Who will triumph this Game of Thrones?
With his audacious gambit failing, President seeks last recourse in dissolving the House with none knowing what the end will hold
PRESIDENT PLAYS POKER WITH NATION’S FATE AND CLAIMS HE HAS MORE TRUMPS UP HIS SLEEVE 'THE SUNDAY-BEST SUNDAY SLAM'
Darkness has settled upon the land. And this time, perhaps, to reside on a more permanent footing. In this sunless hour when reason has fled to brutish beasts and the constitution has been stabbed in the back, the nation stands at the crossroads leaderless, hopeless and godless; and, with light denied, does not know which course to take, whose dictate to follow, whose word to believe. Only an overpowering sense of betrayal engulfs the nation’s soul, betrayal beyond belief, betrayal of the worst kind; and leaves it baffled. The still unfathomable sense of betrayal perplexes all: of how one man could sell the people’s sovereign right overnight down the river for his own personal benefit and still have the gumption to claim it was a lawful act and that it was done in the nation’s best interest.
The whole thing sucks. And that is to put it mildly.
Constitutional coups are normally done by outsiders. This was an inside job. Done by the President himself. Like a Jack in the Box that pops out to scream ‘surprise, surprise’ he astonished the nation when he announced two Friday nights ago that he had jumped into bed with his sworn foe Mahinda Rajapaksa and sworn him as the new prime minister whilst the incumbent Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe still held court at Temple Trees.
No one really knows what made Sirisena creep under the same blanket with Rajapaksa and think he could survive the night. Especially when, not even two years ago, he had this to say of Rajapaksa at a public rally:
“These are the people who destroyed the country, the people who destroyed democracy in the country, the people who gave birth to a white van culture in this country to instil fear into the people, these are the people who, whilst the country was in debt to the tune of 9,000 million rupees, was robbing the nation of billions and billions, these are the people who practised fraud and corruption on a scale unprecedented in this country’s history and who crowned fraud and corruption – I clearly state that we shall never allow them to form a government in this country again.”
And then Sirisena goes on: “Now it is said that they are trying to form a new party. Let’s see them doing it. I tell them that, even as I revealed last year before the January 8th election the fraud and corruption and abuse of power and the uncivilised state of the nation, I tell them now that if they dare to form a new party then, on that day they do so, I shall reveal even greater secrets I have not revealed up to now and expose them and create an environment in which they, instead of ruling the country again, they will be forced to spend their time walking the streets.”
Two years later, jumping from the UNP juggernaut that gave him a free ride to the presidency and throwing his own cargo of gratitude overboard in the process, he returns, like a homing pigeon, to roost amongst the very flock he once denounced as vultures of the worst kind to ever stalk the land.
Of course, it was nothing new. It had been his signature tune, ever since he betrayed Mahinda and jumped onto the UNP float that carried him to the Presidency. Mahinda had often mentioned how Sirisena had betrayed him over a hopper dinner, and thus turned the humble hopper into an iconic symbol of betrayal.
But while that could be excused as something more personal between MR and MS what happened on October 26th night was more a national betrayal of the trust the people had reposed in him. It was unbelievable, unthinkable and unforgivable. It seems betrayal had become second nature to him, the second skin Sirisena wears under his epidermis.
As a result the country is not blessed twice but doubly cursed with two prime ministers, two cabinets and a twotongued president whose morning sterling utterances become counterfeit coin at sunset. And, if that was not enough for one bite, apparently, there are two constitutions, too. One in English. And the other in Sinhala.
According to G.L. Peiris, it all boils down to one word, contained in the Sinhala version but missing in the English translation. The word is ‘removal’. In a statement issued on October 29, he stated: “Continuing discussion of the legal issues is taking place on the basis of a fundamental misconception. It has been assumed that there is no provision in the Constitution of Sri Lanka, empowering the President to remove the Prime Minister.
