Dissolution of Parliament by President ‘unconstitutional’, rules Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court

Colombo | Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court Thursday unanimously ruled that the dissolution of Parliament by Maithripala Sirisena was “unconstitutional”, in a major setback to the President whose controversial decisions plunged the island nation into an unprecedented constitutional crisis.

A seven-member apex court bench said that the President cannot dissolve Parliament until it completes a 4 1/2 year term. Authorities beefed up the security around the Supreme Court and deployed the elite special task force in the area.

The decision has laid to rest one of the many controversial moves which had complicated the political and constitutional crisis emanating from President Sirisena’s decision on October 26 to sack the incumbent prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, and install former president Mahinda Rajapaksa in his place. Later, he also dissolved the 225-member Parliament and called for a snap election on January 5.

Sirisena sacked the Parliament when it appeared that Rajapaksa would not be able to muster the support of 113 MPs to gain a simple majority. Wickremesinghe, on the other hand, commands a majority in the House.

On Wednesday, Wickremesinghe proved his majority in Parliament, with 117 out of 225 lawmakers in Parliament voting to pass a confidence motion in his leadership. Rajapaksa has so far failed to prove his majority in Parliament. Sirisena has said that he has always taken decisions in the best interest of the country and the people. He had also said that he will honour the court’s decision. As many as 13 petitions were filed against Sirisena’s November 9 order sacking the Parliament, almost 20 months before its term was to end.

The apex court’s decision has come as a serious blow to Sirisena after he had failed in his attempt to see Rajapaksa gaining the majority in the assembly to oust Wickremesinghe. This would mean no snap parliamentary election could be called by Sirisena at least until February 2020.

The Supreme Court on November 13 had issued an interim order ruling Sirisena’s gazette notification as temporarily illegal and halted the preparations for snap polls. The bench – extended to 7 from the original 3 when they issued the interim order – had marathon sessions over four days last week before reserving the order to this week.

The current parliament could still call for a snap poll with a resolution passed with a two-thirds majority. Wickremesinghe had held his ground without leaving his official residence as he claimed his dismissal was illegal. He said the 19th amendment to the Constitution had made Sirisena powerless to remove a sitting prime minister.

Prior to the crisis, Wickramasinghe’s UNP had the backing of 106 parliamentarians while Rajapaksa and Sirisena combine had 95 seats. The President has said that due to sharp personal differences with Wickremesinghe, he would not reappoint him as the Prime Minister.

However, Wickremesinghe’s party claims that Sirisena will be left with no choice as he would be the man who will command the confidence in the House.

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