Five years or six?
Posted on January 13th, 2018

Editorial Courtesy The Island

The ruling of the five-judge bench of the Supreme Court determining whether President Maithripala Sirisena’s term ends in 2020 or the following year will reach him by today. He is likely to communicate the decision of the court to the country soon thereafter and any uncertainty in that regard would then be cleared. Those who followed the pleadings of the Attorney General heard him say that the incumbent president was elected in January 2015 for a six-year term under the law that existed at that time and this stands. The 19th Amendment to the Constitution, enacted unanimously by the sitting Parliament, repealed President Mahinda Rajapaksas’s abolition of the two-term limit on the presidency and additionally reduced the presidential term from six to five years. This, the AG argued, was prospective and not retrospective so President Sirisena can continue till 2021 though his successors will only have five-year term. There were vigorous arguments to the contrary with opponents to a six-year term for Sirisena rightly pointing out that the president himself had said that he had voluntarily reduced his term by a year. Sirisena had, in fact. said he personally favored a four-year term but bowed to expert opinion and the five years was finally agreed upon.

There is no question that the president, whatever the legal position, is morally bound to serve for five years and no longer. If the judges rule that his term is six years, there is nothing to stop him from vacating office at the conclusion of the fifth year and proclaiming a presidential election to elect a successor if the presidency is then in existence. Let us not forget that Presidents Chandrika Kumaratunga, Mahinda Rajapaksa and Maithripala Sirisena all solemnly pledged to the country that they will abolish the executive presidency created by what CBK, with her talent for colloquial expression, called a bahubootha constitution. President Sirisena declared before the bier of Ven. Madulwawe Sobitha, who led the movement for a common opposition candidate against Mahinda Rajapaksa with the abolition of the executive presidency as its major plank, that he would deliver on these promises. In his first address to the nation following his swearing, Sirisena declared he would not run for a second term but now there is a deafening silence on this subject.

This country has been cheated by several of its elected leaders on the matter of how long they would serve without a fresh mandate from the people. Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike, elected in 1970 with a two thirds majority enabling constitutional amendment, was the first culprit. Claiming that the JVP insurrection of 1971 deprived her United Front government of two years of its term, she postponed the parliamentary elections that should have been called in 1975 to 1977 through a constitutional amendment. Opposition Leader J.R. Jayewardene resigned his Colombo West parliamentary seat saying that he was elected for five years and no longer, forcing a by-election he won by a large majority. But what did he do thereafter when he swept into office with a massive five sixths majority? He extended the 1977 parliament for a further term soon after he was elected president (not re-elected as commonly stated because he was ‘deemed’ elected the first time in 1978) in 1982 by obtaining the people’s ‘consent’ at a national referendum in December that year. Whether that was free, fair and conducted by the rules remains debatable though it is generally accepted that JRJ would have won a parliamentary election in 1982, but not with his 1977 majority.

Thereafter Mahinda Rajapaksa at the 2010 parliamentary elections sought, but did not win, a two thirds majority enabling amending the constitution. But he got what the voters narrowly denied him by engineering defections from the opposition and amended the constitution abolishing the two-term limit on the presidency. This was to cost him dearly in 2015. That history is too well known to merit repetition. President Kumaratunga, first elected for a six-year term in Aug. 1994 called a snap poll in 1999 an year ahead of schedule and was re-elected. In August 2005 she sought to continue till 2006 arguing that she could serve balance of her first term. Five judges of the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva unanimously ruled she could not and Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga was compelled to ride off into the sunset a year earlier than she had hoped.

We will soon know whether President Sirisena’s term ends in 2020 or one year later. Even if the legal position is that he can continue till 2021, that was not something of his own doing although it will be clear that the 19th Amendment was badly drafted at least where the reduction of the six year presidential term to five years was concerned. The people verily believed that this applied to all presidents beginning with Maithripala Sirisena and not just those who would follow him. Given that he was rightly credited for doing away with his predecessor’s Mugabe-like greed for at least another term, that proved disastrous as Rajapaksa has lived to learn. Sirisena reduced his own term from six to five years without any demand or pressure for which all praise is due to him. We hope that the president will earn himself the honor of doing what is right on the matter presently at issue regardless of the legal position even if he does becomes the third consecutive president to welsh on the promise of abolishing the executive presidency.

One Response to “Five years or six?”

  1. Christie Says:

    සිරිසේන, රනිල් හා චන්ද්‍රිකා ඉන්දියාවේ හා ඉන්දියානු පරපෝසිතයනේ රූකඩයන්ය.
    India and Indian Colonial Parasites are pretty happy with Sirisena, Ranil and Chandrika All Indian Puppets.

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