Home » News

Rajapaksa to announce dissolution of Parliament

[Hindu, Saturday, 6 February 2010 11:32 No Comment]

With the extension of emergency laws by another month on Friday, the Sri Lanka Parliament is all set to be dissolved in the next few days and the general election to choose new members is scheduled to be held in the first half of April.

“A formal announcement on dissolution of the Parliament constituted in 2004 would be made by the President Mahinda Rajapaksa next week after his return from his first official trip on his re-election to Russia beginning today,” the Minister of Constitutional Affairs and National Integration, D.E.W. Gunasekara told The Hindu.

Asked about the fate of emergency laws, the Minister said, “The President has the discretion to extend them through an executive order which needs to be ratified within a month by the new Parliament. It is entirely up to the President to make a determination on whether to go for an executive order to keep alive the emergency laws or let them lapse and wait for the new Parliament to take the necessary action”.

Under the Constitution of Sri Lanka, emergency laws could be passed only by the Parliament and they are valid only for a period of one month. Emergency laws in the island nation were re-imposed after the assassination of the then Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar by suspected cadres of the LTTE in the first half of August 2005. Since then the emergency laws and regulations have been extended by the Parliament on a monthly basis.

Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayake moving the motion seeking the Parliament’s approval to extend the state of emergency told the members that it was necessary as the security forces are still engaged in ‘operational activities’ to prevent the re-emergence of terrorist and secessionist forces. After the military defeat of the LTTE in May last year, the government and the opposition have differed on the merits of continuation of emergency laws.

Former Army Chief and the combined opposition nominee in the just concluded Presidential election Sarath Fonseka, who was defeated by a huge margin, in the course of his election campaign had agreed to consider the demand of most of the opposition parties to repeal the emergency laws.

Weapons still found

In his speech while moving the motion for extension of emergency laws, the Sri Lanka Prime Minister maintained that troops still find hauls of weapons during search operations even months after the decimation of the LTTE. He told the House that it was beyond doubt and everyone would agree that the state of emergency had been very helpful in the recent past in defeating terrorism. Citing Sir Winston Churchill, he said, “Sometimes it is not enough to do our best, we must do what is required.”

The 225-membber Parliament as it emerged after the 2004 election and as it stands today bear no resemblance. Most of the key Ministerial positions held in the Rajapaksa government are from the ranks of the main opposition party the United National Party (UNP). The Foreign Affairs, Tourism, Foreign Investment, Foreign Employment and Power are all filled up with candidates who chose to defect to the ruling combine.

With an unassailable lead of nearly 18 per cent over his nearest rival in the just concluded Presidential election, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) headed by Mr. Rajapaksa and the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) that he leads has a clear edge over the divided and battered opposition.

Enormous powers

Barring unforeseen circumstances Mr. Rajapaksa would not only preside over the proceedings of the forthcoming general election but also the one in 2016. The executive presidency under the provisions of the current Constitution bestows enormous powers on the President. Just to cite an example, the President is entitled to dissolve the new Parliament a year after it comes into existence without assigning any reasons.

The opposition combine which threw its weight behind the retired General Sarath Fonseka is expected to fight not only against the ruling combine but also with each other. For example, the UNP and the Janatha Vimukthi Perumana (JVP) have to contest on separate platforms as they are not only diametrically opposed to each other on some of the fundamental issues confronted by Sri Lanka but also because they need to muster respectable numbers in the House if they have to survive with their ideological tag and make a difference.

Sri Lanka has provision for proportional representation, based on the percentage of votes by individual parties as well as direct election on a 50:50 per cent basis. So, all the major parties could be assured of a relatively decent presence in the following Parliament. However, the uncertainty of what is in store is not confined to the ranks of the opposition but pervades the ruling combine including leading members who occupy key positions in the Rajapaksa government.

There are cases pending in the Supreme Court against them but the anti-defection provisions in the existing Constitution are so weak that it would make little difference to their status and continuation. It is actually a Herculean task for the President to accommodate them in the ruling United People’s Freedom Party (UPFA) without antagonising his key supporters in the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP).

The President, during his firm tenure (beginning from the end of November 2005) has not only succeeded in splitting up most of the opposition parties but actually conjured up a majority that the ruling combine was nowhere near. In the post-presidential scenario, the opposition parties are expected to be at each other’s throats. The JVP has already gone on record that it would go it alone. Pro-LTTE Tamil National Alliance (TNA) is in disarray and it is not yet clear what position the grouping would take as the election nears.

From the Island

One would have to wait and watch as to what combinations and permutations emerge in the run up to the Parliamentary election. An editorial in the English daily, Island under the title, ‘The election on the horizon’, noted, “Parliament is expected to be dissolved anytime soon and polls will be held within weeks. The next general election will be of crucial importance. It is a worrisome proposition for the Opposition licking its wounds in the aftermath of a crushing electoral defeat; the ruling coalition will find it a formidable challenge, having won the executive presidency for a second time. The Opposition will have to perform nothing short of a miracle to capture power in Parliament and the government faces the task of having not only to secure a comfortable majority in Parliament –– which is not likely to be a problem as such –– but also to live up to people’s expectations which President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s recent victory has raised staggeringly.”

It further said, “The Opposition which sought to turn the tables on the government with the help of [retd.] Gen. Sarath Fonseka must now be wondering how to try to win a general election in spite of him! It blundered by putting all its political eggs in Fonseka’s basket, which President Rajapaksa smashed up in one go. What will the UNP do with Fonseka now?

[Full Coverage]

(For updates you can share with your friends, follow TNN on Facebook, Twitter and Google+)

Comments are closed.