Recent crisis gives Sri Lankan PM chance for a constitutional review
With the reinstatement of Ranil Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, political observers believe that democratic practices in Sri Lanka have emerged triumphant.
Earlier, after President Maithripala Srisena sacked Wickremesinghe from the post of Prime Minister on October 26, with little forethought and inadequate forward planning and with considerable contempt for public opinion, the judiciary in Sri Lanka asserted itself and nullified the decision of President Sirisena. Meanwhile, Wickremesinghe refused to step down, asserting that his sacking was illegal, though he officially was not Prime Minister.
When Sirisena sacked Wickremesinghe, in a shocking move, he installed the former strongman and President Mahinda Rajapaksa in his place. Sirisena had served under Rajapaksa earlier, then opposed him, contested against him, defeated him in the election and teamed up with Wickremesinghe to form the government. Sirisena’s move clearly raised questions about his credibility and he was widely perceived as an unprincipled politician, lacking consistency in principles.
When the Sri Lankan Supreme court nullified Sirisena’s decisions and he was forced to reinstate Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister, Sirisena smiled along with Wickremesinghe at the swearing-in, as if he has done nothing wrong. Though Sirisena defended his action of sacking Wickremesinghe earlier, claiming that it was done in “good faith,” no one was convinced.
Thwarted in his efforts by the Supreme Court, Sirisena would have improved his image by submitting his resignation, but he has not cared to do so.
Not renowned any more for taking a principled stand, Sirisena is likely to behave like a “wounded tiger” in his dealings with the Prime Minister. In an attempt to prove that his earlier decision to sack Wickremesinghe was correct, Sirisena is likely to create hurdles in the path of Prime minister Wickremesinghe and provoke him at every opportunity. Certainly, he is unlikely to cooperate with the Prime Minister and work in cordial and creative atmosphere.
It is extremely important that Wickremesinghe does not overreact to such hurdles created in his way and get into controversies. He has to necessarily exhibit statesmanship and dignity that should be associated with the position of Prime Minister. It remains to be seen as to whether Wickremesinghe would measure up to such demands.
The recent constitutional crisis created by Sirisena, for whatever reasons, also point to the need to re examine the provisions in the Constitution to prevent the recurrence of such a crisis again in future.
Democracies in Commonwealth countries have largely been framed on the basis of the prevailing system in the United Kingdom. However, in UK, the King or the Queen is appointed on the basis of a traditional hereditary pattern, which is not so in the case of Asian democracies. In UK, such a constitutional crisis, brought on by the monarch sacking the Prime Minister, has never happened in recent memory.
In the case of democracies in Commonwealth countries, the President is usually elected, either directly or through representatives of the legislature.
In India, it is not uncommon for state or provincial governments to be dismissed by the President of India, based on the recommendations of the elected central government. However, the central government has never been dismissed by the President. In the case of Sri Lanka, Sirisena has now set up an unhealthy precedent by dismissing the Prime Minister.
The recent crisis in Sri Lanka certainly calls for re-examining the constitutional provisions about the powers of the President. While Sirisena may not take the initiative to order such constitutional review, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe may examine the feasibility of doing so.