Asia,  International Relations

Sri Lanka Altercation

It is a good indication of the trouble the democracy has encountered when one of the oldest democracy in Asia has entered into a unprecedented turmoil, shaking the whole roots the system was based upon. The story of our neighbouring country is such. 

The story that is being unfolded is nothing less than a Hindi movie, where a person has the ability to do whatsoever he may please without a single bit respect to the institution he is representing. This is the narrative that we started to receive from the President of Sri Lanka Maithripala Sirisena, when he ousted Ranil Wickremesinghe, the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka on the 26th of October, 2018, and invited his allegedly rival Mahinda Rajapaksa, the former President of Sri Lanka to form the government of the country.

The current President, Sirisena assumed office in 2015, and belongs to the Sri Lanka Freedom Party. The elections of 2015 in Sri Lanka were very controversial in nature as Sirisena who belonged to the same party as that of Rajapaksa joined his rival party, United National Party (UNP), to which Wickremesinghe belongs to. He joined the UNP with the intention to form a strong opposition against Rajapaksa who was then the President of Sri Lanka. As the media suggests, Sirisena joined UNP because in Rajapaksa’s Presidency, the Sri Lankan Civil War ended in 2009 but with the death of thousands of Tamils. Sirisena was dead set against the killing and wanted to oust Rajapaksa.

2015 Election

Though the alliance between Wickremesinghe and Sirisena won the election in 2015 and formed a coalition government as United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), there had been visible differences between the President and the PM since the very beginning. The situation further worsened when the government of Sri Lanka under Wickremesinghe decided to hand over a port to India, which Sirisena was completely against.

The Political Turmoil

Sirisena, announced the dismissal of Wickremesinghe on a live television session on 26th October 2018, where he also announced the appointment of the former president Rajapaksa to be the Prime Minister. The ousted Prime Minister, Wickremesinghe denied his removal stating that his removal is illegal and unconstitutional and challenged the same in the court. He even said that he has the majority in the Parliament and the President has no legal validity to remove him, as the 19th Amendment, 2015 had stripped the President with the power to remove the Prime Minister on his discretion. 

The majority of the Parliamentarians along with the speaker Karu Jayasuriya have given their support with the ousted PM. The speaker even said that he will recognise Wickremesinghe as the Prime Minister and the head of the Cabinet, claiming that the steps taken by Sirisena are illegal and against the Constitution.

Then on 27th October 2018, Sirisena prorogued the Parliament until 18th November 2018 but thereafter notified that he will convene the Parliament on 16th November 2018. But to everyone’s surprise he dissolved the Parliament on 10th November 2018 i.e. today, thus advancing the elections by about 2 years, thus fuelling the already worsened state of politics in the nation. Wickremesinghe has decided to go to the court against the dissolving of the Parliament. The Sri Lanka media is speculating that the elections are likely to take place around 5th of January, 2019.

This decision of ousting Wickremesinghe and replacing him with Rajapaksa has been greeted warmly by the Chinese Government, whereas the majority of the countries including India have asked Sirisena to respect the Constitution.

Constitutional Validity

Under the 19th Amendment adopted in 2015, the president no longer has the power to remove the prime minister at his discretion. The prime minister can only be dismissed if the Cabinet of ministers is dismissed, the prime minister resigns or the prime minister ceases to be a member of parliament.Even if the President wants to remove a minister, he can do so only on the advice of the PM.

  • President Sirisena argues that the Cabinet ceased to exist the moment the UPFA (his party) withdrew from the national government. When there is no Cabinet and no prime minister, the president has the power to appoint the person whom he thinks commands the majority in parliament
  • Whereas ousted PM Wickremesinghe argued that what Sirisena did was unconstitutional because as per Article 46 (2) of the 19th Amendment of the constitution passed in 2015, the president cannot sack a Prime Minister who enjoys majority support in parliament. He said that he has majority support in parliament and neither did he resign from the premiership nor has he ceased to be a member of parliament.
  • But Wickremesinghe’s claim is contested by the president’s supporters who assert Article 42 of the constitution clearly says that the president shall appoint as prime minister the Member of Parliament, who, in the his opinion, is most likely to command the confidence of Parliament

And in Sirisena’s opinion, Wickremesinghe is not likely to command the confidence of parliament and has therefore lost the right to be Prime Minister.

Impact on India

In the 10-year period when Rajapaksa led Sri Lanka as the President, the country did not have a pleasant relationship with the west. During this time, Sri Lanka distanced itself from India and grew closer to China with Beijing pumping billions into huge infrastructure projects in the country.

Sirisena-Wickremesinghe alliance brought in the promise to lessen financial ties with China in order to reduce the debt created due to such projects. Now if the tides flow in Rajapaksa’s favour, Sri Lanka could possibly lean towards China again, impacting the rivalry between India and China across the Indian Ocean.

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