Category Archives: Sri Lanka

Sacking of PM is Unconstitutional

The country, until two days ago, had a Prime Minister in office who commanded the confidence of parliament, which he had demonstrated not long ago by having a no confidence brought against him defeated in parliament.

President Sirisena’s sacking of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and the appointment of Mahinda Rajapaksa in his place has been described by some as a ‘constitutional coup’. The phrase ‘constitutional coup’ is a contradiction in terms, or ‘an oxymoron’, because it would imply that although President Sirisena’s actions amounted to a coup, his actions are sanctioned by the constitution. There is no constitutional basis for the President to have removed the Prime Minister. At the press conference held on 27 October 2018, as reported in Adaderana (GL explains how PM was removed and why Parliament was prorogued) Dr G.L. Peiris, the chairperson of the SLPP, attempted to justify the legality of President Sirisena’s actions, putting forward two points in support. They are (i) the cabinet of ministers stood dissolved by the very fact of exceeding the numerical limit prescribed in Article 46(1), and (ii) the President as the appointing authority has also the power to dismiss him. In fact, the phrase used by Peiris is ‘compulsory removal’. What Dr Peiris sought to do was to provide an ex post facto rationale for the President’s action but the reasons he put forward for the removal cannot be reconciled with those given by the President. Nor are they reflected in the position taken by the President in his gazette notification.  

The gazette notification announcing the President’s decision stated that “the President in the exercise of powers conferred upon him under the Constitution …, has removed Hon. Ranil Wickremesinghe … with immediate effect.” (see The Gazette Extraordinary no. 2094/43 dated Friday 26 October 2018). There is no reference in this gazette to the specific provision or provisions of the constitution under which the President purported to act when removing the Prime Minister from office. If, as Dr Peiris says, the cabinet of ministers ceased to hold office and the Prime Minister had gone out with the cabinet, then there was no need for the President to have “removed” the Prime Minister from office, and to have done so with immediate effect. The President has not stated that the appointment of Mahinda Rajapaksa became necessary because the office of the Prime Minister which was occupied by Ranil Wickremesinghe had fallen vacant. Continue reading

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Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Term Limit

The Nineteenth Amendment has once again become the subject of controversy, and its current focus concerns the provision in the Nineteenth Amendment that disqualifies the same person from being elected as President for more than two terms. The two-term limit is not an innovation of the Nineteenth Amendment. A provision imposing a term limit was in the Constitution as it was originally enacted in 1978 but it was repealed by the Eighteenth Amendment enacted during Mahinda Rajapaksa’s tenure as President. It was re-introduced by section 3 of the Nineteenth Amendment which inserted the following new paragraph as Article 31(2) of the Constitution: “No person who has been twice elected to the office of President by the People, shall be qualified thereafter to be elected to such office by the People.” (emphasis added). This prohibition was reinforced by section 21 of the Nineteenth Amendment which added Article 92(c) of the Constitution which disqualified a person who “has been twice elected to the office of President by the People” from being elected to the office of President thereafter.  This is identical to the paragraph that existed as Article 92 (c) of the 1978 Constitution before it was repealed by the Eighteenth Amendment. 

It has been argued, nevertheless, by some, including Professor G.L. Peiris and ex-Chief Justice Sarath Silva, that these provisions do not disqualify Mahinda Rajapaksa from seeking a third term. Mahinda Rajapaksa has already served two terms as President but if this argument holds, then he would be eligible not only to run for a third term but also a fourth. It has been contended that according to the Constitution as amended by the Eighteenth Amendment there was no provision imposing a term limit, and as the Nineteenth Amendment does not expressly state that Article 31(2) is to apply retrospectively, it should not apply to Mahinda Rajapaksa, who, in ex CJ Sarath Silva’s rather infelicitous oxymoronic phrase, is ‘a previously elected incumbent in office’.  (Sunday Observer 19 August 2018, Mahinda ineligible to contest 2019 prez poll – Jayampathy). Mahinda Rajapaksa is not currently holding office to be called an incumbent. Continue reading

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The President is Powerless to Remove the Prime Minister in Sri Lanka

Our comrade Dr Reeza Hameed explains that ‘The changes brought about by the Nineteenth Amendment are designed to free Parliament and the Prime Minister from subservience to the President. The President no longer has the power to remove the Prime Minister.’

