The constitutional crisis that had plagued the country for over six weeks appeared to be heading to a closure. That prospect however is subject to the next earthy temptation in an unruly mind of the executive president, and chaos he sowed by his arbitrary sacking of the government of Ranil Wickremesinghe. However, as of the weekend, it appeared, President Sirisena has finally decided to call it a day.
Last week, at a meeting with a delegation of Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Parliamentarians, he acknowledged that his purported Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa does not command the majority in Parliament. He asked the TNA and the political Opposition to resubmit a fresh No Confidence Motion, and follow electronic voting to count votes in contrast to the voice vote with which the previous resolutions were passed.
If submitted, this would be the fourth No Confidence Motion, President Sirisena has ignored the verdict of three consecutive NCMs passed by Parliament so far.
Earlier last week, 14 MPs of TNA informed the President that TNA “will support the restoration of a Government headed by the UNF (United National Front)” and asked the President to revert to the government that existed before October 26th.
With the support of the 14 TNA MPs, the UNP (with 103 MPs of its own) is in a position to muster 117 MPs, four more than the simple majority of Parliament. In addition, there are six JVP MPs who have opposed the MR ‘government’, but have chosen to remain neutral vis-a-vis the UNP.
However, the President’s change of heart is not so much about Parliamentary arithmetic, which he has ignored all along. The explanation may lie in two forthcoming rulings by the Supreme Court and Appeal Court. The first is a series of Fundamental rights Petitions challenging the constitutional basis of the dissolution of Parliament by President Sirisena. The Supreme Court earlier issued a staying order against dissolution. Now a seven member bench is expected to hear the case this week, and the ruling is scheduled to be announced as early as December 7th. The second is the Quo Warranto Writ petition filed by 122 MPs questioning the legitimacy of PM Rajapaksa and his government. The Court of Appeal yesterday issued notice on Respondents and directed them to show by what authority they hold office.
The two forthcoming court rulings have tested the President’s resolve. He previously admitted that he did not consult the opinion of the Supreme Court before making his controversial decisions on arbitrarily sacking of Ranil Wickremesinghe, appointment of MR in his place, and finally his desperate dissolution of Parliament.
President Sirisena, had so far treated the majority will of Parliament with partisan contempt. However, two potentially unfavourable rulings by the Supreme Court, which also functions as the Constitutional Court and the Court of Appeal could probably provide the context for his impeachment on the grounds of violating the constitution.
This eventuality has also prompted the President to consider rescinding the previous gazette notification on dissolution of Parliament. Appointing a new PM who reflects the will of the House of Parliament would be the first step.
Interestingly, the TNA held an olive branch to the President when it assured that it would not support the impeachment of the President. Similarly, the political grouping of Mano Ganeshan has also extended a similar undertaking to the President. Muslim political parties may follow suit. That coupled with UNP’s inability to garner the required two-thirds majority and the extreme polarization in Sri Lankan politics may throw a lifeline to President Sirisena. However, there are other challenges to the President as he tries to pull himself up from current political impasse.
There, it is not meek Ranil Wickremesinghe, who lacks ingenuity to run rings around his political opponents that the President should be worried. It is canny MR who may play the devil. Sirisena unleashed the gene when he appointed, (or even coaxed in to the office) MR. Now he wants to sack the same man. But the latter is not going to take that lying down.
President Sirisena, had so far treated the majority will of Parliament with partisan contempt. However, two potentially unfavourable rulings by the Supreme Court, which also functions as the Constitutional Court and the CoA could probably provide the context for his impeachment on the grounds of violating the constitution
President Sirisena’s dignified exit and restoration of the status quo of Parliament prior to October 26 is a slap on MR’s face. He has made it clear that he has no intention to leave the office. He has challenged the President to sack him. Sirisena feels he lost the bargain. If he could oust Ranil, it would be a bonus, but the operative word now is to control the damage of his folly, and salvage whatever possible of his legacy.
Whereas MR tends to believe that the full scale of power grab, the duo hatched, would materialize sooner or later. Staying the course is the key, irrespective of international condemnation and the crumbling economy. All of which are subordinate to his personal ambitions.
In the process, MR and his goons have made an ass of their purported government. Last week, they boycotted parliament for a whole week, in order to avoid further humiliation. Parliament which previously passed three No Confidence Motions, last week passed a motion, cutting off funds to the new government.
There are regular instances where aggrieved opposition parties have boycotted Parliament. (That had been a common sight in Bangladesh, where the two feuding ladies, Sheik Hasina and Begum Kalida Zia took it as a national past time, until the latter chose to boycott the election itself, and landed in wilderness, and later in jail)
But, MR and his acolytes have brought this to a new level of chicanery That is a first in the world, where a sitting government had boycotted Parliament. Whether the joke is on MR or President Sirisena is yet to be seen. The widening gulf between the two individuals is palpable.
The President seems to be trying to pull himself up from the hole he dug himself into. MR keeps digging. He is neither a liberal democrat, nor a believer of constitutionalism. Those like MR are propelled by the grassroots ignorance of our societies and prey on their ugliness, racism and retrograde populism. MR is exploiting the current political crisis to exploit the ethnic polarization, while Sirisena wants a break from the crisis. Whatever the immediate outcome, the President may regret for creating this mess.
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