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50 days Political upheaval in Sri Lanka

Lawyers for Democracy Responses to Mahinda Rajapakse’s Misleading Statement

Lawyers for Democracy Response to Mahinda Rajapakse’s Misleading Statement made in the wake of the Supreme Court case.

Lawyers for Democracy expresses its serious concern on the attempt by Mahinda Rajapakse, MP for Kurunegala District, to mislead the country by issuing an unusual statement on the matter of the dissolution of Parliament, while it is pending before the Supreme Court. While we are confident that the judiciary of this country, whose independence has been strengthened by the Nineteenth Amendment, will not be influenced by misleading statements of politicians, we nevertheless wish to respond to a number of factual inaccuracies in the said statement that may mislead ordinary citizens not well-versed in matters of the Constitution, especially events abroad.
Rajapakse cites the British constitutional authority A.V. Dicey as having said that if the Crown is of the view that the opinion of the public is different to that of the majority in Parliament, the Crown has the discretion to dissolve Parliament and call a general election. Dicey who wrote Law of the Constitution as far back as in 1885, refers to the dissolution of the House of Commons in 1784 and 1834. But unknown to Rajapakse and his advisors, and this is not surprising, the United Kingdom has since seen many changes regarding the Monarch’s power of dissolution. No British Monarch has in modern times dissolved the House of Commons without the advice of the Prime Minister. In 2011, Westminster passed the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, which lays down that an early General Election shall not be called unless the Commons requests a General Election by a two-thirds majority. An early election will also take place when a vote of no-confidence is passed against the Government unless a vote of confidence is passed within 14 days of the vote of no-confidence, that is unless a new Government is formed and is to able prove its majority in the Commons within 14 days. But unlike the United Kingdom where there is no written constitution, Sri Lanka has a written constitution which has clear provisions relating o dissolution.

Rajapakse also states that in 1975, the Governor General of Australia sacked Prime Minister Gough Whitlam and called a general election entirely at his own discretion. This is furthest from the truth. Unlike in Sri Lanka, Australia has two Houses of Parliament. Section 57 of the Australian Constitution, if the Senate rejects or fails to pass a Bill that has been passed by the House of Representatives twice the Governor-General may dissolve both House simultaneously. But by convention, he would do so only on the advice of the Prime Minister. In 1975, the Senate had deferred two Appropriation Bills which had already been passed by the Lower House. Prime Minister Whitlam refused to advice a dissolution and the Governor-General dismissed Whitlam and appointed Malcolm Fraser as Prime Minister as caretaker Prime Minister upon the latter undertaking to have the Bills passed in the Senate and that he would advise the Governor-General to dissolve both Houses. Before doing so, the Governor-General consulted the Chief Justice who advised him that the Prime Minister could be replaced in the given circumstances. The Governor-General then dismissed Whitlam, appointed Fraser as Caretaker Prime Minister and dissolved both Houses on the advice of Fraser.

Rajapakse’s says that the Indian President dissolved the Lok Sabha in 1970 and 1979 on his own. This again is utterly misleading. In December 1970 President Giri dissolved the Lok Sabha upon the advice of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and a request by the Cabinet of Ministers after the Congress Party had broken up. Although it was a minority government, it had not been defeated in Parliament on any question. In 1979, dissolution was on the advice of Prime Minister Charan Singh while the Lok Sabha was in prorogation, again on the advice of the Prime Minister.

What needs to be emphasized is that the constitutional provisions relating to dissolution in Sri Lanka are quite different. Ours is not a Westminster form of government but still a hybrid. The President has no prerogative powers that he may use at will. His powers are limited by express provisions of the Constitution which he has affirmed to uphold.