Some commentators have persistently advanced the proposition that, notwithstanding the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution of Sri Lanka, the President’s power to remove the Prime Minister is intact. It is a view that relies on a literal reading of the Sinhala text of Article 48(1) in which the phrase “removal from office” appears. I have, in my previous intervention on this subject, analysed the provisions of the Constitution as amended by the Nineteenth Amendment and expressed the view that the President no longer has this power. That interpretation has been questioned on the basis that the words “removal from office” appear in the Sinhala text of Article 48(1); and because the Sinhala text should prevail in the event of an inconsistency, it must follow that the President may remove the Prime Minister. I disagree with this conclusion for the reasons I have given below. The tenure of Prime Minister’s office pre-Nineteenth Amendment is as follows.

The Constitution as enacted in 1978, (which I shall hereafter refer to as ‘the Principal Enactment’), in Article 47, provided for the tenure of the office of the Prime Minister. It stated that he “shall continue to hold office throughout the period during which the Cabinet of Minister continues to function under the provisions of the Constitution unless he (1) is removed by the President, (2) resigns his office, or (3) ceases to be a Member of Parliament.” The Prime Minister shall continue to remain in his office unless and until any one of the three events mentioned above occured, whereupon he would cease to hold office. This provision was repealed by the Nineteenth Amendment which was enacted in May 2015. Continue reading

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Peace in South Asia: Opportunities and Challenges: Regional Conference

This year, The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs, which is the oldest think tank in Pakistan, is celebrating 70 years of its founding. It was established as an independent, non-political, not for profit association in 1947, devoted to study and research in international relations, economics and jurisprudence. To mark its 70th anniversary, the Institute is holding a regional conference on Peace in South Asia: Opportunities and Challenges on 15 and 16 November 2017. Scholars from leading think tanks, academia and diplomats in the region are being invited to participate in this conference. South Asia, comprising Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan is the most densely populated region of the world. Its population of 1.8 billion comprises one-fourth of the global population and almost 40 per cent of the population of Asia.

Two of the world’s nuclear powers, Pakistan and India, are located in South Asia and military expenditure in the region has been rising. It is threatened with insecurity because of long-standing inter-state disputes, terrorism, the presence of non-state actors, problems of water sharing, climate change, environmental degradation, the movement of refugees and illegal arms, people and drug trafficking. It has low social indicators and a large percentage of its population lives below the poverty line. On the other hand, South Asia is rich in explored and unexplored natural resources. Also rich in diversity, it is home to numerous religions and a multitude of languages and cultures. It hosts four of the world’s megacities: Delhi, Dhaka, Karachi and Mumbai. The youth bulge in its population can prove to be one of its largest assets for development. Continue reading

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Muslim Law: The Need For Reform

‘There is nothing in the Quran which says that a man should marry a young girl … It is not in the best interests of a girl to be married off early. Early marriage robs a girl of her childhood,’ argues Dr Reeza Hameed.

The All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama (ACJU) is opposed to making any changes to the existing Muslim family law. Mufti Rizwi, who is a member of the Saleem Marsoof Committee appointed to look into reforms to the Muslims Marriages and Divorces Act (MMDA) of 1951, has made the oracular pronouncement that the law is ‘perfect in its present state’ and required no reform. Mufti Rizwi also presides over the ACJU. Regrettably, the views expressed by the Mufti and his outfit are anachronistic and obscurantist. Matters relating to Islam and Muslim law ought not to be the sole concern of the ulema. In this comment I have touched upon some issues in the hope that it will contribute to the debate on the need for reform. In Muslim law marriage is not a sacrament but a civil contract. Neither religious ritual nor having it done in a mosque is essential to confer validity to a marriage. A Muslim marriage is contract like any other in Islamic law. Parties to a marriage should have legal capacity to enter into the contract.

