Did former President Mahinda Rajapaksa betray his inner authoritarian mind-set with what seemed an otherwise innocuous passing comment to a waiting journalist?
- By Arthul Ratnasinghe
Thrust a microphone at him while he was inside a car, the journalist asked him for a comment yesterday about the current political situation. The former President could not resist a dig at the incumbent President Maitripala Sirisena.
He said "what is there to say. The President is keeping the Prime Minister (Ranil Wickremesinghe)". Told by the reporter that the Attorney General has opined that the President cannot sack the Prime Minister under the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, Mahinda Rajapaksa responded by saying," he is the Executive President why listen to the Attorney General", or words to that effect.
In other words, Mahinda Rajapaksa believes President Sirisena need not follow the advice of the chief legal adviser of the Government and must do what he wants to do.
Mahinda Rajapaksa has been accused, and not wrongly so, of taking the AG's department directly under his office when he was President and having a puppet AG to do his bidding. Later, when he found the Chief Justice in the way, he got her impeached and made the puppet AG his puppet CJ.
His remark yesterday suggesting President Sirisena should ignore the AG's opinion could also have been a 'dead rope' to the President.
One of the worries the President has been entertaining, and possibly spending sleepless nights all of last week is whether Mahinda Rajapaksa will get together with PM Ranil Wickremesinghe and impeach him through Parliament. Any attempt to willfully tamper with the Constitution would be grounds for impeachment. Both Rajapaksas MPs (52) and Wickremesinghes MPs (106) make the two thirds of Parliament's 225 MPs to do so.
That was why there were reports on Sunday night that the Government Printer was asked to stand-by. It was to issue a gazette proroguing Parliament. Under the 19th Amendment, the President is prohibited from a dissolution of the House, but there's nothing to stop him from suspending it.
That is exactly what President R. Premadasa did back in 1992 when faced with an impeachment motion do that he could have some space - and time to fight back - and arm twist the then Speaker.
The threat of an impeachment motion against him faded away by nightfall on Sunday when it came to be known that the Prime Minister's first option was to continue with a National Government with the President at the helm.
On Monday when Parliament met for the first time since the February 10 local government election, Mahinda Rajapaksa's SLPP MPs were in full force exerting their vocal cords to the maximum demanding a debate the same day to discuss the 'current political situation' and also, calling for a general election - which they knew cannot be held unless two-thirds of Parliament agreed to it. They were merely stirring the pot and reveling in the chaos that the National Government was in.
The pro-Sirisena SLFP MPs were conspicuous by their absence in Parliament yesterday. They had threatened to find the numbers (113 out of 225) to form an SLFP Government, but it seems SLPP support for this move, despite all their sound and fury was mere lip service.
Even the most ardent backers of this move viz., Ministers Susil Premjayantha, Anura Priyadharshana Yapa, Jayasiri Jayasekera, S. B. Dissanayake were not present to articulate the SLFP's position and it was left to Deputy Speaker Thilanga Sumathipala to do the honours. He said the President wanted more time and the National Government will box on for now. That was enough for the UNP MPs to have a laugh at last, after their stinging defeat at the polls.
Tomorrow will see a cabinet reshuffle and the wobbly National Government back in the saddle. "They will continue functioning dysfunctionally" said a political analyst.
President Sirisena has tied himself in a bind, and is in an awkward position. He cannot get a divorce from his partner nor his mistress who he has been trying to woo for some time, willing to join him in a new relationship given the boot he gave them in 2015 to marry his present, estranged partner.
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