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Respecting rules

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The dissolution of Parliament last Friday has pushed Sri Lanka into an even deeper political crisis and endangered the rule of law more than ever before. The will of the people is central to a democracy but so is upholding the law, which is laid out in the Constitution. The Constitution is the bedrock of a nation and provides powers to the different branches of power, undermining it for political gain has pushed Sri Lanka’s democracy into a tailspin and launched the country into uncharted waters.

Hours before the release of the dissolution, President Maithripala Sirisena moved the Government Printers Department under him, triggering feverish speculation. The swearing in of the last members of Cabinet indicated that the crossovers had stopped with the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) still short of the magic 113. This was confirmed by Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) member Keheliya Rambukwella who faced a barrage of questions by media about their majority at a press conference on Friday afternoon. During the exchange, the former MP conceded that the SLFP does not have the majority and was relying on more crossovers. 

However, with minority parties steadfastly refusing to condone the actions of the President and support former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the options available to the SLFP were fast receding. Rather than face a potentially humiliating vote when Parliament is reconvened, the next step must have appeared as a natural one. President Sirisena last week was reported to have said that he used only the first trump card to remove United National Party (UNP) leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and had several others up his sleeve. It would seem the next card was dissolution. While no one would doubt the powers of the Executive after the recent display, it is hard to deny that these games are destroying Sri Lanka’s democracy. 

Democracy is not a selective process. It is a holistic framework that must be respected and implemented in its entirety. President Sirisena cannot go to the people on his decision to appoint Rajapaksa while destroying the mandate given by those same people in 2015. It is true that the sovereignty of the people is supreme but that is enshrined in Parliament, not the Executive. Deciding to dissolve Parliament when he cannot muster a majority shows the hypocrisy of the argument presented by President Sirisena. The mandate of the people is sacred but so is rule of law, which the political system rests on. Throwing out the Constitution and with it, the mandate that should have lasted till August 2020 while saying it is to create a space for the will of the people is disingenuous to the extreme. 

The UNP, as well as Opposition parties have said they will go before the Supreme Court, and the country is now awaiting developments. The upshot of this political turmoil would be a heightened level of caution by the private sector that will attempt to ride out these elections as well as possible Presidential polls likely next year, which could hit already lacklustre growth prospects. Public revenue, already under strain from the slew of tax concessions announced by the Finance Ministry, will also have to spend about Rs. 5 billion on the Parliamentary election. Given the situation, one is forced to wonder whether this is the best way to have spent these tax funds.     


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