Painting into a corner
On August 30 this year, the Minister of Constitutional Affairs Prof. Dr. G.L. Peiris was to say;

"These constitutional amendments have been prepared by three persons who are experts on constitutional affairs; one of them is Minister K.N. Choksy who is an eminent lawyer, the other is Tilak Marapana who was a former Attorney General, and third is myself, I have been a lecturer on legal affairs at the university".
He was referring to the 18th and 19th Amendments to the Constitution w

hich primarily aimed at giving the Legislature the powers to strip the President of her powers to dissolve Parliament by giving MPs the right to vote across party lines.

In six weeks time, 7 judges of the Supreme Court unanimously held that "these Constitutional amendments" were in fact un-constitutional, that only a Referendum of the People could rectify it, and went to the extent of saying that there was one clause, in the 19th Amendment, referred to as the "Conscience clause" allowing MPs to vote across party lines was "unenactable". That means that even a referendum of the People cannot rectify that defect. It was so bad in law - it was unenactable.

It is still arguable that the Supreme Court could be wrong. That court could also have human failings. But it is the Supreme Court, the country's final authority on the law.

Whether the Minister of Constitutional Affairs must resign for such a fundamental faux pas is a matter for him and the Government, but what is still worse is the string of events that led to this miserable mess the Government has unnecessarily got itself into.
The country's crisis of political instability is not getting any better - and that's of course to put it in the heaviest form of understatement. It seems that the UNF's think-tanks were intoxicated by their own estimation of their capabilities, and missed a 'window of opportunity' (see separate story by our legal editor) to arrive at a compromise to amend the Constitution.

But now, it appears that those missed opportunities have come back to haunt the UNF political establishment. There is no resolution to the country's constitutional impasse either way, as the Supreme Court has delivered its verdict, by which for all intents and purposes it has been made futile for the UNF to pursue the 19th Amendment.

Now, it appears that there is a great deal of confusion on all sides, which is not helping the people with another round of verbal sabre - rattling and shadow boxing.

It is certainly confusing that the UNF on the one hand seeks an assurance from the President that she does not dissolve parliament, while it simultaneously seeks from the Supreme Court an order that the legislature be allowed to dissolve Parliament.

An election is perhaps a lose-lose solution for all sides concerned, particularly for the people of this country. But it is also not difficult to see why the UNF is calling for an election. Cohabitation has not worked-the President's verbal diarrhoea has not helped-and the UNF cannot govern in an atmosphere of going from crisis to crisis. If an election is a solution to the political instability that seems to be the apparent destiny of the Sri Lankan state, then even an election, with all costs included, would not see through the current impasse. Simply because an election will leave the political balance as badly poised as it is now - and then, it would mean the ridiculous outcome of arriving at square one, after having drained the exchequer of another several cool millions.

There doesn't appear to be any solution other than consensus and cohabitation, however much many will like the currently lame-duck President out-of-the-way altogether. This is the only way to compound an already acrimonious political struggle other than to rid the country of the menace of the Executive Presidency from the face of the Constitution - because the machinations for political supremacy between these two major political contenders, the PA and the UNF, will be endless. It is not for nothing that these columns suggested several weeks back that the only solution is to cohabit or perish.


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