“This is entirely incorrect. Section 48(i), which is part of the 19th Amendment, explicitly refers to removal or dismissal as one of the methods by which the Prime Minister ceases to hold office.”
“The Constitution, therefore, in express terms recognises removal or dismissal by the President as a mode of ending the tenure of office of the Prime Minister. This vital provision has escaped notice in the current discussion, because it is not reflected in the English version.
“There is a crucial difference between the Sinhala and English versions. The English version uses the words: ‘On the Prime Minister ceasing to hold office by death, resignation or otherwise’. The reference to removal or dismissal is deleted.”
“I was a member of Parliament when the 19th Amendment was discussed and enacted by Parliament. This happened during the so-called 100 day period between the Presidential Election of 8 January 2015 and the Parliamentary Election of 17 August 2015.
“In any event, in the event of any discrepancy, it is the Sinhala version that prevails. Indisputably, the Sinhala version is the authoritative version of the law.
“When the governing provisions of the Constitution are accurately stated in their complete form, and taken into account, there can be no conceivable doubt that the President’s power to dismiss the Prime Minister is expressly contemplated by the Constitution.
“Dismissal of Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe and appointment of Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister on October 26, 2018, is, therefore, entirely in keeping with the Constitution, and there has been no infringement of its provisions in any respect.”
Once upon a time, G. L. Peiris’s legal opinions were respected as the last word on the law but now, coloured as they are by political prejudice, it is widely open to criticism and doubt. Even subject to scepticism and ridicule considering the way he desperately labours to justify the ways of his Lord and Master to laymen in the belief that in a land of ignoramuses his supposed legal opinion will dazzle the blind and hold sway. Sad to say, no more! The professor has lost his prestige and he is no more than a common hustler striving to whip up support by some pseudo legal argument of his own and declaring it as if it was the pronouncement of the Supreme Court of Justice. It’s time to call his bluff. Reveal him for the shyster he is. For what does the two texts state: The English version holds: According to Article 46 (2) that the Prime Minister shall continue to hold office unless he resigns or ceases to be a member of Parliament. The Sinhala version includes the word ‘removal’ from office. And it’s on this one word ‘removal’ that Peiris rests his case upon or the president’s right to dismiss the prime minister at his whim and pleasure and quibbles upon without scant regard to the fact that the pertinent passage does not mention ‘removable by whom. Whether it is ‘removable’ by the president or whether it is ‘removable’ by a no-confidence motion brought against the sitting premier in Parliament or even whether it’s by the mortal hands of fate. Such seems to be the paucity of Peiris’s legal argument that he clutches at his straw without regard to the source.
A professor, Peiris may be but he cannot usurp the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and pass judgment on the matter as one of no further appeal.
Sirisena could have requested the Supreme Court for an opinion on the matter as he is entitled to do as president. But he did not do so. Instead he relied on the likes of Peiris and other legal hangers on eager to serve their dish of opinion to serve his political taste.
Another argument put forth is that the president has the right to dissolve the entire cabinet and upon doing so, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe ceases to exist in the equation and the president is free to name one anew. This is based on the hypothesis that upon UPFA pulling out of the coalition government the legal
allowance of having 45-ministers comes to an end and a new government of only 30 cabinet ministers has to be constituted.
In this instance, two aspects need to be considered. The first is the makeup of the ‘coalition’ or ‘national government. According to Article 46(5), a national government means a Government ‘formed by the recognised political party or independent group which obtains the highest number of seats in Parliament together with the other recognised political parties or independent groups’.
At the August 17, 2015 general elections, the UNP gained the highest number of seats in Parliament and true to its word of governing by consensus to meet the needs of the hour, formed a coalition with Sirisena’s UPFA and with a solitary member of the SLMC. These three formed the national government with the UNP-led UNF as its core with UPFA and the SLMC lone wolf being the hangers on. The UPFA contention is that by pulling out of the national government, the cabinet stands dissolved. But is that so? Merely because one party pulls out does it mean that the national government comes to an end? If so did the stability of the national government rest upon the solitary SLMC member, who was a co-partner in the national government? Had he pulled out would the grand coalition come to an end and a constitutional crisis erupted?
