MR makes case for general elections

MR makes case for general elections

As the constitutional deadlock enters its fifth week, President Maithripala Sirisena-appointed Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa yesterday issued a detailed statement arguing for the necessity of general elections and called on the public to consider the wider implications of polls being needed to restore political stability.

Issuing a five-page statement, Rajapaksa contended that the 19th Amendment does not supersede clauses in the Constitution detailing the powers of the Executive. He also drew examples from Sri Lanka’s history when Presidents had dissolved Parliament in times of political discord to allow the people to excise their franchise and elect a Government of their choice.

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  • Says if Gazette dissolving Parliament was allowed, political turmoil would have been resolved
  • Argues that Executive President has powers to call for general election
  • Draws detailed arguments from the Constitution to show President has powers to dissolve House
  • Presents historical instances when general elections were called in SL to resolve political discord
  • Gives examples from India, France, Norway and Australia when general polls were called
  • Calls on public to give due consideration to the legal points raised

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“Since the dissolution of Parliament and the holding of fresh elections will have implications for the person ordering such actions as well, no Head of State will take such a decision lightly. Such a decision will be made only in serious situations. The only way to restore stability to a destabilised democracy, will be through a general election. According to our Constitution, sovereignty is vested in the people and not in Parliament. The manner in which the people exercise their sovereignty is through the franchise. I invite all those who respect democracy to give careful thought to these matters,” he said.

MP Rajapaksa contended that if the Gazette dissolving Parliament had been allowed, the current political turmoil would have been resolved, allowing the public to install a Government of their choice. He argued that the Government which existed before 26 October had denied the people their rights by delaying the holding of Provincial Council elections.

“It is only in Sri Lanka that you will find political parties agitating against the holding of a general election that has already been declared. In the Gazette notification dated 9 November 2018 issued by the President in accordance with the provisions of our Constitution and the Parliamentary Elections Act, dates had been fixed to call for nominations from 19 to 26 November to hold the poll on 5 January 2019, and for the new Parliament to meet for the first time on the 17 January. If things had gone accordingly, stability would soon have been restored to this country.”

He pointed out that during previous instances, when appointments have been controversial, efforts had been made to call a general election. Rajapaksa pointed out that in 1952, when the then Prime Minister D. S. Senanayake died, a division emerged within the UNP regarding the succession. Even though the effective number two in the party was Sir John Kotelawala, the then Governor General Lord Soulbury invited Dudley Senanayake to be the Prime Minister. Within days of swearing in as Prime Minister, Dudley Senanayake summoned a general election and obtained a fresh people’s mandate to contain the divisions within the ruling party.

Rajapaksa also noted in 1959 after the assassination of S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, W. Dahanayake became Prime Minister. When rifts emerged within his Cabinet, he too called a general election. This same policy has been followed by other countries over the decades, he said.

“The UNP and its allies claim that the 19th Amendment repealed and replaced the old Article 70 (1) of the 1978 Constitution, and that according to the new Article 70 (1), the President cannot dissolve Parliament until the lapse of four and a half years. They claim that an early dissolution will be possible only if Parliament passes a resolution by a two-thirds majority requesting the President to dissolve Parliament. All the provisions relating to the dissolution of Parliament in the 1978 Constitution were found in the old article 70(1) before the 19th Amendment. If those provisions have been abolished, then there are no provisions in the present Constitution to dissolve Parliament in the event of a Government losing a vote of no confidence, the vote on the budget, or the statement of Government policy.”

“Such restrictions are completely contrary to the parliamentary tradition. Most countries with a parliamentary form of Government have ceremonial Heads of State. Even in such countries, the Head of State can exercise his discretion in dissolving Parliament. The British constitutional authority A. V. Dicey has said that if the Crown is of the view that the opinion of the public is different to that of the majority in Parliament, the Crown has the discretion to dissolve Parliament and summon a general election. In 1975, the Governor General of Australia sacked Prime Minister Gough Whitlam and called a general election entirely at his own discretion.”

Rajapaksa’s statement drew examples from diverse parliamentary traditions of France, Norway, India and others to point out that precedent existed for the dissolving of Parliament and calling of general elections. He also argued that these precedents should be taken into account in Sri Lanka.

“If even the ceremonial Heads of State in countries with parliamentary forms of Government can dissolve Parliament and call for fresh elections at their discretion when the circumstances so require, how logical is it to say that the President of Sri Lanka who is vested with the Executive power of the State on behalf of the sovereign people cannot dissolve Parliament no matter what happens in the country? How can it be said that the President does not have the power to dissolve Parliament when Article 33 (2) (c) was specifically introduced to the Constitution by the 19th Amendment?

“How then can one argue that you need 150 votes in Parliament to be able to pave the way for the sovereign people to exercise their franchise? I was recently given a copy of a report published by an inter-governmental organisation called the ‘International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance’. The member states of this organisation include Germany, Australia, Canada, Switzerland, and also India and Japan. According to that report, there are only two countries that require a two-thirds majority to dissolve Parliament – Kosovo and Lithuania.”