Awaiting a crucial decision | Daily News

Awaiting a crucial decision

Sri Lanka’s constitutional crisis is now into its eighth week and continues to dominate headlines and retain public interest because, at the time of writing, the nation is awaiting the crucial determination from the Supreme Court as to whether the dissolution of Parliament by President Maithripala Sirisena was constitutional or not.

Submissions to the Supreme Court by the petitioners representing the United National Party (UNP) led United National Front (UNF), the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and the intervenient petitioners representing President Sirisena as well as the interests of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) continued until the end of last week.

While the Supreme Court had initially indicated December 7 as the end date for its Interim Order restraining the dissolution of Parliament, it later conveyed that this order will be in force until the court delivers its verdict.

If the battleground has shifted from the corridors of power in Parliament to the halls of Hulftsdorp, there was no scarcity of legal issues being forwarded for determination by the courts of law last week by interested parties on behalf of both the government and the opposition.

Monday saw two fundamental rights petitions being filed in the Supreme Court and another petition being filed in the Court of Appeal. The first of these was a fundamental rights petition filed by Dambara Amila Thera against the removal of Ranil Wickremesinghe from the premiership and the appointment of a new Prime Minister and a Cabinet. The petition was taken up by a three-member bench including Buwaneka Aluwihare, Sisira De Abrew and Murdu Fernando and fixed for further hearing on January 7.

Also on Monday, a fundamental rights petition was filed against Speaker Karu Jayasuriya accusing him of Contempt of Court by convening Parliament and passing various motions including a motion of no confidence, after the Supreme Court stayed the gazette dissolving Parliament.

Independence of the court

The petitioner, Attorney Aruna Laksiri Unawatuna, argues that by convening Parliament when the Supreme Court has stayed the gazette dissolving Parliament and passing various motions including a no-Confidence motion the Speaker has not only violated the constitution but also has attempted to influence the independence of the court in a negative manner.

On Tuesday Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s turn. Sharmila Gonawela, a member of the Colombo Municipal Council representing the SLPP filed a petition in the Court of Appeal seeking a Quo Warranto order to prevent Wickremesinghe from continuing as a parliamentarian.

In her petition, Gonawela said Wickremesinghe was disqualified from being a Member of Parliament as his appointment is illegal as a company he was a shareholder of, Lake House Printers and Publishers, was doing business with state organisations and institutions. She has alleged that this is in violation of Article 91(1)(e) of the Constitution and also cites a previous case, Dilan Perera vs. Rajitha Senaratne.

Also on Tuesday, after media had reported that the President would seek to expedite the hearing of the fundamental rights application against the dissolution of Parliament, Attorney Aruna Laksiri filed a motion in the Supreme Court against these purported moves.

Through his motion the petitioner says that the President’s reported request to Chief Justice Nalin Perera through the Attorney General to expedite the verdict on the petitions filed against the dissolution of parliament was publicised in the media and argues that such a request would lead to an impediment in examining the case in a proper manner.

The current impasse is however not totally because of the legal issues involved. There has been dialogue between President Sirisena and the UNF but there is a deadlock because of the President’s decision not to nominate Ranil Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister and the UNF’s insistence that their nominee is none other than Wickremesinghe.

The President held a discussion with the UNF last week to explore means of resolving the current crisis, where Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Cabinet have been restrained from functioning. At this discussion, the stumbling block was the issue of Wickremesinghe’s re-nomination as Prime Minister.

The President maintains it is his prerogative to nominate his Premier as the Constitution states that the person nominated should, ‘in the opinion of’ the President be appointed to that post. However, the UNF maintains that such a person should also command the confidence of Parliament and that in this instance, only Wickremesinghe is able to do so, albeit with the support of the TNA. The JVP has categorically stated that they would not endorse Wickremesinghe in Parliament for the Premiership.

President Sirisena was to reiterate his stance when he addressed a special session of the SLFP. In his speech which received wide publicity, he declared that he would not reappoint Wickremesinghe even if all 225 members of Parliament endorsed him.

Differences of opinion

Many saw this statement as an indication of how deep the differences of opinion are between the President and his former Prime Minister. That is ironical because Wickremesinghe was instrumental in convincing the UNP to accede to a ‘common candidate’ at the 2015 presidential election and also in campaigning to win UNP votes for who was then the SLFP’s longest serving General Secretary.

However, President Sirisena has countered accusations that he was being ungrateful stating that he allowed Wickremesinghe to govern and take decisions very much on his own, out of a sense of gratitude. However, he can no longer do so because it is detrimental to the country, the President argues.

The President has also dismissed speculation in some circles that he could opt for a snap presidential election. “If there is a snap presidential election, only I have to declare it. I have no intention of doing so. I am not ready to comply with the political agendas of others,” the President told a newspaper. When asked whether he would contest for a second term at the presidential election scheduled for later next year, he said it was too early to decide on it.

Others have suggested that, should the Supreme Court hold that the dissolution of Parliament was inconsistent with the provisions of the Constitution, the President should explore the possibility of holding a referendum on the issue. However, the propriety of holding a referendum to circumvent a court decision as well as the enormous costs involved are significant deterrents to this option.

Clearly, all options are on the table. President Sirisena has categorically stated that he would abide by the Supreme Court decision on the dissolution of Parliament, whatever it may be. That will be a landmark verdict that will be watched keenly locally and internationally. It will also determine the direction which this political tussle will take in the months to come.

 


 

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