Lal Wijenayaka
K.S. Ratnavale
Lakshan Dias,
Sudath Neththasinghe
Harishka Naeeshan
Praboda Ratnayaka
On behalf of Lawyers for Democracy

50 days Political upheaval in Sri Lanka

50 Days Of Madness By The Executive & MR, Courage Of Speaker & Supreme Court & Calmness By The People: A Tribute To A Stoic Nation

It was indeed a fascinating period of time. The Executive branch of our government ran amok; it did not understand the fundamentals of democracy, leave alone its nuanced constitutional interpretations. He did not bend the rules; he broke them. On whose legal and constitutional instructions and guidance, one may never know. Yet he did it, almost at the cost of the country’s precious democracy. For fifty long days, before the country’s populace on whose tired and weary shoulders he ascended to power and before the world whose sympathy he needed most at this hour of crisis, he chose to play a very partisan game. Apparently, the survival of his beloved political party, Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), was uppermost in his limited scope of governance. Political priorities overshadowed the grim realities of the moment.

The Executive

When the Executive was expected to exercise his stupendous judgment on matters of governance-affairs, that judgment not only came into question, it was proven to be unequivocally deficient. Irrational conduct of the Executive took the country by surprise; all the respect and honor one would bestow upon the office of Presidency was not to be; its glamour and luster gone, the holder of office became a laughing stock, not only in the social media, but it was even more evident among his own close supporters. The social media went to town on him. The ‘Smart Phone’ fraternity was busy, sending either on Whatsapp or Viber many a creative cartoon or musical clip that made the highest officeholder in the country a minion subjected to disparage and mockery. A deplorable behavior on the part of the Executive did not do justice to either the Legislature or the Judiciary, the other two pillars of our government structure. But for 50 days the people had to suffer this pitiful melodrama of willful violation of our Constitution. 

No one enjoys eating humble pie. Yet the Executive was forced to eat it, not at the behest of his conscience; he was compelled to do the right thing by the country’s Judiciary and the Speaker of the Legislature. All in all, the Executive’s dissemination and his crazy conduct, specifically in relation to the unconstitutional dissolution of Parliament of our Constitution without any due regards for due diligence for wise governance speaks volumes for the lack of understanding of the nuanced aspects of constitutional matters and challenges to democratic wellbeing of the country. Wisdom is not a talent one is born with; nor is it a product of association with those who are below one’s grade in life and education. Wisdom is a human quality that is, as George Bernard Shaw remarked: ‘We are made wise not by the recollection of our past, but by the responsibility for our future’. The Executive seems to be bogged down in the past. His unwinnable battle to save the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) from extinction has taken priority surpassing the winnable wars against rampant corruption, nepotism and erratic exercise of powers to suppress and overturn the rightful dues form the ordinary men and women in the country. Wisdom has not dawned on the Executive and one cannot expect for such a miracle in the context of what occurred in the last fifty (50) days.

The Speaker and the Legislature

One conspicuous and hopeful side of the confusing drama that was played before our eyes during the last 50 days is the courageous and spirited part played by Karu Jayasuriya, the Speaker of the House of Parliament. He, in arguably the darkest days of our Parliamentary history, stood his ground and showed the entire world that the spirit of our constitution was indeed alive and pulsating without any breakage. Such courage is indeed rare and calls for praise and applause. The unruly bands of parliamentarians who claim to be loyal cohorts of the shameless Mahinda Rajapaksa went berserk; they resorted to the lowest of human behavior and were successful in making Madávi Some and Choppe of a bygone era look like Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Theresa. Armed with chili powder and water, they soiled and desecrated the floor of the House of the People, Parliament; knowing very well that they did not have the numbers to defeat the resolution which was before the Members, an utterly uncouth and despicable conduct as was displayed by petty thugs who were elected to Parliament, managed only to reaffirm the general opinion of the Mahinda Rajapaksa loyalists as puny representatives of a culture that was nurtured and nursed by the Rajapaksa family and their immediate bedfellows.

It was against such anarchical and pagan behavior of the Mahinda Rajapaksa-supporters that Karu Jayasuriya made a gallant effort to uphold the fundamental values and ethos of a human fraternity which we call Parliament of Sri Lanka. However, he was not alone in his fight. The members of the United National Party (SLFP) backed by the other members of the Opposition too exhibited some guts and poise in the face of these marauding armies of parliamentary hooligans unleashed by the Rajapaksa clan. Parliament used to be an educative institute which had within its hallowed walls some giants and luminaries who were role models for the younger generation of that era. We have bidden adieu to that domain some time ago. A new culture has replaced that particular powerful force of our society. Holding one’s own stead, keeping calm at all times and delivering legal and constitutional deathblows to the opposition is indeed a very daring and fearless act. Karu Jayasuriya did just that.

