November seems to be full of hard-luck stories for opposition parties. They were attempting to prevent President Mahinda Rajapaksa from declaring a premature presidential election and contesting that election citing legal grounds. Those legal points were first mooted by none other than former Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva, who was also a close friend of the President.
The arguments put forward by Mr. Silva against the apparent plans by the President to call a premature presidential election and to contest it were so strong that even the President was not in a position to ignore them even while they were just being discussed in the media. The only option left for him was to solicit the opinion of the Supreme Court, but Mr. Silva stood in the way again contending that the President had no authority to do so since the issues in question were his personal matters and were of no public importance.
However, the President using his executive powers ignored the former Chief Justice’s third argument by soliciting the opinion of the apex court and it became the first hard-luck story for the opposition, since the Supreme Court had entertained it and responded positively.
It was on November 5 that the President had written to the Supreme Court invoking its jurisdiction to submit an opinion as to his eligibility to contest the presidential election for a third time and the validity of a declaration of his intention of appealing to the people for a mandate to hold office for a further term before the expiration of his current term.
However, he had specified only a period of five days within which there were three government holidays for the matter to be considered by Court. Only one day, November 7 was allowed for the written submissions by any interested party. That led to a situation where even the submissions of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka were not entertained as the hearing had been concluded according to the Registrar of the Court by the time those submissions were handed in.
The process may be legally correct as the Constitution says, “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,” but it surely raises moral questions.
This saga turned out to be the second hard-luck story for the opposition.
Then came the announcement by Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva that there are no impediments for the President to call for an early presidential election or to contest for the third time according to the Supreme Court’s opinion that had been sent to the President. Thus the legal battle against the President launched by the opposition was lost and any future battles too had to be fought in the same Court. It is ironical that the opposition parties that always claim or insinuate that the independence of the judiciary had been eroded had gone too far with arguments put forward by Sarath N. Silva.
It is a commonly accepted notion among opposition political parties that the incumbent president or the government could be defeated only through a joint effort by all opposition parties and groups and that was the only option left after the legal battle was lost. But they have failed so far to develop a joint strategy or to name a common candidate against the incumbent president at the forthcoming snap presidential election. The indefinite postponement of the signing of the MoU among the opposition parties on a joint strategy on Sunday was another hard-luck story for them.
It is true that there is a possibility of the government postponing the plans for a snap election if the opposition announced its strategy and the common candidate before the government’s official announcement. That would create problems among the opposition parties. But if they are serious in this matter they have to instill confidence in the masses which is vital and decisive in winning elections.