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Is MS in for a second term?

2018-01-12 00:25:54
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The President’s term of office was reduced by one year by the 19th Amendment to the Constitution 

It is not clear whether the 19th Amendment had a retrospective effect on the term of President Sirisena 

J.R.Jayawardene had attempted to become the president for a third time in 1988 on the grounds that he was not elected twice as President by the people

MR after coming to power with a promise to abolish the Executive Presidency, going back on his words, strengthened the same Presidency through the 18th Amendment

Despite the question remaining as to what prompted President Maithripala Sirisena, as reported by many newspapers, to seek a determination from the Supreme Court as to when his term would expire, it is a valid request, since there is a gray area in the law on the matter.   


The Constitution that was in force when President Sirisena was elected to the office at the Presidential election held on January 8, 2015 says: “The person declared elected as President at an election shall, if such person is not the President in office, hold office for a term of six years commencing on the date on which the result of such election is declared.”  


However, the President’s term of office was reduced by one year by the 19th Amendment to the Constitution that was adopted in April 2015 by the Yahapalana government. The Amendment says: “The person declared elected as President at an election shall, if such person is not the President in office, hold office for a term of five years commencing on the date on which the result of such election is declared.”  

As President Sirisena is in a quandary on the expiry of his term, President Chandrika Kumaratunga also faced a similar situation on the expiry date of her second term in 2005. 


And it is not clear whether the 19th Amendment had a retrospective effect on the term of President Sirisena who was elected three months before the Amendment was passed. Therefore it is comprehensible as to why he had sought such a determination from the Supreme Court.   


It is interesting to note that all Executive Presidents in the country, except for Ranasinghe Premadasa who was untimely assassinated by the LTTE during a May Day procession in 1993 and D.B.Wijetunga who succeeded Premadasa only to cover the remaining tenure of the latter, had legal issues on their term or terms, towards the end of their administrations.  

However, when he was preparing for the election of his third term, the then retired Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva who is no stranger to controversies opened a Pandora’s Box claiming that President Mahinda Rajapaksa was not eligible to run for a third term as President of the country


The first Executive President J.R. Jayawardene who introduced the Executive Presidency in the country is said to have attempted to become the president for a third time after the end of his second term in 1988, on the grounds that he was not elected twice as President by the people. The Constitution says: “No person who has been twice elected to the office of President by people shall be thereafter to be elected to such office by people.” Jayawardene argued that he was not elected to the office twice “by people” as he was not elected for the first time in 1978 at a Presidential election. However, when he realized that his stance would lead to a division in his party, the United National Party (UNP), creating a favourable situation to his arch enemy, the former Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike who was earlier deprived of her civic rights by him, he backtracked.   

President Chandrika Kumaratunga was elected to the office for the second time in December 1999, one year prior to the end of her first term. Kumaratunga thereafter could have remained in office till November, 2006


As President Sirisena is in a quandary on the expiry of his term, President Chandrika Kumaratunga also faced a similar situation on the expiry date of her second term in 2005. She had been elected to the office for the second time in December 1999, one year prior to the end of her first term. Kumaratunga thereafter could have remained in office till November, 2006, as the Constitution says: “The person declared elected as President at an election shall, if such person is the President in office, hold office for a term of six years commencing on such date in the year in which that election is held (being a date after such election) or in the succeeding year, as corresponds to the date on which his first term of office commenced, whichever date is earlier.   

That means the second term of Kumaratunga was to commence in November, 2000 as she had been sworn in as the President for the first time in November 1994 and she could have remained in office till November 2006. However, two days after her second election, Kumaratunga while undergong treatment for the injuries she suffered in a LTTE suicide attack was sworn in on December 22, 1999. This created a debate on the date of commencement of her second term, towards the end of her rule,with her supporters arguing that it commenced in December 2000 as stipulated by the Constitution while her rivals and enemies contending that it commenced on the date on which she was sworn in for the second time.   

The person declared elected as President at an election shall, if such person is not the President in office, hold office for a term of six years commencing on the date on which the result of such election is declared


Then she told that she had a second swearing-in ceremony some time in 2000, about a year after the December 1999 presidential election but her government did not disclose as to when the second ceremony was held and why it was not announced at the time. Finally the matter was referred to the Supreme Court and Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva declared “I hold the President’s second term in office commenced on 22 December 1999 and will end six years from that date.”   


President Mahinda Rajapaksa after coming to power with a promise to abolish the Executive Presidency, going back on his words, strengthened the same Presidency through the 18th Amendment to the Constitution which also removed the limit of terms of presidency an individual can hold. However, when he was preparing for the election of his third term, the then retired Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva who is no stranger to controversies opened a Pandora’s Box claiming that President Mahinda Rajapaksa was not eligible to run for a third term as President of the country.  


Mr. Silva argues that when the 18thAmendment to the Constitution was introduced, President Rajapaksa had already been subjected to the previous law and was disqualified from contesting again, once he was elected for the second time. However, Rajapaksa did not take that contention seriously and ran unsuccessfully for the third time in January 2015. It is doubtful whether Mr. Silva would apply his argument with regard to President Maithripala Sirisena’s case as well and claim that the President has received a mandate to rule the country for six years under the law in January, 2015 when he was elected to power.  

The person declared elected as President at an election shall, if such person is not the President in office, hold office for a term of six years commencing on the date on which the result of such election is declared


All these controversies involving the previous Presidents clearly show their craving for power. And now the question remains as to why President Sirisena has sought a determination on the expiry of his term of office at this juncture, two years before the issue inevitably comes up, despite the validity of the question he had raised. The decision of the date for the next Presidential election is not a responsibility of the President but an exclusively right of the Elections Commission, unless the President decides to hold it prematurely. Therefore he does not need to bother about it.   


It is noteworthy that he has raised this issue at a time when an election is to be held countrywide and one might ask whether he was attempting to convey a message to the general voter with this request to the Supreme Court.


 He had done so during the last Parliamentary election as well through his statements that badly affected the Mahinda Rajapaksa faction of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP). The message that he conveys now, as many surmise is that he was prepared to run for a second term.   


He had told many times after being elected to power that he would not contest another Presidential election, but for the politicians keeping promises is not a must. He pledged that he would abolish the Executive Presidency and at the media conference where he announced his candidacy for the Presidential poll he went to the extent of vowing to hold a referendum, if need for that purpose. However, he did not take action to scrap the presidential system of governance during the “100 day government” on the grounds that a referendum was needed for it.   


Apart from the people’s hunger for power, the current political environment in Sri Lanka does not permit a President to retire from politics, even if he desires to do so, as it would imperil his personal as well as political life. Therefore it would not be surprising if President Sirisena announces his willingness to run for a second term.    


  Comments - 1

  • Sangaralingham Friday, 12 January 2018 09:57

    It is wise the president serve for 6 years and further 6 years to complete his mission. Will he complete his mission.

    Reply : 3       2

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