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Prof. Peiris tears into Prez

Bid to circumvent 19A



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By Shamindra Ferdinando


The Joint Opposition (JO) yesterday said that having repeatedly promised to abolish the executive presidency since Dec 2014, President Maithripala Sirisena was now seeking to serve the original six-year term in violation of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution that restricted the presidential term to five years.


JO heavyweight and Chairman of Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna Prof. G.L. Peiris alleged that President Sirisena was making a desperate bid to consolidate his position even at the expense of the 19 Amendment to the Constitution being flaunted, both here and abroad, as the panacea for Sri Lanka’s ills.


In a brief interview with The Island, the former Law Professor recalled how President Sirisena claimed that he had reluctantly gave into coalition members’ demand that he should serve for a five-year period though his original objective was just a four-year term. Prof. Peiris said that at the time the President made that particular claim he was also present in Parliament as a member of the UPFA parliamentary group.


At a marathon sitting that lasted over 12 hours, the 225-member Parliament approved the 19th Amendment in April 2015 with an overwhelming 212 members voting in favour of it. Ten members were absent. While one voted against the Bill, another member abstained from the voting. The 14-member Tamil National Alliance (TNA) also supported the Bill. Prof. Peiris was among those Rajapaksa loyalists who voted for the Bill.


Responding to a query, Prof. Peiris challenged the UNP, the JVP, civil society organizations as well as Western powers to reveal their position vis a vis President Sirisena’s latest move. Prof. Peiris, who had served as Sri Lanka’s chief negotiator with the LTTE under the premiership of Ranil Wickremesinghe (2002-2003) said that Sirisena’s campaign was primarily based on abolition of the executive presidency and good governance and accountability.


The move to renege on abolition of the executive presidency should be examined against the backdrop of the massive UNP-SLFP split caused by presidential inquiry into treasury bond scams.


The eminent jurist who has authored half a dozen law text books said that there couldn’t be absolutely any ambiguity in respect of the presidential term of office. Article 30(2) of the Constitution as amended by the 19th Amendment now reads as follows:"The President of the Republic shall be elected by the People and shall hold office for a term of five years.".


President Sirisena and yahapalana spokespersons had proudly declared on many occasions that the 19th Amendment had diluted many executive powers, including term of office, he noted.


Prof. Peiris said that the transitional provision in the 19th Amendment was clear about the term. "Article 49 is expressly put into to clear any doubts. The law cannot possibly be clearer," Prof. Peiris said.


Article 49


(1) For the avoidance of doubt it is hereby declared that,– (a) the Seventh Parliament in existence on the day preceding the date on which this Act comes into operation, shall, unless dissolved earlier, continue to function until April 21, 2016 and shall thereafter stand dissolved;


(b) the persons holding office respectively, as the President and Prime Minister on the day preceding


April 22, 2015 shall continue to hold such office after such date, subject to the provisions of the Constitution as amended by this Act; and


Article 31(3) of the Constitution reads as follows:


"The poll for the election of the President shall be taken not less than one month and not more than two months before the expiration of the term of office of the President in office."


Prof. Peiris said they were really taken aback by President Sirisena’s move. The former External Affairs Minister said that the administration had on many occasions at various international forums referred to the dilution of executive presidency in the wake of 19 Amendment.


President Sirisena has asked the Supreme Court "Whether, in terms of Provisions of the Constitution, I, as the person elected and succeeding to the office of President and having assumed such office in terms of Article 32(1) of the Constitution on 9th January 2015, have any impediment to continue in the office of President for a period of six years from 9th January 2015, the date on which the result of my election to the office of President was declared".


The Supreme Court is due to convey its opinion in this regard to the President on or before January 14.


Prof. Peiris said that President Sirisena had even renewed his vow to abolish the executive presidency at the funeral of the architect of yahapalana victory Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha thera.


President Sirisena and those members of parliament who had had switched their allegiance to him were surely afraid to face the electorate, Prof. Peiris said. The SLFP put off local government polls by over two years and postponed scheduled provincial councils polls in the Eastern, Sabaragamuwa and North Central Provinces on the pretext of having elections to all PCs, simultaneously, Prof. Peiris said.


Prof. Peiris said the much touted constitutional making process, too, would suffer a heavy blow due to president Sirisena’s move. Asked whether the president’s latest initiative would give the SLFP an advantage at local government polls, Prof. Peiris said that on the contrary it would help the JO/SLPP. In fact, the President had caused him and his party irreparable damage by reneging on his much advertized yahapalana slogan, Prof. Peiris said.


With his decision to seek SC’s opinion on the term of his office immediately after completing three years in office, President Sirisena had helped the electorate to realize the SLFP strategy, Prof. Peiris said. "We are certainly glad talks between the JO/SLPP and the SLFP failed and the former decided go it alone at local government polls," Prof. Peiris said. Had the JO/SLPP reached consensus with the SLFP, they would have been placed in a difficult and embarrassing position over the bid to extend the President’s term.


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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