- Cite mistranslation in English version of Constitution as reason for misunderstanding
By Chathuri Dissanayake
The two newly-appointed government spokesmen yesterday defended President Maithripala Sirisena’s decision to unseat Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and appoint former President Mahinda Rajapaksa to the post, calling the move legitimate and constitutional and quoting alleged legal opinion given by the acting Attorney General which the Speaker’s office denied hours later.
Quoting an email sent to Speaker Karu Jayasuriya by the Acting Attorney General, Solicitor General (SG) and President’s Counsel (PC) Dappula de Livera, Government Spokesperson, Ports and Shipping Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe, claimed that the AG’s opinion had declared the appointment of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa “constitutionally legitimate”.
Addressing the media following the maiden meeting of the 12-member Cabinet, Samarasinghe said that Speaker Jayasuriya had sought the AG’s Department opinion on 27 October through an email.
Samarasinghe, reading the email, said that De Livera had responded to the Speaker’s email following a telephone conversation.
“In response, SG De Livera PC, as the Acting AG, had brought the Speaker’s attention to the Extraordinary Gazette Notifications 2094/44 and 2094/43, issued on 26 October, which notified of the appointment and the removal. Furthermore, he also drew attention to the provisions set forth by Article 48(1) of the Constitution, which sanctions the appointment and the removal as legitimate decisions,” he said.
However, Samarasinghe refused to share the mail sent by the Acting AG, saying it was “privileged information”.
Speaker Jayasuriya, in a statement sent later in the day, denied receiving any communication conveying the legal opinion of the AG. The Speaker’s office categorically denied receiving such clarification from the AG under any circumstances.
Both spokespersons Samarasinghe and Keheliya Rambukwella staunchly defended the decision taken by the President, making use of alleged “translation-based errors in the Sinhala text and the English text of the Constitution” to deny any constitutional crisis in the country.
According to Samarasinghe and Rambukwella, Article 48(1), under which the President is said to have removed Wickremesinghe and appointed Rajapaksa, has been mistranslated in the English text version of the Constitution.
“In any court of law, the Sinhala text of the Constitution will prevail. The difference between the Sinhala and English text is apparent to all. They cannot show the English text to the Court. When the United People’s Freedom Alliance pulled away from the National Government, the Cabinet was automatically dissolved as was the position of the Prime Minister. Therefore, President Sirisena has acted within the framework of the existing legal framework and the Constitution. And it is supported by a majority of the nation; if a survey is conducted, over 70% of the individuals taking part will approve of the decision taken by the President.”
However, Samarasinghe was not able to inform the media how the Government arrived at this statistic.
Rambukwella further asserted that despite various claims suggesting that a parliamentary majority was required to appoint a Prime Minister, the Constitution did not mention this.
“The Constitution does not state that a parliamentary majority is required to appoint the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister is appointed as per the President’s opinion as to who commands the trust of Parliament,” he said.
Hinting at a further delay in solving the constitutional crisis, Samarasinghe also said that the UNP camp would have to bring in a no-confidence motion and defeat Rajapaksa if they wanted to show a majority in Parliament.
“On 16 November it is going to be a ceremonial sitting and they will then have to go through the motions to bring in a no-confidence motion,” he said.