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What Sri Lankan Constitution says on president's power to sack PM


Press Trust of India Colombo
Following is an explainer on what Sri Lanka's Constitution says on the president's power to sack the prime minister, a move that has triggered a constitutional crisis in the country.
The political developments unfolded after President Maithripala Sirisena's broader political front United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA) withdrew from the unity government with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's United National Party (UNP).
Sirisena and Wickremesinghe joined hands to form a government of national unity in 2015 to bring in constitutional and governance reforms including a new Constitution to address the long-standing issues of the Tamil minority.
President Sirisena on Friday night sacked Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and appointed former strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa in his place. Sirisena also suspended parliament till November 16 after Wickremesinghe sought an emergency session of the House to prove his majority.
Under the 19th Amendment of the Constitution adopted in 2015, the president no longer has the power to remove the prime minister at his discretion.
The prime minister can only be dismissed if the Cabinet of ministers is dismissed, the prime minister resigns or the prime minister ceases to be a member of parliament.
The president can remove a minister only on the advice of the prime minister.
President Sirisena camp's argument was that the Cabinet ceased to exist the moment the UPFA withdrew from the national government.
When there is no Cabinet, no prime minister and the president has the power to appoint the person whom he thinks commands the majority in parliament.
According to the 19th Amendment, the prime minister can only cease to hold office by death, resignation or if the government has lost the confidence of parliament by a defeat on the budget or a vote of no-confidence.
According to Wickemesinghe, what Sirisena did was unconstitutional because as per Article 46 (2) of the 19th Amendment of the Constitution, the president cannot sack a prime minister who enjoys the majority support in parliament.
Wickremesinghe has asserted that he still has the majority support in parliament.
He has neither resigned from the premiership nor has he ceased to be a member of parliament, Wickremesinghe pointed out.
But Wickemesinghe's claim is contested by the president's supporters who assert Article 42 of the constitution clearly says that the president shall appoint as prime minister the Member of Parliament, who, in the his opinion, is most likely to command the confidence of Parliament.
And in Sirisena's opinion, Wickremesinghe is not likely to command the confidence of parliament and has therefore lost the right to be the prime minister.
Although Wickremesinghe has the option to move the Supreme Court challenging the president's decision on constitutional grounds, he has decided not to as he needs to substantiate his claim by proving parliamentary support during a vote of confidence.
Currently, Rajapaksa has 95 MPs of the United Peoples' Progressive Alliance (UPFA). Wickremesinghe's United National Front has 106 MPs.
Rajapaksa needs 18 more MPs to give him a simple majority of 113 in the House of 225 members.
Rajapaksa already got the support of two UNP MPs on Friday Vasantha Senanayake and Ananda Aluthgamage.
Additionally, there are Indian-origin Tamil and Muslim parties which have a policy of always being on the side of the government irrespective of the party in power.
Main Tamil Party Tamil National Alliance has 16 MPs and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, a communist and MarxistLeninist party, has 6.

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First Published: Oct 29 2018 | 5:20 PM IST

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