Former Leader of the House, UNP MP Lakshman Kiriella, in an interview with Daily Mirror, speaks about the current political crisis and the way forward. He says the traditions of the British parliamentary system should be followed in case of ambiguity in our laws governing parliamentary affairs. He says the President should respect the opinion of the UNP parliamentary group in selecting someone as the Prime Minister as present PM Mahinda Rajapaksa does not have a parliamentary majority.
- Sajith will play an important role. It would be something much more than before
- We are ready for the polls. In fact, our rank and file has been galvanized by this illegal act
- Any Prime Minister, chosen without an election, should immediately show his majority
- We have followed the Standing Orders laid down by Parliament to govern its businesses
Q There is a video clip going viral in the internet which shows Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MP M. A. Sumanthiran confronting you after a parliamentary vote last week. What happened actually?
After conducting the electronic voting, I wanted to ask for a division by name. Otherwise, anybody could accuse us of manipulating the vote electronically to inflate the number of votes. I did it at the behest by leader Ranil Wickremesinghe. But, Mr. Sumanthiran rushed to me and asked otherwise. He said names were appearing already on the scorecard. There is no truth in the allegation that the latter is influencing the political work of the UNP. It is a blatant lie.
Q In your view, how will this crisis end?
Now, it has been four weeks since Mahinda Rajapaksa had been appointed as Prime Minister. Up to now, he has failed to show the majority in Parliament. He does not have a mandate from the people to be the PM. He was appointed by the President. Then, he should show his parliamentary majority. It is the first thing he should have done. In the 1990s, there was a situation like this in India with four Prime Ministers being appointed in three years.
The coalitions crashed there. When a new PM was appointed, he subjected himself to a floor test every time. This is the parliamentary tradition. You have to face the floor test. Unless he does a floor test, this will end up in anarchy.
Q What is your advice to sort this out unless the two parties are ready to back down from their respective positions?
Under Section 48(2) of the Constitution, if a no confidence motion is carried, the Cabinet and the Prime Minister cease to exist. Thereafter, the President should appoint a Prime Minister who commands the support of the majority members of Parliament. We submitted two no confidence motions. They were passed by Parliament. There are two ways of submitting motions. One is the regular way giving five-day notice. The other way is to suspend the Standing Orders and bring a motion. If Sri Lanka is on the verge of being invaded by a foreign country, we have to discuss it immediately.In emergency situations, you can suspend the Standing Orders.
Q Actually, there is no such emergency crisis like the one you mentioned. The government also argued that it should be brought only through the normal procedure.
Why didn’t you follow the normal procedure giving five days’ notice?
This was such an emergency situation. On November 13, the court issued a Stay Order. The court stayed dissolution of Parliament. Actually, the date fixed for Parliament to meet was November 14. We had only 24 hours. We had to decide soon.
Q However, there is no constitutional requirement for the new Prime Minister to subject himself to a floor test on the very first day. How do you counter that argument?
There are so many things not mentioned in the Constitution but accepted by tradition. According to the Parliamentary Privileges Act, we are bound by the rules of the British Parliament. Any Prime Minister, chosen without an election, should immediately show his majority.
Q They insist on the normal procedure. Are you ready to follow the normal procedure?
We have followed the Standing Orders laid down by Parliament to govern its businesses. Once the Speaker certifies something, either the Supreme Court or the President cannot question it. It is wrong for the President to question it. Now the Speaker has certified the two no confidence motions. The only way to nullify is to bring yet another motion and adopt it. We challenged Mahinda Rajapaksa to bring a counter motion if possible.
Q But, the President constantly refuses to accept the Speaker’s position. What is your view?
That is wrong. Under the Constitution, the President is responsible to Parliament. He cannot decide on his whims in selecting someone as the Prime Minister. He should respect the will of the UNP group in selecting someone from our side as the Prime Minister.
Q What is the alternative to come out of this crisis?
First, I told Mahinda Rajapaksa, “You are a popular figure. To hang on to power without a majority is a blemish on your reputation”.
Q There was a suggestion from Mr. Rajapaksa to declare a general election. How prepared are you for it?
We are for an election. We are ready for it under a duly constituted government. This is not a duly constituted one. It is a rogue, unlawful government.
Q There is a school of thought Parliament cannot meet because of this Stay Order. What is your interpretation of this Stay Order?
If the dissolution is stayed, Parliament can meet. That is why we met on November 14. There can be various views. The most accepted one is that Parliament can meet.
Under the Constitution, the President is responsible to Parliament. He cannot decide on his whims in selecting someone as the Prime Minister. He should respect the will of the UNP group in selecting someone from our side as the Prime Minister
President Sirisena will never give it to Sajith. He is trying to divide our side. The UNP is not his private property. He has openly said that he was not keen on this. He is ready to come through an election. Only after he appointed Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister, he said he had offered premiership to Speaker Karu Jayasuriya and Sajith Premadasa first. He never discussed it with us.
Q How ready is the UNP for an election as a party?
We are ready for it. In fact, our rank and file has been galvanized by this illegal act.
Q Are you ready for any compromise with the other side to pass a resolution asking for an election?
There is no compromise. We will not meet the President again. When we met him on November 15, he asked us to bring the same motion the following day.How can we bring it the same day without suspending the Standing Orders? The President accepted the suspension of the Standing Orders the same day.
Q There are media reports that MP Sajith Premadasa will be appointed as the Prime Ministerial candidate of the UNP next time. How credible is it?
President Sirisena will never give it to Sajith. He is trying to divide our side. The UNP is not his private property. He has openly said that he was not keen on this. He is ready to come through an election. Only after he appointed Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister, he said he had offered premiership to Speaker Karu Jayasuriya and Sajith Premadasa first. He never discussed it with us, though.
Q Do you think that the UNP needs a facelift at the next election?
Yes, Sajith will play an important role. It would be something much more than before.
Q There are reports about a common front being formed by the UNP. How true is it?
Yes, we are forming one.
Q Will it be registered under the diamond symbol?
Yes, it will be registered. The diamond is the most desired symbol. Still, discussions are underway. We are at the initial stage now. The idea is to start a political movement.
Q Would you agree to a common candidate?
We have not gone that far yet. The alliance will select the leader.
Q How soon would it happen?
It will happen very soon. We are planning a series of agitation campaigns. I want to tell you another. Secction 52 (3) of the Constitution says the Secretary to a Ministry shall cease to hold office upon the dissolution of the Cabinet of Ministers. Our position is that the Prime Minister and the Cabinet stand dissolved now. The Secretaries cannot hold office now. If they hold office and execute illegal orders, they can be liable. Without a Secretary, there is no room for the implementation of the government policies. Financial regulations say that officials shall be held responsible personally to the government if he directs to perform anything without proper authority.