (SC) ruled that he was entitled to a five-year term; not six years. This ruling was delivered in January 2018 in response to a quarry from the president. 

Last week, Dayasiri Jayasekara, General Secretary of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), announced that the president might seek the opinion of the SC on the expiry date of his term. The president’s team seems to believe that his term ends in May 2020, not January. 

19th Amendment 

The crux of the matter lies in the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. President Sirisena was elected in January 2015 for a term of “six years.” The 19th Amendment reduced the time from six years to five years. The SC relied on this change for its decision in January 2018. Now, if the president goes back to the SC with the new question, he will rely on the fact that the 19th Amendment was certified on May 15, 2015. 

According to newspaper reports on this issue, opinions differ on the last date of President Sirisena’s term in office. Some believe that it ends on January 8, 2020, and others seem to think that he can continue until May.   

Jayasekara’s announcement forced me to go back and recheck the 19th Amendment. I got the feeling that President Sirisena has a case here. First, Section 1 (2) of the Amendment states that “the provisions of this Act other than the provisions of section 9 … and the provisions of section 15 shall come into force on the date on which this Act comes into operation.” Section 9 deals with the Prime Minister and the Cabinet of Ministers. Section 15 is about the term of Parliament. The point is that everything else in the Amendment came into force when the Amendment became operational.   

The presidential term related arrangements are in section 4 and section 49 of the 19th Amendment. Dealing with the presidential term, Section 4 (2) (b) substituted the words “for a term of six years” with the words “for a term of five years.” Section 49 is called “transitional provisions.” Section 49 (1) (b), part of the transitional provisions states, “the persons holding office respectively, as the President and Prime Minister on the day preceding April 22, 2015 shall continue to hold such office after such date, subject to the provisions of the Constitution as amended by this Act.” 

In other words, the president was allowed to continue, albeit with a reduced term in office, by the 19th Amendment. The Amendment came into force on May 15, 2015. In my view, therefore, the president’s five-year term commenced on May 15, 2015. His term should end on May 14, 2020. 

Ask the Court

Jayampathi Wickeremaratne, one of the architects of the 19th Amendment has already stated that the president’s term ends in January 2020. Hence, it is clear that this subject is controversial and has the potential to ignite intense public debate if the president finally goes to the Court with the question. 

What is imperative to note is that provisions related to this question are, at least, vague. When the president illegally dissolved the Parliament last year, he did not have the Constitution on his side. The 19th Amendment plainly stated that the president “shall not” dissolve Parliament until the expiration of four and a half years from its first meeting. In this issue, it is not the case. The provisions are not explicit. Hence, they could be subject to interpretation. This is good news for the president. The Court might give the benefit of the doubt to the president. This is precisely why I think the president will eventually seek the opinion of the SC.

He has the constitutional authority to approach the SC and will not lose anything by asking the SC to rule on this. Moreover, he has everything to gain from a favorable ruling. First, an additional four month in the office could be immensely valuable when the president does not have a viable path to the presidency for the second time. Second, the ability to dissolve parliament as soon as the four and a half years of mandatory period expired could open up new possibilities in terms of strategizing his future. Right now, his options are minimal. He can contest the presidential election and lose or concede it to the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) candidate.        

UNP’s Predicament

The possibility that President Sirisena’s time in office could be extended by four months could be bad news for the United National Party (UNP). Currently, the party could ignore the president while extending basic formal courtesies because the president cannot dissolve the Parliament and need to face the voters first. If allowed to stay in office until May, the president could dissolve the Parliament in February and force a general election on the UNP. 

Facing the general election first will not be in the best interest of the UNP. The party has a better chance in a presidential election. Hence, it might prefer the presidential election first followed by the general election. The party probably want to win the presidential election and then go for the general election as soon as possible. This preferred option of the UNP could be disturbed by Dayasiri Jayasekara’s announcement.       

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Latest comments

  • 9

    Count five years from the date of taking oaths as president. It is simple as that. If it is still not clear, check the verdict given for CBK regarding a similer matter.

    Also he should have resigned after breaking the constitution which was legally confirmed by courts.

    Also sirisena is not eligible to contest any presidentia, general or even local gov elections as he had broken the constitution already. ( he may submit his nomination papers but objections by other parties will get him kicked out of the race )

    • 1

      May be a maranadara samithi

  • 8

    If as respondent V Ambalavanar has stated, the President appointed the PM on 9 January 2015, it is ridiculous to pretend that the President’s term of office started some four months later. What the President seems to be trying to do is to extend his term through some legal sleight of hand, as it were. That is disgusting and disgraceful.

