Last Updated : 2019-07-17 02:44:00

Presidential Problem

12 July 2019 02:54 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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The question remains as to what the President is going to gain by holding Parliamentary Elections before the Presidential Election?

 

  • He first sought the opinion of the SC as to whether it was five years or six-years that he could stay in office
  • Now seeks a determination from the Supreme Court on when his term began
  • Then he wants a Referendum to seek public opinion on a mid-term Parliamentary Elections

 

President Maithripala Sirisena after assuming office in 2015said that he would be in the office only once and that he would not contest another Presidential election.   
He readily agreed to reduce the tenure of the President from six years to five years through the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which was adopted on April 2015.   
He also pressurized the loyalists of the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa who were then under his wings as members of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) to vote for that Constitutional Amendment.  
However, in January last year, he said at a public meeting in Kosgama that he would relinquish power only after sending the corrupt politicians to hell.   
This was the first indication that he was willing to run for the second term or to extend his current term.
Indicating clearly his willingness to extend his five-year term of office, he sought the opinion of the Supreme Court in the same month as to whether it was five years or six-years that he could stay in office and accordingly when his term expired.   

 

"Indicating clearly his willingness to extend his five-year term of office, he sought the opinion of the Supreme Court in the same month as to whether it was five years or six-years that he could stay in office and accordingly when his term expired"


The general perception then was that his term had been reduced by the 19th Amendment and his five-year tenure will end on January 2020. 
Yet, he wanted the Supreme Court to determine that his term will terminate in January 2021.   
However, the Apex court decided otherwise.
He then attempted to patch up with Rajapaksa, whom he routed at the last Presidential election to become their candidate at the forthcoming Presidential Election, using the cold-war that is said to be prevailing within the Rajapaksas.   


He even went on to sack Ranil Wickremesinghe from the post of Prime Minister and replaced him with Mahinda Rajapaksa on October 26, last year. That also ended in a flop.
Then again in April, this year, days before the Easter Sunday terrorist attacks, his confidante and General Secretary of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) Dayasiri Jayasekera told the media that the President was willing to seek a determination from the Supreme Court on when his term began. 
Jayasekera argued that despite the general perception being that the President’s term of office commenced on January 9, 2015 (The day he took oaths as the President), his term has to be calculated from May 15, 2015 (The day when the Speaker signed his assent to the 19th Amendment). 
The intention of this move was nothing but extend President’s term at least by four months.   
However, the dialogue on the matter was soon eclipsed by the National Thawheed Jama’ath’s suicide bomb attacks on three churches and three leading tourist hotels on April 21.   
Inundated by the blown up stories about post-Easter attack search operations by the security forces and the cheap anti-Muslim racism roused by the Opposition politicians, the media totally forgot the President’s term issue.   

 

"The general perception then was that his term had been reduced by the 19th Amendment and his five-year tenure will end on January 2020"


When the heat of the Easter Sunday terrorist attack began to subside early last month, President Sirisena dropped a bombshell expressing his desire to hold a Referendum to seek the public opinion on a mid-term Parliamentary Elections, which could be held right away. 
Since there were no takers for the idea it vanished into the thin air. It is against this backdrop that Opposition parties and the newspapers claimed last week that the President was to write to the Supreme Court seeking a determination on when his term began.  
This move is also doomed to fail.   
The Constitution after the enactment of the 19th Amendment is very clear about the commencement of President’s tenure. 

It says:  

“The person declared elected as President at an election held under this paragraph 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.”   

The same Article of the Constitution again says:   

“Where the President in the office is not a candidate or is not re-elected, at a poll for the election of a President, his term of office shall be deemed to have expired on the date on which the result of such election is declared. The person elected as President at such election shall assume office forthwith, but not later than two weeks from such date”   

Therefore it is very clear that President Sirisena’s term has commenced on January 9, 2015, and the next Presidential election has to be held between November 9 and December 9 this year.  
It goes without saying that none of these moves by President Sirisena had been contemplated in the interest of the country. He is attempting to secure his political future through these measures.   
The moves to extend his term did not indicate that he just want to stay in office for another few months, but he seems to be planning to use the extended time to achieve something. He might sometimes use it to win the hearts and minds of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his loyalists and thereby to secure a leading place in the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna if he failed to secure the Presidential candidacy of that party.   
When taking into account his moves to extend his term of office along with his botched attempt to hold a referendum to curtail the term of the Parliament, one has to surmise that he wants the Parliamentary election to be held prior to the presidential election.   
The 19th Amendment has deprived the President of power to dissolve Parliament one year after its first meeting and he has now been authorized to do so only after four and a half years of its five-year tenure is lapsed.   

 

"Jayasekera argued that despite the general perception being that the President’s term of office commenced on January 9, 2015 (The day he took oaths as the President), his term has to be calculated from May 15, 2015 (The day when the Speaker signed his assent to the 19th Amendment)"


Hence, he would be able to call a fresh General Elections only in February next year.   
But next Presidential Election is scheduled to be held before December 9, this year.  
If the term of the President is extended at least up to May 15 next year, he would be able to dissolve Parliament on or after February 17 in the same year. 
On the other hand, had the people given an affirmative verdict at the Referendum contemplated by the President to hold a midterm General Elections, he would also be able to dissolve Parliament or it would stand dissolved, as the case may be.   
In both cases, the General Elections would be held prior to the Presidential election.  
Yet, the question again remains as to what the President is going to gain by holding the Parliamentary Elections before the Presidential Election. 

 

"Jayasekera argued that despite the general perception being that the President’s term of office commenced on January 9, 2015 (The day he took oaths as the President), his term has to be calculated from May 15, 2015 (The day when the Speaker signed his assent to the 19th Amendment)"


Going by the results of the Local Government Elections held in February last year, one outcome of the next General Elections would be Mahinda Rajapaksa assuming the now powerful office of the Prime Minister and reintroducing the 18th Amendment that he had adopted in 2010.   
However, there is no assurance that President Sirisena would benefit from it. 
Another explicit outcome of a premature Parliamentary Elections would be the President getting an opportunity to oust from the office at midterm and humiliate Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe who had made him almost a figurehead, through the 19th Amendment.   
Is it what he aiming at? Whatever it may be, neither seems to be contemplated in the interest of the country. 

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