The Supreme Court

The Supreme Court of the country is the last refuge for those who seek justice and the rule of law. It is the sacred institution in which many a gallant and heroic argument is made for and against one’s position on any given supposition. During the years of the Rajapaksas, this institution came under severe criticism and disparage. Many a member of this ultimate arbiter of the law of the land is usually held in highest of esteem and honor. Considered to be in the elite of the country’s social pyramid, members of this small group of professional men of law, in the past have written and interpreted some complicated legal issues and passed judgments on them without any prejudice to the men and women whose arguments for and against a distinguished attorney would argue.

The infamous 50 days witnessed the splendor of our Supreme Court; its conduct and delivery of orders in each of the cases put before them represented a microcosm of an independent court of justice. They justified their very presence in the Court with honor and admiration. Some wonder whether the Supreme Court during Rajapaksas would have been so impartial and just. But to pass judgment on the Supreme Court for a mundane writer would amount to questioning their intent more than the very substance of the issues involved. I would leave that to legal luminaries of a future time. Yet one cannot disregard one reality: What was placed before the Supreme Court in the last few days of November, 2018 was of great value in the legacy that each of the decisions would have left behind. Each and every member of that court would be remembered for the decision they made. 

‘Legacy’ value of that decision would certainly have played an unambiguous part in their decisions. They certainly left a grand legacy of right against wrong; legal against illegal and constitutional against unconstitutional. As  a matter of fact the Supreme Court saved the day for democracy and its continued sustenance in Sri Lanka.

The People

One cannot forget the role played by the people in Sri Lanka during these 50 days. Each party to the arguments for and against the Ranil Wickremesinghe-led government has its fringe elements. However wrong their party’s stand, these fringe groups would not desert their political allegiances. But a great part of the electorate does not belong to these fringes. They inhabit in the middle; their allegiance is basically to the more sensible and conventional principles of democracy and fair-play. Those people still chose to trek in the middle without reaching the threshold of the fringes. They were patient and thoroughly poised; their demeanor did not change and they lent their ears to everyone but made no comment or pass judgment. That is a mark of a mature nature of character.

That character stood tall. That is the most remarkable feature in the midst of broken down Executive and the Rajapaksa-legacy. That character of our people deserves undiminished admiration and applause. 

The write can be contacted at [email protected]

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50 days Political upheaval in Sri Lanka

US urges responsible and quick end to Sri Lanka crisis

Image: US Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Alaina Teplitz .

New Ambassador says global trust, confidence and reputation of SL at stake with political impasse causing serious socio-economic consequences.
Points to bigger challenge of how to deal with the aftermath of this crisis.
Admits crisis has impacted bilateral opportunities; finalising Millennium Challenge Corporation’s $ 500 m grant support “paused” .
Expresses hope for a legitimate Government via transparent and democratic process.
Clarifies that US is being transparent about its hopes for SL as partner and friend; is not interfering in internal affairs.
Assures of not preventing polls, will respect if crisis is ultimately resolved through elections.
Commends civil society and private sector for speaking out against crisis.

By Nisthar Cassim.

Stressing that it has no favourites in the contest, the United States this week urged Sri Lankan leaders to resolve the political crisis responsibly and promptly, as it has far reaching socio-economic consequences, apart from damaging global confidence and trust.

“As a friend and partner, we have urged Sri Lanka and its leaders to move promptly to resolve the political crisis in a transparent and democratic way,” newly-appointed US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Alaina Teplitz told the Daily FT, in her first interview with the media.

“We have no dog in this fight. We do not have favourites in this political contest. We are looking at an outcome that respects constitutional processes and transparency and produce a legitimate government,” added Teplitz.

Teplitz took office less than a week after President Maithripala Sirisena appointed MP Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister, removing then-sitting Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and thereby igniting an unprecedented political crisis.

After presenting her credentials to President Sirisena, in recent weeks, Teplitz has met with representatives of all political parties, though not yet formally with either Wickremesinghe or Rajapaksa. She said that during the meetings, she shared frank and candid views and also listened to the concerns of political parties figuring in the crisis.

