President Vs Speaker
Posted on June 11th, 2019

Courtesy The Island

The executive and the legislature have locked horns once again. This time around they are clashing over a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC). President Maithripala Sirisena has taken exception to the ongoing PSC probe into the Easter bombings and allied issues; he thinks the UNP is trying to manipulate the select committee process to pin the blame for the government’s failure to prevent the carnage on him. His apprehension does not look totally unfounded. The UNP has ignored the President’s call for doing away with the PSC.

The UNP will never forgive Sirisena for what he has done to it. The presidential inquiry he ordered into the Central Bank bond scams has ruined the UNP’s chances of winning elections, as evident from the crushing defeat it suffered at the local government polls last year. The UNP will not be able to live down the damning findings of the bond commission. Atop all that, the President has appointed another presidential commission to probe irregularities under the present administration. As things stand, its findings will be made public within the next few months. Now, the boot is on the other foot. The UNP must be saying, ‘Revenge is sweet.’

President Sirisena summoned a special Cabinet meeting last Friday, and reportedly told the UNP in no uncertain terms that he would not allow the PSC to question serving military and police personnel. The IGP, currently on compulsory leave, appeared before the PSC, last week, and gave evidence, which made the President squirm in his seat with embarrassment. The PM must be laughing up his sleeve.

Sirisena has since asked the military and police officers under him not to testify before the PSC. Speaker Karu Jayasuriya has, in defiance of the presidential fiat, warned them that they have to turn up when summoned by the PSC, and noncompliance will be severely dealt with. These officers are now between the devil and the deep blue sea. They are like the grass that suffers when elephants fight. Let the Speaker, the PM and the President be urged to settle their scores without putting the police and military personnel in the crossfire.

The Speaker and the President clashed, late last year, following the latter’s abortive attempt to dislodge the UNF government. Their clash and the attendant legal battle rendered the country rudderless for weeks with the Speaker openly defying presidential orders and refusing to recognise the Sirisena-Rajapaksa government.

President Sirisena must be ruing the day he agreed to have his executive powers reduced. The hurriedly ratified 19th Amendment was aimed at strengthening Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s position. Sirisena objected to his powers being curtailed further, but it was too late. The current stand-off has demonstrated once again that even the Speaker is more powerful than the President.

Why the 19th Amendment, which has rendered the executive presidency, the be-all and end-all of the existing Constitution, virtually impotent, was allowed to become law without being approved by the people at a referendum is an enormous question. What the country now has is a parliamentary system of government for all practical purposes. Is it legal to effect such fundamental changes to the supreme law without the approval of the people, in whom sovereignty is said to reside? How advisable is it to leave the task of framing a new Constitution to the architects of the 19th Amendment, for they have resorted to constitutional jilmaat (which means ‘skilful deception’ according to the JVP) to further their political interests?

Now that the executive presidency has become a shadow of its former self and slid down the pecking order, thanks to the 19th Amendment, why should anyone who thirsts for real power try to secure it?

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