Reflections on constitutional debate in Sri Lanka

There are leading lawyers and academics representing the divide. They write lucidly on their convictions with perhaps a tint of bias

by Ashley Perera

( December 5, 2018, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) There is apparently a multitude of views, particularly among lawyers, as regards the action of the President of Sri Lanka to sack the Prime Minister and dissolve Parliament. There are broadly two schools of thought, one strongly opposing the presidential course of action, while the other maintaining that the President has acted within his limits of power. The bone of contention among the opposing faction to the Presidential action is that notwithstanding the inherent flaws and serious errors of inconsistency, the procedure set forth in the 19th Amendment to the constitution should be upheld. Further, the appointment of a new prime minister, the sacking of his predecessor, and the dissolution of Parliament are contended to be a breach of the fundamental provisions of the Constitution. The other group who approves Presidential action maintains that the Presidential action is well within the provisions of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution despite the ridiculously flawed, erroneous and utterly inconsistent procedures, engulfed in the clauses of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution.

These two rival camps could well argue the legality or otherwise of the Presidential action for the next one and a half years at least. However, what seems to be abundantly clear in the debate is that most of them are biased one way or the other, based on their political convictions. There are leading lawyers and academics representing the divide. They write lucidly on their convictions with perhaps a tint of bias. The UNP parliamentarians and their diehards are opposing the Presidential action not necessarily on legal grounds, but merely because they have to protest the sacking of their prime minister and ensure maintenance of the existed status quo that existed.

It was revealed in newspapers and over the air that at least two of the ardent supporters of the opposing camp had been on the pay list of the UNP, one a vociferous Buddhist monk, and the other a leading academic who was connected with the drafting of the good governance policy. The TNA with only 14 members comprised the main opposition and held the post of the Leader of the Opposition in the previous government. Although one would expect them to be watchdogs in parliament, they appear to be "pussycats" agreeing with all what the previous government says. It is apparent that they have a hidden agenda to work on.

The JVP, on the other hand, has turned out to be a set of jokers, contradicting their own statements and providing light entertainment by shouting from the top of their voices. It is hoped that the voters will respond appropriately on their tomfoolery at a future election. On the other hand, it is evident that quite a large number of the clergy and the general public have endorsed the Presidential action. Further, people who have been economically adversely affected by the policies of the previous government are up in arms against that government, which has caused them undue suffering. It would be seen that the previous government spent lavishly on enhanced allowances for their parliamentary colleagues, in addition to their normal dues, while even the children’s savings accounts were subject to tax. It is indeed a shame that the previous government should advise foreign funding sources to suspend foreign aid to the country, very well knowing that these funds were meant to benefit the people of this country and not their political rivals.

Prof. Ashley LS Perera, Former Senior Professor of Town Planning, University of Moratuwa, Sri Lanka


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