“We have urged that the people’s elected representatives be allowed to resolve this within the framework of the Constitution. We have called on the political leadership and President Sirisena to responsibly resolve this crisis, so that it is clear there is a legitimate, constitutionally mandated Government running the country, and democratic institutions are fully respected,” emphasised Ambassador Teplitz during the interview.

“Sri Lanka must, and has the opportunity to, restore the political reputation of the nation, which is very important going forward. Challenging politics can diminish that reputation,” she pointed out.

“There are some damaging economic consequences from this crisis.I think there is some damage caused to Sri Lanka’s political and democratic institutions.

We do not have favourites in this political contest. We are looking at an outcome that respects constitutional processes and transparency and produces a legitimate Government

These are things we are concerned about as a partner and friend of Sri Lanka,” she added, noting that the full dimension of the crisis wasn’t clear initially, but of late the country has seen credit ratings downgraded, increased pressure on the currency and Bond rates, and private sector concerns of the fiscal situation have become apparent as well.

Teplitz, who is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service with the rank of Minister Counsellor, and previously served as the US Ambassador to Nepal, pointed out that the political instability sends a risk message to investors, and hence restoring political stability was crucial.

“What is more challenging is, how do you deal with the aftermath of this crisis.It is important to remember that even if it is resolved, there is going to be a period required to restore confidence and trust among Sri Lanka’sdevelopment partners, existing and potential investors,” Ambassador Teplitz emphasised.

Given the serious socio-economic consequences, Teplitz welcomed the growing concerns expressed by civil society and private sector. “I have seen that a number of industry groups including Chambers of Commerce and Industry had come out and said ‘please resolve the political crisis’ as it is harming the business and economy and future opportunities. Political leaders should take the concerns of civil society and businesses onboard and understand that the crisis has impacted well beyond the political realm,” she pointed out.

As the Sri Lankan political crisis is of serious concern, the US has “paused” finalising the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) initiative with Sri Lanka, thereby putting $ 500 million of grant assistance at stake.

“We have paused it as MCC is based on the foundation of respect for the rule of law and good governance. We are waiting to see how the crisis is resolved before we could resume our negotiations and go forward. So there is definitely an impact from the crisis on some of our bilateral opportunities,” Ambassador Teplitz admitted.

However she remained optimistic and hopeful of resolution of the current political impasse. “We are hoping that this crisis is short-lived and something that we can turnaround quickly. We have to do our due diligence to ensure that we make these agreements under the right conditions and expectations, and that we’ve got full faith in one another as partners,” Teplitz added.

Whilst acknowledging that President Sirisena’s dissolution move is being contested in Court, Ambassador Teplitz said the US does not prejudge the outcome but noted: “We are prepared to work with any Government that emerges from this legitimate, transparent and democratic process. Our concern is our friendship with the legitimate Government, broadly speaking,but also with the people, and we are able to move ahead in areas of concern, which includes strengthening the democratic institutions,” she added.

The Ambassador also responded to post-crisis criticism that the US is meddling with internal affairs and also preventing the holding of an election.

“I don’t believe that being transparent about our hopes and aspirations for our partner and friend Sri Lana is interference. Certainly Sri Lanka’s leaders can take our leaf, take our opinions and hopes on board due to our longstanding relationship and many mutual interests.So that is hardly interfering in the sovereign activities of Sri Lanka as a country,” she explained.

“We are also not preventing anybody from having elections. If an election is how this crisis would be ultimately resolved, we support the democratic process being observed and respect it,” Ambassador Teplitz added.

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50 days Political upheaval in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka: President should beg pardon from country for political crime he committed. – Anura Kumara

At the very moment the political conspiracy was committed with the mediation of President Maithripala Sirisena, the JVP resolved that the political conspiracy would be defeated and all moves that would be taken to consolidate democracy in the country.