  • 0

    When does the Presidents term end?
    The author has raised a question all the way from the USA. When will Donald Trump end his Term?
    Whoever thought of nominating and ensuring the victory in Jan:2015 of a Glorified Grama Seveka are responsible to ensure his end as well!
    For almost 50 days he violated the Constitution and then he proceeds to India to some Hindu Temple in South India to invoke, ostensibly, his survival in the Political stage a bit longer. Enough is Enough!
    The fact remains that the Mahanayake Thero of the Malwatte Chapter refused to give him an audience to-date.

    • 1

      Why are they running to Hindu poosaries in India and in SL?? Have they lost faith in
      Yellow Skirts??
      2500 years of Clap trap?
      I hear that many housewives have lost their marbles up and down the country due to proper Brainwashing!!
      There’s always a limit for everything.
      While the husbands and children were yearning for their mothers and wives , these women gets brainwashed and forgets their responsibilities of the family life.
      What a pity. Extremes of religions too can destroy a family.

    • 0

      In view of the fact that there was no Legal Government for approximately 50 days, ( due to the violation of the constitution by the President) and the government was on a free wheel, can’t we extend the period of the government by an additional period of 50 days. Thus the period of the presidency too could be extended for a further period of 50 days. Accordingly the Presidential election and the parliamentary election may be given a grace period of 50 more days. Can some legal luminary or constitutional expert look into this please. Thank you.

  • 0

    The writer has shown his inability to under the constitutional amendment 19A, once again. Last time when these were out, Dr. GN said that 19A president is not the one won the election in Jan 2015. That means the president is not legally confirmed by any election or referendum, but partial reaffirmation of 19A’s transitional clause. 19A was installed instead of abolishing the EP because that part may need a referendum or election. But Ranil cooked it up because he to continue as PM with 40 MPs. Then many other issues were discussed on that thread too. Everything has, now, gone with the wind to the author.
    The basic thing is the extension/shorting of term was done on the establishment clause of EP(article 4). To enable that Jayampathy repealed the EP establishment clause and put it back with the shorter term. This effectively made the EP fired, but brought him back without election or a referendum, which like JR did for 1982 parliament election. Without the transitional clause EP could not be there, though it has its flaw too. So the EP was not appointed under 19A on May 15th, 2015. EP was allowed to continue from his election. If SC has to accept Moda Dayasiri or author explanation of EP was appointed by 19A on May 15th, then the people mandate is not with him. SO SC has to remove him from power immediately not on Jan, 8th 2020.
    Author has less understanding than Dayasiri on the constitutional issues. Puppet Sripavan’s SC said the 19A may become invalid if the parliament tries to transfer power from EP. So not just removing the EP, even the powers Ranil wanted from EP became not doable. This is why Jayampathy depended on the transitional clause to keep EP’s position intact. So Jayampathy side’s explanation is EP term was shortened only, he was not touched.

  • 0

    Having Parliament election or EP election first will bring no advantage to New King. He continuing one more second on SLFP will kill one more limb of SLFP. Whether he surrenders to Old Royals anything or not, after election of EP, he is no longer the Chairman of SLFP. Whatever game he plays, he is not getting EP seat or PM seat in the new government; every important position positions, including 80-90% of the budget must go to Old Royal family. This clown ran out of the SLFP for not getting PM position from Old Royal. If Author knows why Old Royals formed the Slap Party, he will understand that New King is getting nothing in Slap Party forming government. I think New King knows that, but not the author.

  • 0

    Assume that the previous Parliament delayed passing the 19th Amendment Bill until, say, 9th of April 2016 as the Opposition was not very cooperative. (The previous Parliament had a 6-year term that could have gone upto 22 April 2016). Then, according to Sirisena advisors, his term is 5 years from the date of passing the Bill. That is until 9 April 2021. This works out to 6 years and 4 months for his Presidency, counted from 9 January 2015. Absurd, No? Simple logic that Sirisena’s advisors and Prof. Keethaponcalan missed!

  • 0

    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2

  • 0

    I am regular visitor, how are you everybody? This article
    posted at this website is in fact nice.

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