ith the resignation of former President Rajapaksa from the post of Prime Minister on Saturday, and the re installation of Ranil Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister on Sunday, the Constitutional crisis which engulfed the country since October, appears to be at long last coming to an end. The crisis grew out of President Sirisena’s ill-advised sacking of incumbent Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe in contravention to the 19th Amendment to the Constitution which the President himself ushered through parliament.
His controversial appointment of former President Rajapaksa as Premier despite the latter not commanding a majority in the House threw the country into confusion. It also led to charges that the president was acting ultra vires to the Constitution. When the new PM could not prove his majority in parliament, the president dissolved parliament and fixed dates for a fresh election.
This in turn led to the president’s decision to dissolve parliament being challenged in the Supreme Court and his appointment of a new Prime Minister and Cabinet being challenged in the Court of Appeal. In the aftermath of Premier Rajapaksa’s inability to show a majority in parliament, the ‘new government’ said it was boycotting parliament claiming the Speaker was not acting partially.
The new turn of events led to 122 Members of Parliament seeking an order in the nature of Quo Warranto declaring that Mahinda Rajapaksa was not entitled to hold the office of PM. On December 3, the Court of Appeal issued an Interim Order restraining Prime Minister Rajapaksa and his Cabinet of Ministers from functioning until the petition against them was heard. The Court of Appeal after hearing the arguments of both sides ruled irreversible damage could be caused if persons not entitled to do so, sit as Prime Minister and Cabinet.
On December 13, a seven-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court stopped President Sirisena in his tracks when it unanimously ruled his (President’s) November 9 dissolution of parliament was unconstitutional. The Court ruled the President did not have the authority to dismiss parliament or hold a snap election.The Court’s ruling further extended the turmoil President Sirisena threw the country into, when without any warning he sacked the incumbent Prime Minister on October 26.
The President also claimed Premier Wickremesinghe was not following up on an accusation of a plot to assassinate him (the President) and claimed Wickremesinghe’s refusal to take the accusation seriously was the final nail in the coffin so-to-say which led to his dismissal. Sadly investigations have not found substantial evidence to back up the charge of a plot to assassinate the president. What is clear however, is that the drama paralyzed the country and and left it without a functioning government for nearly two months.
Tensions reached boiling point, which led to scandalous scenes in Parliament when members of the ‘newly appointed government’ attacked the Speaker of the House, while a member of the deposed government attacked an opponent with a knife-like cutting instrument in parliament. Former President Rajapaksa’s resignation on Saturday, came a day after the Supreme Court upheld the Court of Appeal’s suspension of Rajapaksa and his cabinet.
After nearly two months without a functioning government, it seems the country will be able to extricate itself from the morass it has been bogged in. A Vote of Account can now be passed, without which the country faced a likelihood of going into lock down from January 2019 as it faced a prospect of being unable to access state funds to meet its commitments or service the massive external debt amounting to over a $ billion.
While these tumultuous events continued to take place, the President has continued claiming he would not re-appoint Wickremesinghe (whose dismissal led to the continuing drama), as Prime Minister. However it appears that saner counsel has prevailed and Wickremesinghe was sworn-in as PM yesterday December 16.
The upshot of the two-month imbroglio is that it has left both the presidency and parliament diminished. The events of the past five weeks has also shown the danger posed by the executive presidency, where all power is reposed in the hands of a single individual. It brings to mind the urgency for abolishing the executive presidential system of government which all political parties have condemned at one point or another.