Constitutionally, no barrier for incumbent Govt to continue until 2020 - Home Affairs Minister Wajira Abeywardana | Sunday Observer

Constitutionally, no barrier for incumbent Govt to continue until 2020 - Home Affairs Minister Wajira Abeywardana

Home Affairs Minister Wajira Abeywardana said, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution states that the consent of the majority is needed only to elect the Prime Minister, but it has not made any reference on the need for a majority consent to continue in office as the Premier. In an interview with the Sunday Observer, the Minister said, as long as the Cabinet of Ministers is there, the Prime Minister will continue in office. Similarly, as long as the Premier is there, the Cabinet will also exist. The 19th Amendment has been formulated on this concept. Therefore, the Premier cannot violate the Constitution and resign from his portfolio.

Minister Abeywardana said, at present the media acts according to the provisions of the 1978 Constitution, but the situation has changed with the introduction of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. Under the 19th Amendment, even if the UPFA shows a majority in Parliament, they cannot form a Government. The majority has to be shown only at the time the Prime Minister is elected. After the Premier is elected, he can hold that portfolio for four and a half years and even beyond. The Premiership ceases to function only after a Parliamentary election. Therefore, constitutionally there is no barrier for the incumbent Government to continue until 2020.

Q. Speculations are rife that both, the UNP and the SLFP are going to form their own Governments. What is the true situation in this regard?

A: According to the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, there is provision to continue as a National Government or even beyond it. At present, it functions as a National Government. Therefore, there is no obstacle to take forward the incumbent Government. However, the UNP backbenchers project the view of its grassroots supporters that a UNP minority Government will be formed. We have to look into its constitutionality. There is nothing wrong in what they say. We can’t predict whether the Yahapalana Government will continue in this form or not. According to the 19th Amendment there is provision for the Government to continue in this manner or even beyond. It has to be decided by the President and the Prime Minister in which manner the Government should continue. Under the 19th Amendment, even if the UPFA quit the Government, there is no need to show a majority to continue the Government. The majority is only needed for the Prime Minister to be sworn in.

Q.The UPFA General Secretary Minister Mahinda Amaraweera in a letter addressed to the President has informed that they are going to form a UPFA led Government and elect a new Prime Minister. Is there any truth in this or would the Yahapalana Government continue in office?

A: According to the 19th Amendment, there is no provision to form a new Government. At present, Premiership has not been vacated. A Government can only be formed if there is a vacancy for the Premiership. The 19th Amendment has clearly mentioned the powers vested in the Prime Minister. The fact is, the Premier’s post has not fallen vacant. Anybody can resign from his ministerial portfolio, but the Prime Minister cannot violate the Constitution. The Premier cannot leave room for anarchy in the country as he is bound by the provisions of the Constitution. Even the President cannot do so as per clause 33 (1) of the Constitution. Both, the President and the Prime Minister act according to the provisions of the Constitution. However, the media acts against the Constitution. The media should safeguard media ethics and properly follow the Constitution and act accordingly. According to the 1972 Constitution, Premiership falls vacant if the Prime Minister is dead or has resigned. The only other option is that a No Confidence Motion has to be moved to remove the Prime Minister, and that too should be submitted with the signatures of two thirds members of Parliament, in terms of the 19th Amendment.

This two thirds majority should be obtained when all 225 MPs are present in Parliament. This would not be an easy task to be fulfilled. According to the 1978 Constitution, the President can remove the Prime Minister. However, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution says, the consent of the majority is needed only to elect the Prime Minister, but has not made any reference on the need of the majority consent to continue in office as Premier. If the SLFP Ministers don’t like to work under the incumbent Prime Minister, they can quit their ministerial portfolios and cross over to the Opposition. However, the Premier and the rest of the Cabinet Ministers can continue in office.

Q. Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) led by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa is calling upon the Government to go for a snap election. Is there any possibility to do so?

A: It cannot be done. A mandate was given to the President on January 8, 2015. At the Parliamentary election held on August 17, 2015, Parliament has also been given the mandate. Before that, two mandates had been given, including the one at the Provincial Council Election. Even if a new President and Prime Minister were elected, the Chief Ministers elected previously would still function as Chief Ministers. The Chairmen of the Local Government bodies too act accordingly until those LG bodies were dissolved. We have to act according to the provisions of the Constitution.

Q. What is the reason for the UNP’s debacle at the recent LG polls?

A: The major reason is, we failed to provide relief to the UNPers who were subjected to fundamental rights violations over the past 35 years. When we try to provide them some redress, there is opposition and partiality in this Cabinet. The UNPers should identify this contradictory position in the Government and attempt to form their own Government through a people’s mandate. Otherwise, they need to think of other strategies. If a National Government is formed, the number of Ministers to be appointed has to be decided by Parliament. If it is not a National Government, the number of Cabinet Ministers should be 30 and Deputy Ministers 30. A Government can only be formed under these two methodologies. But, the Prime Minister elected will continue in office.

Q. The SLPP is now a power to be reckoned with in the country’s politics. What will be its impact on the future direction of the Government?

A: It is a fact to be studied without any haste. A separate political analysis has to be done on how the people’s aspirations have fallen in line with former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. At this juncture, this has become a significant gesture in Sri Lankan politics.

Q. Is there any leadership crisis in the UNP at present? Many people, such as, political analysts and other activists believe the UNP leadership crisis needs a prompt solution. Your comments?

A: There is a crisis in the media. A crisis was to emerge in the country due to the misinformation campaign carried out by the media. That has been cleared now. We should thank the Prime Minister for taking precautionary measures in 2015 to introduce the 19th Amendment to prevent any anarchy in the country. The UNP has not only a locally recognized leader but also an internationally recognized leader. He has shown his capabilities in numerous ways. He is a leader who formulated methodologies to hold the Premiership even without having the majority in Parliament. Actually, this is not an issue with regard to his duties. After 1994, UNPers had failed to form their own Government. Thanks to the strategies formulated by our leader, some UNP MPs including myself had been given ministerial portfolios. But, we have not been able to properly fulfil our responsibilities. I could win only the Galle Municipal Council, but as the District Leader, I couldn’t win the Galle District. Likewise, other UNP Ministers have also failed to win their districts. It is not the UNP leader who is held responsible for this. The Premier could put a halt to Rajapaksa’s political process. But it is our responsibility to execute our policies to benefit the masses. Anybody who thinks the UNP leadership should be changed at this juncture is supposed to hatch conspiracies to destroy the party. The UNPers should not fall into this political trap.

Q. What is the UNP’s solution to the current constitutional crisis?

A: Actually, there is no constitutional crisis at all. The new Constitution has been drafted to suit present day needs. The issue is, how strategies should be devised to satisfy the people’s aspirations and prepare the ground to face any future challenges. The views of the general masses and those in other important key sectors should be obtained for this purpose to enable us to take forward the party.