n November 26, 2014, President Sirisena joined hands with the then leader of the Opposition Ranil Wickremesinghe to contest former President Rajapaksa at the 2015 presidential election. A curious coalition of political foes coming together -- not on principles, but with a common aim of unseating the sitting president.
In the after-glow of his presidential election victory, the new president appointed his comrade-in-arms Wickremesinghe as Premier though the latter was not the leader of the party enjoying a majority in Parliament. The President and his Premier then joined hands to bring in the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which for all intents and purposes was designed to prevent any President from unilaterally dismissing a Prime Minister in the future. The President went on record to confirm he had voluntarily given up his executive powers.
However, the loose coalition, comprising two widely differing personalities, holding diametrically opposed political ideologies not based on a common programme of work, was bound to run aground. Within a year, the governing coalition began to fall apart. By early 2018 it became clear that the President was looking for ways to get rid of his Prime Minister.
On Friday October 26, President Sirisena sacked his Premier, replaced him with ex-President Mahinda Rajapaksa -- the man whom Wickremesinghe and Sirisena came together to oust as President -- and prorogued parliament until November 14 believing that the new Premier would be able to show he had the required majority in the House.
Wickremesinghe rejected President Maithripala’s action saying it was unconstitutional claiming he had a majority in the House. He continued to occupy the Premier’s official residence and called for a vote in the House to prove his majority. The President however cited another article of the Constitution which he claimed, allowed him to appoint any Member of Parliament as Premier, who he believed commanded a majority in parliament.When it became apparent his newly-appointed PM did not have a a majority in parliament, on November 9, 2018, the President dissolved parliament.
On November 10 three political parties -- the UNP, TNA and JVP -- challenged the dissolution of parliament in the Supreme Court and after a two-day hearing, on November 13, the Court issued a ‘Stay Order’ on the dissolution order until it gave its final determination. In the aftermath of the Court’s ‘Stay Order’, in keeping with the President’s directive to reconvene parliament on November 14, the Speaker reconvened parliament.
On November 14 and 16, the new Prime Minister was unable to prove his majority in parliament. On November 29, parliament passed a motion curtailing funds to the Prime Minister’s office with 123 MPs voting for the motion. On November 30, parliament passed another motion curtailing funds to ministers and deputy ministers, with 122 voting for the motion with none against as the ‘government’ was boycotting parliament!
With the parliamentary votes clearly indicating the president’s nominee did not enjoy the confidence of a majority in the House, the president was forced into damage control mode. On November 30, the President began meeting other parties in parliament including his erstwhile foe, the UNP led by immediate past Premier Wickremesinghe.
In his meeting with the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), President Sirisena finally admitted his newly-appointed PM Rajapaksa did not command the confidence of the majority in the House and suggested a motion requesting him to appoint a new PM.
The wheel had turned full circle.
After over a month, the country was thrown into turmoil by the President’s ill-advised unilateral sacking of Premier Wickremesinghe, the President had now to eat humble pie. Many feel the country has had no Prime Minister or legal government for a month or more. The country has been made a laughing stock internationally. But Sri Lanka has gone through worse and bounced back.
Not too long ago, (during the insurgency) no one knew, once they left home whether they would return alive. We lived through an era where headless bodies littered the streets, where white vans kidnapped people, where journalists disappeared or were killed for writing the truth, where bus-loads of civillians were ambushed and slain in cold blood. A time when religious men and women were killed by government authorities and terrorists alike.
These memories make the present crisis look like a storm in a tea cup. Our Constitution though often maligned has now shown, checks and balances are in place. The systems kicked back and democracy will still be saved.
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