President Maithripala Sirisena is a politician who springs surprises. He sometimes stuns the entire country with his political steps. He took the entire country by surprise when he brought about a regime change last year through the new Government he installed, which lasted for just 52 days. The President is now purported to have planned to make a reference to the Supreme Court to make way for the provincial council elections to be conducted ahead of the Presidential Elections which is anyway due before December 9, this year.
The tacit steps, initiated in connivance with the Elections Commission, have created confusion in politics at a time when the mainstream parties have dropped their demand for Provincial Council Elections, and, instead are bracing for the Presidential Elections.
The Government has enacted fresh legislations to conduct the Provincial Council elections under a new system which is a mix of the First Past the Post System and Proportional Representation. The new electorates have to be carved out based on recommendations in the Delimitation Committee Report. Parliament is yet to reach a consensus on this report for approved. So, the elections to the provincial councils are now put on hold for an indefinite period. A second option is available to break the gridlock- that is to revert to the old system. For that purpose, Parliament has to repeal the new Act making the previous law operational once again. It is a legislative business that requires the two-thirds approval. It is a challenging task for the Government to muster two-thirds in Parliament under the current composition of the House. Accordingly, there is no solution in sight to the problem at hand.
Against the backdrop, the President has reportedly given mind to make a reference to the Supreme Court to see whether it is possible to conduct the elections under the previous law without parliamentary approval. He will do it in terms of the powers vested with him under Article 129 of the Constitution.
President has given mind to make a reference to the Supreme Court to see whether it is possible to conduct the elections
Article 129 says, “If at any time it appears to the President of the Republic that a question of law or fact has arisen or is likely to arise which is of such nature and of such public importance that it is expedient to obtain the opinion of the Supreme Court upon it, he may refer that question to that Court for consideration and the Court may, after such hearing as it thinks fit, within the period specified in such reference or within such time as may be extended by the President, report to the President its opinion thereon”.
In this instance, the President is trying to see whether it is possible to conduct the elections under the old Act since there is a practical impediment in making the new Act operational.
Chairman of the Elections Commission Mahinda Desapriya is in favour of the move to conduct the elections to the provincial council elections before the Presidential Elections. He has made remarks to the media to that effect. Also, he spelled it out in clear cut terms that the elections could be conducted before October 15 if action was taken promptly.
Alongside, Speaker Karu Jayasuriya is in support of Desapriya. At a recent meeting of the parliamentary business committee, the Speaker said that all the parties should extend their cooperation to Desapriya in his attempt to conduct the elections.
“The Elections Commission says it can conduct the polls. We all have to support it,” he said
Leader of the House Lakshman Kiriella was not receptive to the idea, though. He said the election could not be declared without parliamentary approval on the Delimitation Report and the repeal of the new Act.
Kiriella, who sounded somewhat irate, asked, “How can we have elections when Parliament has not approved any of these two matters?
The United National Party (UNP), as the governing party, is not ready for Provincial Council Elections at this hour. Also, the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) which operates obviously under Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa does not demand it.
As such, it has baffled many as to why the President showed an interest to conduct the Provincial Council Elections all of a sudden when the focus is on nothing but the Presidential Polls. Earlier, there were many calls for elections, but they were disregarded.
The UNP does not want such an election because it fears defeat. The SLPP is ready for any election, but it fears that there would be rumblings within in the event of provincial council elections at this hour. In case the elections are declared, there will be infighting for chief minister posts, provincial ministerial posts and nomination. Some will be left out in the process. Probably, they will have no option other than to reach out to the President for successor at the end.
In the event of the President making a reference to the Supreme Court, it is plausible that both the UNP and the SLPP would intervene in the case seeking to preempt the President’s move to hold provincial council elections first. The UNP already contemplates such an intervention.
The President’s purported action has somewhat deflected public attention from the presidential elections. Be that as it may, the UNP and the SLPP are moving ahead with their plans for the presidential elections. The SLPP is getting ready for its maiden convention to announce its presidential candidate. It is widely believed that former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa will be the candidate.
UNP under pressure to announce candidate
The UNP hierarchy is under pressure from the party’s rank and file to announce its presidential candidate. Whenever its MPs visit their electorates, their constituents direct this question at them. In return, they ask the party leadership to call for a meeting of the Working Committee to decide on the election candidate.
A section of the UNP MPs is working hard to clinch presidential candidacy for Housing, Construction and Cultural Affairs Minister Sajith Premadasa. Premadasa is yet to spell out his intention. He only indicated his interest once at a function to mark the 30th anniversary of Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera in parliamentary politics. However, his interest became somewhat obvious when his spouse Jalani Premadasa referred to herself as the future First Lady. Premadasa does not seem to be actively campaigning for candidacy, though. But, his loyalists including some MPs and the social media team carry out clandestine operations. Premadasa also conducts himself in a manner that props up his image. He also deviates from the party line on certain issues and makes populist remarks. Recently, he spoke in support of the death sentence despite his party objecting to it strongly.
Another group of the UNP, meanwhile, promotes Speaker Karu Jayasuriya as the candidate. The Speaker has expressed his interest in this regard.
Now, the UNP is riddled with an internal feud over candidacy. One section tries to undercut the other in a bitter competition to secure candidacy. That is visible in their social media campaigns. Power and Energy Minister Ravi Karunanayake has vowed that the party will not nominate Premadasa as the party’s candidate.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe remains noncommittal. He is also favoured by some MPs to be the candidate.
For the UNP to win the presidential election, it is important to make sure that the party gets Tamil and Muslim votes en bloc. So, the UNP will consider the person with the potential to ensure the support of the Tamil and Muslim parties, particularly the Tamil National Alliance (TNA).
The parties are preoccupied with preparations for the presidential elections. In case a provincial council election is declared amidst such preparations, they would be caught in a web of confusion.