President’s latest attempt to extend his tenure

President Maithripala Sirisena seems to be a good news maker. He always thinks differently and is always in the news. According to media reports last week, he was planning to get his term extended up to May next year and in the previous week he wanted to scrap the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. A week before that he wanted to hang four people convicted for drug related offences and days prior to that he wanted to hold a referendum to seek the public’s opinion to hold a midterm parliamentary election. It is very interesting.   

This is not the first time he wanted to get his term extended. Twice before as well he had attempted to do so, but not in the same way. In January last year the President wanted to get his term extended by one year by obtaining a ruling from the Supreme Court that his term as the president is six years, in spite of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution having reduced the President’s term from six years to five years. He sought the opinion of the apex court arguing that he received a six-year mandate from the people when he was elected to office in January 2015. However, the court ruled otherwise.   

Had the Supreme Court ruled that the 19th Amendment did not have retrospective effect on the President, who was already in office, President Sirisena’s tenure would extent till January 2021 and the next Presidential election would have to be held in December 2020.   

Having once failed in his attempt to extend his term in that manner he, in early last April dropped a bombshell by arguing through his close ally Dayasiri Jayasekara who is also the General Secretary of his party, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party that his term should begin from May 15, 2015, the day the Speaker gave his assent to the 19th Amendment and not from January 9, 2015 the day he publicly took his oaths as the President of Sri Lanka.   

However, his bombshell was overshadowed by the nine suicide bombs in churches and five-star hotels on April 21 exploded by the National Thowheed Jama’at terrorist outfit which was followed by another suicide bomb in April 26 in Sainthamauthu and the media hype over the search operations by the security forces.   

After several other distracting statements like the one on the referendum for an early general election and on the abolition of the 19th Amendment, the President is again going to try his luck at the Supreme Court by seeking a determination on when his tenure began. Our sister paper the Sunday Times reported that he was to send the relevant letter to the Supreme Court tomorrow.   

It is very unlikely that the Supreme Court would determine that the current President’s term had begun on May 15, 2015, as the Constitution even after the adoption of the 19th Amendment says “the person declared elected as President at an election held under this paragraph shall, if such person… (ii) 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.”   

Whatever the apex court rules on the President’s request, the repeated moves by the leaders in office to manipulate the laws of the land, especially the basic law of the country to suit their personal ambitions and agendas are disheartening. It is a well known fact that the Second Republican Constitution was brought in by the then Prime Minister J.R. Jayewardene in 1978 to suit his political agenda and he introduced in the 13th Amendment to the Constitution in 1987, giving in to the pressure by the Indian government and not that he was a champion of power-sharing or at least of minority rights.   

The 17th Amendment was introduced by President Chandrika Kunaratunga under pressure by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and not because she was advocating independent commissions that were meant to curtailment of her powers as the President. Everybody knew that it was due to President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s ambition to rule the country as long as he was physically fit to do so and to pass on the baton to his son that he adopted the 18th Amendment. And now it is clear that the 19th Amendment was another manipulation which has created two equal power centres.   

President Maithripala Sirisena’s latest move also seems to be an extension of this abuse of the law by the leaders for their personal ends.   

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