Colombo, December 14 (newsin.asia): It was the fond hope of Sri Lankans that a Supreme Court ruling on the constitutionality of the dissolution of the Sri Lankan parliament would usher in a truce between President Maithripala Sirisena and the ousted Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and bring the curtains down on the standoff between the Executive Presidency and the parliament.
But the court’s ruling that the dissolution of parliament by the President was unconstitutional, has not resolved the conflict between Sirisena and Wickremesinghe or between the institution of the Executive Presidency and the legislature.
President Sirisena has vowed that he will continue to fight Wickemesinghe even if he continues to enjoy majority support in parliament.
By ruling as null and void, the Presidential gazette dissolving parliament and ordering fresh elections, the Supreme Court on Thursday, left President Sirisena with no option but to re–appoint his bete noire as Prime Minister.
The President had sacked Wickremesinghe on October 26 citing ideological and personal incompatibility as reasons and had refused to re-appoint him even after parliament had passed two No Confidence Motions against successor Mahinda Rajapaksa and a Confidence Motion in favor of Wickremesinghe.
According to sources close to Sirisena, he has a plan to continue his resistance to Wickremesinghe even if he appoints him as Prime Minister.
Threat of Non-Cooperation
After Thursday’s court ruling Sirisena told his United Peoples’ Freedom Alliance (UPFA) that if Wickremesinghe has to be re-appointed as Prime Minister, he will not participate in the decision making process of the government but will perform his duties as an Executive President of the country as per the constitution.
According to Shiral Lakthilaka, a top advisor to the President, this means that Sirisena will continue to conduct cabinet meetings as the Head of the Government, but will not participate in its decision-making process.
He will, however, continue to exercise his powers as the constitutional Executive President, Head of Government and Head of State.
Given the nature of the Sri Lankan constitution, which endows the Executive President with vast and decisive powers, an Executive President can put spokes in the wheel of the cabinet from time to time.
According to UPFA MP, Udaya Gammanpilla, the President can take under his purview, any ministry and department as President Chandrika Kumaratunga did in November 2003 when she took over from the Ranil Wickremesinghe government, the ministries of Defense, Interior, and Information.
Kumaratunga’s action crippled the Wickremesinghe government and led to the premature dissolution of parliament in February 2004. She could do this because she was certain that while Wickremesinghe had majority support in parliament, he did not the support of the people outside.
Sirisena feels the same way about Wickremesinghe now.
“Although the President cannot challenge the decisions of the cabinet, he can go public about his opposition to them. He could also stop certain key appointments,” Gammanpilla further said.
But parliament too can harass the President.
“A Prime Minister who commands a majority in parliament, can get parliament to deny funds to the President because it is parliament which holds the purse strings of the government,” Gammanpilla pointed out.
Be that as it may, what Sri Lankans may be sure of is a continuation of the conflict and a continuation of a dysfunctional and conflict-ridden government till the next Presidential election at the end of 2019 and parliamentary elections in March 2020.
A Way Out
But if Wickremesinghe’s United National Front (UNF) comes up with an alternative to Wickremesinghe for the post of Prime Minister, such as Sajith Premadasa (the amiable Deputy Leader of the United National Party), Sirisena will fully participate in decision making in the cabinet as its head, and the government will run smoothly, Presidential Advisor Shiral Lakthilaka said.
Therefore, the controversy over the re-appointment of Wickremesinghe will remain to destabilize the Sri Lankan government, unless the UNF climbs down and puts forward Sajith Premadasa as an alternative to Wickremesinghe, Lakthilaka added.
Will UNF Climb Down?
But the million dollar question is: Will the UNF climb down after the Supreme Court had given its political prospects a shot in the arm by declaring as unconstitutional, the dissolution of parliament and the ordering of fresh elections by President Sirisena?
Would the UNF discard Wickremesinghe after backing him in the Confident Vote on Wednesday which showed that he had 117 MPs out of the total of 225 backing him?
And the confidence vote was moved by none other than Sajith Premadasa. Sajith had declared times without number, that he is committed to backing Wickremesinghe to the hilt, unless his party, as a whole, wants him to take it over.
On Thursday, a seven-judge Supreme Court bench overturned the sacking of Parliament and halted a general election.
Chief Justice Nalin Perera said President Sirisena’s proclamation outside the legal limits and it violated the rights of members of parliament. There was arbitrary exercise of power, he said.
Justice Sisira de Abrew, delivering a concurring judgment, said according to the constitution, the President cannot dissolve parliament until the lapse of 4.5 years. The proclamation dissolving parliament was therefore null and void.
As per the 19 th. Amendment of the Lankan constitution enacted in 2015, parliament has a five year term. But it can be dissolved earlier by the President after it had competed four and a half years of its term or if two thirds of the 225 member House had voted for a resolution requesting the President to dissolve it and order fresh elections.
But when President Sirisena dissolved parliament on November 9, the House had not completed four and a half years. Neither was there a parliamentary resolution backed by two thirds of the members requesting the President to dissolve the House and order snap polls.
The President had pitched its case on one stand-alone article which said that the President has the power to “summon, prorogue and dissolve parliament”. But the opponents of dissolution said that that article ought to be read with another which lays down conditions for dissolution. The Supreme Court upheld the latter argument.
(The featured image at the top shows Maithripala Sirisena and ousted Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe)