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Speaking out

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In the face of a dragging constitutional crisis, Speaker Karu Jayasuriya has spoken out against the proroguing of Parliament and said that he would recognise the administration that existed before 26 October unless Parliament is reconvened and the Constitution respected.

The strongly worded statement released on Monday included what the Speaker insisted were verbal assurances by President Sirisena to convene Parliament this week, but the required gazette, when it finally arrived, listed the date as 14 November, just a two-day advancement on the original 16 November. The nonplussed Jayasuriya also stated that the President had given assurances of convening Parliament when he met with representatives of the international community, but they had come to naught.  

He also strongly condemned the crossovers that have been making headlines over the last few days. The recording released of the call to UNP MP Range Bandara requesting him to crossover has now gone viral with it being even mixed into a soundtrack. No citizen is under the illusion that these crossovers are happening ethically, and public confidence in their representatives is at an all-time low. The Speaker very rightly condemned the horse-trading actions and pointed out in no uncertain terms that Cabinet positions as well as other perks were being wrongfully offered to bolster numbers.       

The Speaker, who has been the centre of attention since President Sirisena removed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and appointed former President Mahinda Rajapaksa in his stead, has been navigating a sensitive area between the word of law and the spirit of the law. Jayasuriya has a letter signed by a majority of MPs calling for the reconvening of Parliament, public support as well as backing by the international community to take a significant step and reconvene Parliament.

As the Speaker, he also has the responsibility to protect the Constitution, uphold the rule of law and protect the powers of Parliament. Leader of the House Lakshman Kiriella last week handed over a No-Confidence Motion on Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and has insisted that both Standing Orders and the British Parliamentary tradition gives sufficient room for Jayasuriya to reconvene Parliament. There can be no doubt that he has just cause.      

Parliament plays a massive role in ensuring democracy by upholding transparency, accountability and the Constitution. Parliament may be an imperfect institution but it is nonetheless an essential one. Therefore, the proroguing of Parliament has triggered a serious situation that could have a deep impact on Sri Lanka’s Constitution and how it is followed by future governments. All three branches of the Executive, Parliament and Judiciary are ultimately responsible for upholding the rule of law and one branch cannot supersede the other. When Executive powers are used to prorogue Parliament, democracy is undermined.

For as long as the Constitution is disregarded, both Sri Lankans and the international community will question the legitimacy of actions taken by the President. Even though President Sirisena has taken pains to explain his actions, he can never be fully released from the accusation of having undermined Parliament until he listens to the call of the people and reconvenes Parliament. Speaker Karu Jayasuriya is in a position to create history and it can only be hoped that he ends up on the right side of it.

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