Next President Will Have All Powers Sirisena Now Enjoys and a Lot More
Posted on July 29th, 2019

Dilrook Kannangara

A group of UNPers, convinced they are going to lose the next presidential election big-time, is spreading false information saying that the next president will not have the same powers President Sirisena now enjoys. They argue 19A provisions relating to the powers of the president come into effect when his first term ends. This is a nonsensical view unfortunately popularized by a leading lawyer. However, he is not the only lawyer!

19A has no transitional provisions from the time it was passed to the end of Sirisena’s term. Therefore, the full impact of 19A is already effective since 2015 when it was passed. The President can change the Prime Minister at will. Only problem is if the another MP has real support far more than the appointed Prime Minister, then chaos results. This was the case even before 19A. The MP who would not cause the ruling party to lose its grip on power was appointed for this reason (no matter how ridiculous he was).

Sirisena was elected in 2015 for a term of 6 years to end on January 8, 2021. However, with the 19A, the presidential term was limited to just 5 years. Sirisena’s term after 19A ends on January 8, 2020. As per the Constitution, the presidential election must be held at least two months before that. How come this provision came into effect immediately but other provisions come into effect after Sirisena? It is an absurd argument.

The other side of the argument is the Prime Minister will assume president’s powers. This is a joke. The prime minister is part of the legislature and the head of the legislature. How come the same person be the executive! 19A very clearly states that the president is the Head of the Cabinet (the other institution that has some executive powers).

What seems to confuse the confused is the draft 19A that was struck down by the Supreme Court as it trespassed into the powers of the President. That was not passed. And that was not gazetted. It was changed and the changed bill was passed. If presidential powers were to be restricted, it must be approved by the people at a referendum. The regime that fears elections will never hold a referendum.

In fact, the next president will have far more powers than Sirisena now enjoys. Sirisena’s hands are tied as his party is just a fraction of parliament. The next president will get a parliament of his choice within months of his/her election.

Those who popularize the nonsensical argument that the next president will be merely ceremonial are affected by the ‘sour grapes’ syndrome. Their preferred candidate has no chance of winning it so they play down the importance of the office of the president. However, all candidates, voters and media know it is the most important of all elections.

2019 November presidential election will be the most keenly contested presidential election ever. Once the president is elected, everything else falls into place. The president at his/her discretion decides when to dissolve parliament and have parliamentary elections. Timing will be to maximize the benefit for his party and most damaging to the rival party. The Attorney General will also be appointed by the President and the Chief Justice too. Of course the Prime Minister and all other ministers are appointed by the president. Win presidency and everything else is a cakewalk. The president has all the powers, rightly or wrongly.

19A just created confusion. It didn’t achieve anything useful other than bring back the two-term limit, prevent foreigners from entering parliament and the office of the president and raise the minimum age of the president to 35.

UNP should be preparing for the 2024 presidential election than spread false information. 2019 is a foregone conclusion. UNP will be wiped out at all elections (provincial, presidential and parliamentary) to be held within the next 8 months. The last time the UNP won a presidential election was in 1988. That too thanks to the lowest voters’ turnout in history, violence in both the north and the south, IPKF invasion and shameless appeasement of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress via Constitutional amendments just two days before the election.

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