Constitutional confusion in Sri Lanka

Published : Oct 27, 2018 11:51 IST

Sri Lanka woke up to two Prime Ministers on Saturday morning, Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was sworn in after the 2015 parliamentary elections, and Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was sworn in the previous evening. On his part, Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena announced that he had dismissed Wickremesinghe, something he does not have the power to do at his discretion under the 19th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution, which was brought in specifically to reign in the all-encompassing powers of the President.

While former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s supporters immediately took over major State-owned media outlets, Wickremesinghe held out and pointed to Article 46(2) of the Constitution: The Prime Minister shall continue to hold office throughout the period during which the Cabinet of Ministers continues to function under the provisions of the Constitution, unless he (a) resigns his office by a writing under his hand addressed to the President or (b) ceases to be a Member of Parliament. Wickremesinghe has made it clear that he remains Prime Minister.

Sirisena has some arguments in his favour. He first called off the alliance with the United National Party (UNP), which meant that the incumbent government had lost its majority in parliament. However, this can only be proved by a vote, and the Budget is slated for the first week of November. His second reasoning was even more blatant.  He said the Prime Minister was being removed under a provision of the Constitution which states: “The President shall appoint as Prime Minster the Member of Parliament who in his opinion is most likely to command the confidence of Parliament.”

In fact, early this year Wickremesinghe survived a vote confidence in parliament, and since then there has since no incident that to indicate that has lost his majority. But with this constitutional coup, it is possible for Rajapaksa to muscle his way in parliament; his power of persuasion is something that every politician in the country is aware of.  

As Sri Lanka embarks on yet another unchartered path with its brand of democracy, the promises made to the people ahead of the 2015 presidential and parliamentary elections lie in tatters. At that time, Sririsena, a Minister in the Mahinda Rajapaksa government, parted ways with the all-powerful former President and was seen as the beacon of hope.

That hope died yesterday.





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