Sri Lanka President rules out snap polls
ECONOMYNEXT – President Maithripala Sirisena, who earlier this year failed to extend his term of office by a year, announced Saturday that he had no intention of calling a snap election and hoped to complete his tenure.
Addressing a public rally at Nivithigala in the Ratnapura district, Sirisena discounted speculation of an early presidential election to capitalise on the failure of his rivals to name candidates to contest the next presidential elections.
“I have no intention of calling election before the due date,” Sirisena said. “I am the only one who can call a snap election, but I have no intention of doing that. There is unnecessary speculation about an early election.”
According to the constitution, the next presidential election should be held sometime between November 8 and December 8, 2019 before Sirisena’s tenure ends on January 8, 2020.
Sirisena’s senior coalition partner and rival, the United National Party (UNP) is yet to nominate a candidate although Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is largely expected to be a contender to challenge Sirisena.
It was not immediately clear if Sirisena expected to seek a second term, despite having pledged that he wanted to be a one-term president and had forfeited one year of his six-year term under the 19th amendment to the constitution that reduced powers of the presidency.
Despite having made a virtue of voluntarily reducing his term by year, Sirisena in January addressed the Supreme Court for an interpretation of term limits under the 19th amendment to see if he could remain in office till 2021.
Official sources said seeking an extension was the initiative of a top political aide rather than Sirisena himself. In fact, his then secretary Austin Fernando advised him against seeking the extension and told him not to make the address to the Supreme Court as the 19th Amendment was clear on his tenure.
On January 15, the Supreme Court shot down any prospect of Sirisena staying on in office a year longer.
A five-judge bench in a unanimous decision ruled that Sirisena’s term was limited to five years. Sirisena asked the highest court for a clarification after what he called two conflicting opinions on his term of office.
Attorney General Jayantha Jayasuriya argued before the Supreme Court that Sirisena’s term ended in 2021 giving him full six years and the five-term term would apply only to any new president.
However, the 19th amendment itself was crystal clear. It had a transitional provision which clearly spelt out that Sirisena was entitled to a five- year term after voluntarily trimming the tenure by one year.
Seeking another year was seen by political analysts as a move to remain in office for longer in order to neutralise the Mahinda Rajapaksa faction of his Sri Lanka Freedom Party.
Rumours of a snap election, possibly soon after Sirisena gets the constitutional right to seek a fresh mandate upon completing four out of the five year term, was fuelled by the lack of consensus within the SLFP breakaway faction.
The breakaway group known as the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) is yet to nominate their candidate for the presidency although former president Mahinda Rajapaksa’s siblings – Chamal, Basil and Gotabhaya – are in the ring as potential candidates.
Two of the siblings – Basil and Gotabhaya – are currently disqualified from being candidates by reason of their dual nationality. However, they could still renounce their US citizenship to be eligible to contest the residency.
Mahinda loyalists also dropped a bombshell by claiming that the former leader may be able to contest a third term notwithstanding the 19th Amendment of the constitution which restored the two-term limit he had removed in 2010, soon after winning a second term.
With the former leader considering a comeback, it shattered the hopes of Gotabhaya who had been campaigning to project himself as the main rival to Sirisena or Wickremesinghe. However, seniors in the SLFP breakaway group have claimed that the presidential nomination should go to them and not a Rajapaksa.
President Sirisena told his supporters on Saturday that he did not think either the UNP or the SLPP would be able to get 50 percent of the vote required to secure the presidency and would have to get the support of his SLFP.
“They must realise that they cannot form a government without the SLFP,” Sirisena said.”Both the UNP and the SLPP have over estimated their strength.” (COLOMBO, September 8, 2018)