A rational answer would be that this is the first Presidential Election after the 19th Amendment to the Constitution came into effect
Not withstanding claimants to the position at this stage therefore, it is the President who will decide who the Prime Minister will be post general elections 2020
Sri Lanka has held seven Presidential Elections since the introduction of the 1978 Constitution. Not in any one of these seven have so many questions arisen during the election campaign regarding the Prime Minister under a newly-elected President. On more than one previous occasion both Parliament and the people have had surprises imposed and one such surprise PM even ended up being the President! Why then has the question, who will be PM, hit the campaign trail so hard as happened at this presidential election?
A rational answer would be that this is the first Presidential Election after the 19th Amendment to the Constitution came into effect. Meaning that the office of Prime Minister is no longer a powerless one and the voter to be better informed of their options, wishes the PM candidate to be known beforehand. In this background, when the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) has identified the populist former president as their PM choice, the New Democratic Front (NDF) is under tremendous pressure to name its choice for PM. The call for this is heard from every platform of the SLPP. No gainsaying the fact that this is a clever political strategy.
Meanwhile, the sitting Prime Minister, to the consternation of the pro-NDF voter and those still undecided, arrogates to himself the right to announce his continuation as PM under a Premadasa Presidency. Sajith Premadasa himself remains non-committal; perhaps not to antagonise the aging leader and his cohorts; but at a substantial disadvantage to the NDF campaign. This is particularly so in view of the anti-incumbency factor that builds up during most national elections and the voter looking for change.
It is correct that the 19th Amendment secures the tenure of office of the PM. The 19th Amendment also curtailed the right of the President to dissolve Parliament at his whim. This position was upheld by the Supreme Court during the “constitutional crisis” Judgment of 2018. It follows therefore that whoever wins the Presidency on 16th November 2019, cannot remove the sitting Prime Minister or dissolve parliament prior to the expiry of a period of four and a half years of the five-year term of Parliament. The term of this parliament therefore is guaranteed till February 2020 and so is the tenure of the Prime Minister, unless a 2/3rds majority of members of parliament calls for a dissolution or the PM losses the support of the majority. In the latter case the PM is obliged to resign his position or risk being removed. An arbitrary removal of the Prime Minister or a dissolution of parliament immediately upon the election of a new President, whether under any stretched interpretation of “a mandate by the people to the newly elected President” or otherwise, will amount to a gross violation of the Constitution. With only a few months to go for a General Election, hopefully saner counsel will prevail and no new President will want to be seen as having violated the Constitution with impunity; at least not at such an early stage of taking office.
Regardless of a change in the alignment of power between the President and Prime Minister, nothing however in the Constitution has changed in relation to the Head of State, Head of Government and the Head of the Cabinet. These positions continue to be held by the President. Above all, the power of the President to appoint as Prime Minister a Member of Parliament “who in his opinion is most likely to command the confidence of Parliament” remains extant. Hence with the dissolution of Parliament any time after February 2020 and the results of a fresh General Election, the power and authority to appoint as Prime Minister; “whoever in his opinion commands the support of Parliament” rests with none other than the President. Notwithstanding claimants to the position at this stage therefore, it is the President who will decide who the Prime Minister will be post general elections 2020. Given the constitutional clarity, it is presumptuous to say the least, for any politician, let alone the sitting Prime Minister, to declare himself as the Prime Minister, post 2020 General Elections. The voters urge all aspirants to the position of PM, to respect the constitutional right of a President to appoint the PM and not make fancy claims to a job they have no inherent right to hold. If at all, it is a Presidential aspirant that can name a PM candidate beforehand and not vice versa. Ideally, the voting public would like to see a new President seek the guidance of the parliamentary group to decide who commands the required support to hold office as Prime Minister. What better way than a secret ballot among the government MPs to do this?