That is a matter that lies in the exclusive province of the Supreme Court to adjudicate in the national interest, not for a politically partisan Peiris to arbitrate in his party’s favour and put forward his prejudiced jaundice as the opinion of the apex fount of law and justice.
The second aspect is the contention that, as a result of all this ballyhoo, it gives rise to the right for the president to consider the existing cabinet as dissolved; and the right to appoint a new cabinet with a new prime minister of his choice.
If that was indeed the case, let’s drag, for laughs at least, the import of it to its logical, though ludicrous, constitutional conclusion.
Under Article 42(3) of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, ‘the President shall be a member of the Cabinet of Ministers and shall be the Head of the Cabinet of Ministers.’ So does that mean that when the cabinet is dissolved the presidency too stands dissolved? Nay, for the president is a standalone figure, even as the prime minister is a stand-alone figure. Like the president, the prime minister, under the 19th Amendment is a stand-alone figure and though he maybe, like the president, a member of the cabinet does not dissolve unto the dust merely because the cabinet stands dissolved.
That is why special place of prominence is granted to him in the constitution. That is why under Article 43(2) of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, the president shall only appoint members to the cabinet on the prime minister’s advice. That is why the prime minister is sworn in first before the rest of the gang, the dispensable. That is why, though the crew may be sacrificed and thrown to drown at sea, the captain and his first mate must remain on deck to sal- vage the ship of state and steer it safe home to port.
But all these are matters for the Supreme Court to decide and pass judgment not for the lay to espouse ad nauseam. Even as it’s a matter for the Supreme Court to finally decide whether the President intentionally violated the Constitution when he appointed Mahinda Rajapaksa as prime minister when he did not possess the power to strip the sitting Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe from his constitutionally safeguarded post.
This week the President revealed that he had offered the post of prime minister to Karu Jayasuriya, the present Speaker of the House, eight months ago and to the UNP’s Sajith Premadasa two months ago and that they had both declined the offer. And wisely so. For, they would have known that it was not within the President’s purview to make such offerings, bound as he is by the constitutional belt.
His mad gamble to exorcise Ranil Wickremesinghe from his political sphere and co-habit power with his better known devil has come to a miserable end. The gambit was doomed to fail and it stands failed. Whilst both he and Rajapaksa believed, they could first seize the fort and then muster the necessary numbers to hold the citadel, their best laid plans have gone awry and today they both must not only blush in shame but pay penitence and seek forgiveness for the Lankan people for condemning this nation to worse ruin. For the numbers never came. They have expected the UNP floodgates to open but there only came a trickle, the worst rats well known to leave ship at the first sign of leak.
First to hark the whistle blown by his former master and scurry forth to his cruise liner was the serial grass hopper Vasantha Senanayake who trumpets his D. S. Senanayake heraldry when it suits him and latches onto the Rajapaksa clan when the grass turns blue on the Mahinda turf when well watered with enough rain and manured with excess compost. Seven others followed suit, to be the nobbled stallions in the Rajapaksa stables. But, alas, their betrayal may turn out to be fruitless.
For now as it appears to be the new Maithree-Mahinda coalition simply does not have the numbers. As the scoreboard reads this Saturday, UNP 98 plus TNA 14 plus JVP 6 totalling 118 against Maithri’s tally of 105. That’s the latest score. But given the state of the pitch, it can turn and, as they say in cricket parlance, the outcome cannot be predicted till the last ball is bowled and the stumps are drawn.
But one googly bowled that beat the Maithri-Mahinda willow and dislodged the bails to kingdom come, came from the TNA. Last Saturday they rang the death knell at the Maithri-Mahinda door and announced their departure upon their arrival by leaving a terse message on the doormat. It read:
“Mr. Rajapaksa’s appointment as the Prime Minister was unconstitutional and illegal.
