SLFP argument for length of president’s term absurd – Jayampathy

Member of Parliament and constitutional expert Dr. Jayampathy Wickremaratne today questioned President Maithripala Sirisena’s apparent decision to seek the opinion of the Supreme Court on the end of his term of office.

Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) MP Dayasiri Jayasekara yesterday told the media that President Sirisena was “seriously considering” obtaining a Supreme Court ruling on whether his term ends on 20 June next year, as opposed to 8 January on which he completes five years in office as head of state. Jayasekara said this was on the basis that the 19th amendment to the constitution was signed into law on 21 June 2015, adding that there was a debate on whether the amendment had any retrospective effect.

Dr. Wickramaratne contested this claim, pointing out that the 19th amendment was in fact certified on 15 May 2015. Regardless, the Supreme Court had previously made it clear that the provisions in the 19th amendment which had reduced the President’s term to five years were indeed retrospective.

“Article 30, sub article 2 of the constitution was amended to reduce the term of office of the President to five years. To make it clear that it would apply to the president in office, that is President Sirisena, a clear transitional provision was introduced in section 49 of the 19th amendment,” Dr. Wickramaratne told RepublicNext.

Section 49 (1) reads: “For the avoidance of doubt it is hereby declared that

“(a) the Seventh Parliament in existence on the day preceding the date on which this Act comes into operation, shall, unless dissolved earlier, continue to function until April 21, 2016 and shall thereafter stand dissolved;

“(b)  the persons holding office respectively, as the President and Prime Minister on the day preceding April 22, 2015 shall continue to hold such office after such date, subject to the provisions of the Constitution as amended by this Act.”

“Those are the operative words (as amended by this Act). This means that their holding of office is subject to the 19th amendment. So it’s very clear that the five years count from 9 January 2015,” the MP said.

In January 2018, President Sirisena sought the opinion of the Supreme Court on whether he could continue in office for a period of six years starting 9 January 2015.

The Supreme Court, having discussed all the relevant provisions including the amendment of Article 30 sub article 2, said Dr. Wickramaratne, ruled that the provisions were retrospective in effect.

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“That should clear up the whole thing. I don’t know why the President is being advised to ask the Supreme Court again, when the Court has already said that Article 30, sub article 2 is retrospective in effect. It’s very clear,” he said.

According to the SLFP’s argument that the five-year period starts the day the 19th Amendment was certified, he went on to say, if one assumed that the Amendment was passed in May 2016, five years should be counted from May 2016 — meaning that the president would then, if counted from January 2015, would have a term of six years and five months.

“That shows the absurdity of the argument,” he said.

Click here to download the Supreme Court verdict of January 2018.

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