When Parliament met on 14th November the JVP presented a no-confidence motion against the illegal, unconstitutional government that was set up. Rajapaksa faction obstructed debating the NCM. Amidst the obstructions, the NCM was passed. A document with signatures of 122 MPs was handed over to the President. Accordingly, the Speaker announced on the 15th that there was no longer a prime minister or a government. As the President was not prepared to accept this another NCM was presented to parliament on the 16th. On this day too Rajapaksa clique did not allow a debate to be held. They attacked with chili powder, broke equipment in parliament, toppled the Speaker’s chair and the table where the maze is placed and behaved like idiots. However, despite the obstructions, the Speaker entered the chamber and formerly got the NCM passed in Parliament.
In a situation where the President doesn’t act according to the Constitution the only action, we had was to seek redress from the Court of Appeal. With the mediation of 122 MPs, we stated that the NCM presented in Parliament had been passed and requested the Court of Appeal to declare that Mr Mahinda Rajapaksa has no power to act as the Prime Minister and his cabinet cannot act as ministers.

Accordingly, the Court of Appeal has given a very important decision. The setup government has been barred from functioning until the hearing is concluded. Functioning according to arbitrary, distorted thoughts of President Maithripala Sirisena has been halted. Despite a NCM had been passed in Parliament and the Speaker had announced that there was no prime minister or a cabinet, the President convened the cabinet. Various decisions were taken. The ‘token’ ministers commenced giving employment so that they would have cadres for their future political projects. Do people have to accept the administration of such a ‘token’ cabinet? Do we, as citizens of this country, have to accept an illegal, unconstitutional clique that doesn’t have a majority in Parliament administer our country? Can the President rule the country with whichever group he fancies?

The NCM passed on the 14th and the Speakers’ special announcement on the 15th have been corroborated by the Court of Appeal. We would like to tell Maithripala Sirisena that his decisions have been proved wrong many a time. The gazette dissolving Parliament, the gazette appointing the prime minister, the gazette appointing ministers have been stayed by the Judiciary. This is the worst that could happen to decisions by a President. Hence, we ask the President to withdraw those gazette notifications. His moves have been defeated in Parliament and in Courts twice. The President should not come out of his distorted thoughts. The majority group should be allowed to govern.
What has taken place is a treasonable conspiracy. It is a political conspiracy by Maithripala Sirisena and Mahinda Rajapaksa to grab power. This treasonable conspiracy should not be taken lightly. We would not allow the issue to be closed even if Ranil and Mahinda become pals and have their hands on each other’s shoulders. These treasonable conspiracies should be countered. As such, we emphasize that the Parliament should pass a bill to appoint a commission to punish all those who were involved in the political conspiracy. The commission should also investigate the moves of the media institutions that functioned supporting the conspirators. The media has a massive task of making the people aware when such political conspiracies are being hatched. However, most of the media institutions in our country stood on the side of the conspirators.

Also, the importance of the proposal to abolish executive presidency is further established with what is happening in the country now. We, of the JVP, have presented in Parliament the proposal to abolish the executive presidency. We would like to emphasize now that this amendment should be soon debated and passed in parliament. We propose that subsequently the Parliament should be dissolved and a new Parliament should be elected according to the wishes of the people. This Parliament is not suitable to carry out any other programmes. Hereafter, no government, whoever makes it and if it is made with perks, privileges and bribes, it should not be allowed to carry on for a long time. We again emphasize that the political conspiracy should be totally defeated, a commission should be appointed to punish the conspirators and then the bill to abolish executive presidency should be passed before this Parliament is dissolved.

It was the President who made this country a ludicrous, clownish anarchic state. It was the President who broke down the economy, destroyed democracy and belittled our country before the world. As such, if he has a conscience he should beg pardon from the whole Nation regarding the political conspiracy he committed. We demand that the President, without continuing with his political conspiracy, should carry out his functions honouring the Constitution. We would like to emphasize that there would be inconceivable uprisings if he continues to carry out his arbitrary moves. In such a situation the President would have to confront a political fate that he would never imagine. We also would like to emphasize that the President has no right to instruct the people to act lawfully if he doesn’t act according to the constitution and the law of the country.

( Taken from the Leader of the JVP, Anura Dissanayaka’s speech at a press conference held at the head office of the JVP at Pelawatta to express the view of the JVP regarding the interim injunction order given by the Court of Appeal restraining Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and his Cabinet from functioning until the hearing is concluded. Courtesy of the Lanka Truth)

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