“Remaining “neutral” in such a situation, would pave the way for achieving an undemocratic end by force.
“According to the Constitution of Sri Lanka, the President does not possess the authority to remove a Prime Minister who is in office.
“Such authority that vested in the President previously was specifically repealed by the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. In these circumstances, the Gazette notifications declaring that the Prime Minister had been removed and another Prime Minister appointed are unconstitutional and illegal.”
The TNA message also said it considers the President’s decision to prorogue Parliament as undemocratic and in violation of Parliamentary Supremacy.
“After having declared as Prime Minister a Member who does not command the confidence of Parliament, this had been done in order to create delay and prevent such Member from having to prove a majority in Parliament. The TNA strongly condemns and opposes the undemocratic efforts to use such delay to bribe MPs with both money and Ministerial posts to induce them to cross over in order to fraudulently obtain a majority in Parliament. We strongly oppose and condemn TNA MP S. Viyalendran being a part of this conspiracy. Necessary action will be taken against him immediately.”
The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) said it will vote in support of the No-Confidence Motion to be brought against the Government headed by Mahinda Rajapaksa.
True to their word the TNA stuck fast to their guns when they met President Sirisena at his official Colombo 7 residence on Wednesday. They reiterated their message and told the President that their stand on the matter could not be reversed.
And with the JVP, too, stating that they, too, will support, a no-confidence motion against Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister, the last nail in Maithri-Maithri hopes of staging a constitutional coup was driven home.
Except for one thing: These guys don’t give up easily, do they, but will strive to the end to achieve their aims. It’s as if the constitution does not exist at all: and it’s a free for all.
Even though the president had declared only on Friday morning that he had the 113 magical number and boasted to his UPFA gang that victory was all sewed up in his bag with the scalps of crossovers and that he had many more trumps up his sleeve, on Friday midnight the presidential weather cock turned again with the ever changing wind to announce that Parliament would be dissolved at that midnight hour. It was evident the gamble had failed. The nation’s economy had been imperiled, the people’s mind had been shattered, and the very pillars of democracy shaken to give substance to a shadowy presidential dream which upon waking not even a scapegoat could be found to take responsibility for all the mayhem caused.
Two days ago, the former Chief Justice now turned chief mischief maker Sarath Silva was brought to the fore to give his shady opinion that it was legit for the president to dissolve Parliament. He quoted Article 33(2) (C) of the 19th Amendment. This is found not in Article 33 of the 19th Amendment but buried in Article 5 which states that the President shall have the right to “to summon, prorogue and dissolve Parliament.”
Be that as it may, Sarath Silva whilst holding it as the enabling Article conveniently for his own and the president’s political purposes perhaps, down played the role of Article 70 of the 19th Amendment which states that whilst the president can indeed dissolve Parliament, he can only do so after four and a half years in office; and that if he wishes to dissolve it earlier he may only do so if Parliament passes a resolution to that effect with a two thirds majority. But today we find the president has dissolved parliament as per Sarath Silva’s advice.
This time the hopper has been served to the people. And some seem to have swallowed it whole.
PS: Even if Parliament had been reconvened on the 14th and even if Mahinda Rajapaksa had been able to show 113 votes in his favour, would a simple majority sufficed to have proved his legitimacy if the original act of his appointment was in violation of the constitution or would it have required a two third majority to remedy the defect?
Once upon a time, G. L. Peiris’s legal opinions were respected as the last word on the law but now, coloured as they are by political prejudice, it is widely open to criticism and doubt. Even subject to scepticism and ridicule considering the way he desperately labours to justify the ways of his Lord and Master to laymen in the belief that in a land of ignoramuses his supposed legal opinion will dazzle the blind and hold sway
Ranil: The PM in waiting under siege
Mahinda: Early sprint jinx
Maithri: Surprise turn