By Rathindra Kuruwita
President Ranil Wickremesinghe can start the process of seeking a new mandate only by the end of July 2024, Freedom People’s Congress (FPC) member and MP Prof. G.L Peiris says.Prof. Peiris said that a president who was elected by the people could seek a fresh mandate four years after his or her election, but a president elected by Parliament was without that right.
Wickremesinghe had been elected by parliament, and therefore he had to complete the remainder of his predecessor’s term, but he could introduce a constitutional amendment to enable himself to hold a snap presidential election, said Prof. Peiris. Such an amendment had to be passed with a two-thirds majority. There was no need for a referendum, Prof. Peiris said.
Commenting on the 13th Amendment, Prof. Peiris said that seven executive presidents before Ranil Wickremesinghe had not fully implemented it for a reason.
‘The President called for an All Party Conference (APC) on devolution. The discussion was mainly on the full implementation of 13A, i. e., with police powers. We must first try to understand why previous Presidents didn’t fully implement 13A. If the same reasons that held their hands still remain, it is impossible to continue with the APC. The Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) said they would not support it. The president must present the other parties with a proposal that has the backing of the government,” he said.
Prof. Peiris said that almost all opposition political parties were of the view that provincial council elections had to be held. This should be done prior to any discussion on 13A, Prof. Peiris said.
“If there are no provincial councils with elected representatives, who is to be entrusted with the full powers of 13A?” he asked.
The MP said that the President had promised Tamil political parties that a solution to the ethnic problem would be found by the end of the year. The collapse of the APC had shown that it was not possible for him to keep his promise. By making promises that he can’t keep, the President has disappointed Tamil parties and his credibility has suffered, Prof. Peiris said.
“The ethnic problem is a complex, hard, and a very emotional issue. Only a government that has a mandate from the people can do it. J.R. Jayewardene had a five-sixths majority in Parliament. Mahinda Rajapaksa had a close to two-thirds majority. Even they couldn’t fully implement 13A. So, how can this government and the President implement 13A within months?” he asked.
Prof. Peiris added that Sri Lanka must do more to engage with China to restructure its external debt. The government seemed to think that India and Japan could talk to China on behalf of Sri Lanka.
Prof. Peiris also said that there was no constitutional requirement for the government to obtain parliamentary approval for the domestic debt restructuring agreement. The President had presented the debt-restructuring plan to Parliament to cover his back, said Prof. Peiris, adding that the President should have provided parliament with all the information. The President had only provided the staff-level agreement the government had with the IMF, six months later. Parliament had been asking for information. When Ranil was a member of the opposition, he asked the then Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa to reveal all agreements with the IMF to Parliament. However, when he became President, he refused to do so, Prof. Peiris said.