The Yahapalana Government is in the throes of the worst crisis with the United National Party (UNP) vexed over President Sirisena playing his cards close to his chest.
Sirisena, who is also the leader of the other major partner of the government, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), has of late kept Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe (Leader of the UNP) in the dark about his moves.
First, the President is yet to release the report submitted by the Commission of Inquiry into the Central Bank bond scam. Even Ranil Wickremesinghe is yet to receive a copy of the report. UNP Deputy Leader and former Minister of Finance who was named and shamed by Sirisena when he made a special statement, has called for the release of the report.
Karunanayake hinted that Sirisena has left out parts of the report. He finally made a formal request to the Presidential Secretariat to release the report citing the Right to Information Act.
Meanwhile Wickremesinghe called for a Parliamentary debate on the report, but a debate was not possible since Sirisena is sitting on it.
Secondly, according to sources close to the UNP leadership, the party is upset that Sirisena has sought a Supreme Court opinion about the possibility of continuing as President until January 2021.
This move prompted an emergency meeting of the UNP leaders. The meeting had been adjourned for the MPs to attend Parliament and was resumed thereafter.
Although the formal agreement between the two parties lapsed at the end of the year there the future of the partnership has not been brought to question so far. The agitation in the UNP camp seems to have arisen because of the secretive nature of Sirisena’s recent moves.
Sirisena came to power on a mandate to change the constitution, in particular to abolish the Executive Presidency. He has on numerous occasions vowed to do so and has claimed that he would not seek re-election.
On one occasion he offered the following comment on the matter:
“I insisted that the terms of the Presidency be reduced to four years, but the Committee of Constitutional Experts and political leaders did not agree with my demand. They said that holding a Presidential Election every four years was not good for the country.”
19th Amendment to the Constitution states:
3). Article 30 of the Constitution is hereby repealed and the following Article substituted therefor:-
(1) There shall be a President of the Republic of Sri Lanka, who is the Head of the State, the Head of the Executive and of the Government and the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.
(2) The President of the Republic shall be elected by the People and shall hold office for a term of five years.”.
Section 49 of 19th Amendment:
49. (1) For the avoidance of doubt it is hereby declared that,–
(a) the Seventh Parliament in existence on the day preceding the date on which this Act comes into operation, shall, unless dissolved earlier, continue to function until April 21, 2016 and shall thereafter stand dissolved;
(b) 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;
(c) every person holding office on the day preceding ……..
The binding nature of a mandate sought through a manifesto and rhetoric aside, the 19th Amendment of the Constitution clearly states that Sirisena will hold office only in accordance to this particular amendment and not as per the constitutional provisions that existed when he was elected on 08 January 2015. This means that the amended version of Article 30 holds. In other words, “The President of the Republic shall be elected by the People and shall hold office for a term of five years.”
According to sources, while Sirisena’s inquiry about the length of his term is therefore surprising, his preference to operate on his own on such an important matter has irked the companions of his Yahapalana journey. Hence the agitated response in the UNP camp, sources added.