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