oday will be one of the most important days in Sri Lanka’s history. A full bench of the Supreme Court is to give an opinion on whether President Mahinda Rajapaksa has the constitutional right to call an early election in his second term and whether he has the right to contest for a third term. This historic decision of the Supreme Court has been made in three working days though the country’s premier legal body, the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL), declined to make written submissions on the basis that it was not given enough time. BASL President Upul Jayasuriya, responding to a letter from the Registrar of the Supreme Court, said the BASL believes it was unfair to expect it to make substantive legal submissions in writing within a day. So there was no open public hearing or legal proceedings before the historic opinion is given - a verdict that could change the course of Sri Lanka’s history.
Meanwhile according to our sister newspaper the Sunday Times, another historic political decision is likely to be made today or sometime this week. Latest reports indicate that the early presidential election will be held on January 2 and not on January 8. The advancing of the election is mainly to facilitate the visit of Pope Francis from January 13 to 15 because church authorities had expressed fears that a later date might complicate security and other arrangements for the Pope’s visit.
Last Friday the leaders or high level representatives of most opposition parties met at the Naga Vihara in Kotte, with the Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha Nayaka Thera presiding. The Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera as the leader of the National Movement for Social Justice has been spearheading a national campaign to field a common opposition candidate who if he or she wins would within six months to one year abolish the all-powerful executive presidency, restore parliamentary democracy, judicial independence, accountability, transparency and other checks and balances vital for good democratic governance.
Independent media reports indicate that after several hours of consultations to reach a consensus and compromise, two names emerged as front runners to be the common candidate—former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and the main opposition United National Party (UNP) Leadership Council Chairman Karu Jayasuriya. Ms. Kumaratunga who had been President for 11 years and whose Bandaranaike family had controlled the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) from the time it was set up in 1952 till 2005, is reported to have asked for three days to respond to the offer.
Meanwhile President Rajapaksa is reported to have called Mr. Jayasuriya to congratulate him on his selection as the common candidate, but Mr. Jayasuriya had been noncommittal. Independent political analysts believe Ms. Kumaratunga, even though she has not made much of a positive contribution to the country for the past nine years after she stepped down, is still known to have a substantial support base in the SLFP, especially among old-guard ministers and others who believe they have been sidelined if not undermined. Reports also indicate that the UNP’s Leader Ranil Wickremasinghe is ready to step aside and allow a common candidate to contest for the greater good of the country. But the party’s newly appointed Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa is reported to be insisting that Mr. Wickremasinghe should be the candidate and if not Mr. Premadasa should be nominated.
The third main party the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna which also attended the meeting at the Naga Vihara is also reported to be ready to support one of the two common candidates while former General Sarath Fonseka’s Democratic Party has still not decided on what to do. Two other big parties the Tamil National Alliance and the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress which together could influence about one million voters have still not taken a decision but most analysts say the majority of the minority votes would probably go to the common opposition candidate. If that happens, whatever the decision the Supreme Court announces today, the race for the supreme post in January is likely to be too close to call.