There has to be an offer and an acceptance of that offer with the intention of establishing a marital relationship. There must be consideration given to the wife known as mehr. All the schools of law recognise that a person has freedom of choice to enter into a marriage and that he or she cannot be forced into one. The age at which a young Muslim acquires legal capacity to marry has been a contentious issue. The traditionalist view adumbrated by classical jurists is that a person acquires the legal capacity to marry on attaining puberty. In the Hedaya, the manual on Hanafi law, the earliest age at which puberty is attained by a girl is 9 and by a boy at 12. A similar view is adopted by the Shafi School, which is followed by a majority of Sri Lankan Muslims. The presumption of Muslim law as applied in India and Sri Lanka is that a person attained puberty at 15. Continue reading

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Dr Reeza Hameed: The Case Against the Death Penalty

Following the attack on the APS, Pakistan removed the moratorium on the death penalty. The hangman Albert Pierrepont said capital punishment is “a primitive desire for revenge”. This post looks at the case of Sri Lanka. 

There has been an organised move to bring back the hangman and implement the death penalty in Sri Lanka. Several weeks ago, Colombo District MP Hirunika Premachandra presented in Parliament an adjournment motion for the revival of capital punishment in Sri Lanka. She said that once the motion went through Parliament she would request President Maithripala Sirisena and the government to consider bringing back capital punishment. The motion seems to have been grounded in the member’s belief that capital punishment is the solution to the increasing anti-social and violent activities within the country. An adjournment motion does not end in a vote but some members of the government supported the motion while others spoke against it. In the course of the debate, the Minister of Justice made a statement in the House, confirming the government’s intention to sign the UN moratorium in November 2016. Subsequent to his statement in Parliament, the Minister was reported to have said that the moratorium on the penalty will continue but it will not be abolished.

The death penalty is a cruel, inhuman or degrading form of punishment and it should be eliminated from the statute books. It is pre-meditated killing by the state. Curiously, even before the fair member had tabled her motion in Parliament, the Prison Commissioner had advertised the vacancies for the post of hangman and refurbished the gallows at the Welikade Prison. In the vernacular, a hangman is referred to as vadhaka, commonly known as ‘alugosuwa’, a word which is of Portuguese origin (algoz). Continue reading

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Dr Reeza Hameed: Mahinda Rajapaksa cannot become Prime Minister

The question whether ex-President Mahinda Rajapaksa is eligible to be appointed to the Prime Minister’s post if he has the support of a majority of members in Parliament following the August 17 poll is the subject of current debate. President Sirisena has made public his intention not to appoint Rajapaksa as the Prime Minister and has hinted that ‘there are enough seniors in the party to be the Prime Minister’. There are some within the UPFA who want Rajapaksa as their Prime Minister in the event of a UPFA majority in Parliament. A.H.M. Fowzie, for instance, has acknowledged that the appointment of the Prime Minister is the prerogative right of the President but that, after the elections are over, the UPFA ‘will prevail upon President Sirisena to accommodate Rajapaksa as the Prime Minister’.

Another UPFA candidate has threatened to do a Dahanayake and run around with the mace if Mahinda Rajapaksa is ignored for the post. G.L. Peiris has weighed in to say that nowhere in the constitution is it stated that a former President cannot become Prime Minister. The President, he said, must appoint as Prime Minister the member who commands the support of a majority of parliamentarians, and he must appoint Mahinda Rajapaksa if he happened to be that person. Former Chief Justice Sarath Silva has declared as untenable the argument that Rajapaksa is disqualified from acting as President simply because he has already been elected twice as President. Continue reading

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