Sri Lanka Oppn. to challenge dissolution of Parliament

High stakes legal battle in offing as parties will move Supreme Court next week

A day after Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena controversially dissolved Parliament, parties opposed to the decision are preparing for a high stakes legal battle.

Major parties on Saturday decided to move the Supreme Court early next week, challenging Mr. Sirisena’s decision that, they said, violated the Constitution.

The United National Party (UNP) of the deposed Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, and its coalition partners will mount a legal challenge, according to their members.

The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), which is part of the UNP-led front, is contemplating court action independent of the coalition as well, a senior member said.

The All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) is also preparing to petition the Supreme Court on Monday. “This is not because we fear elections, but because we think the President’s actions are completely unconstitutional and against democratic values,” ACMC leader Rishad Bathiudeen told The Hindu.

Further, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), which were part of the Opposition in the House that was dissolved, are readying to file petitions in the Supreme Court on Monday.

‘Statute contravened’

The TNA will seek an interim order suspending the President’s proclamation on the dissolution of Parliament and calling for general election, party sources said.

Speaking to The Hindu on Saturday, Leader of the Opposition and TNA veteran R. Sampanthan said the action taken by the executive on Friday “contravened” the Constitution.

“I don’t think it can be constitutionally supported,” Mr. Sampanthan said.

“It was a follow-up action to the executive’s earlier actions — removing the prime minister, appointing a new prime minister and proroguing parliament. None of those can be constitutionally backed,” Mr. Sampanthan said.

The President’s move to dissolve Parliament, he said, was to do with “the inability” of the “purported new Prime Minister” to show majority in the House. “It was meant to serve a collateral and ulterior purpose,” he added.

Even as President Sirisena’s decision is being legally disputed, newly sworn-in Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and his supporters have welcomed early polls that will establish “the will of the people”.

JVP’s national organiser and parliamentarian Bimal Rathnayake told The Hinduthat while the party had been gearing up for elections since last year, “what we need is not just any election. We need a free and fair election. In the current circumstances, that is ruled out.”

Pointing to President Sirisena “violating the Constitution in broad daylight”, he said the Sirisena-Rajapaksa camp was keen on going to polls “only to legitimise all its illegal moves and recent appointments to the new cabinet.” The TNA also said it recognised the democratic spirit of elections but questioned the validity of polls being held in the wake of “unconstitutional” moves.

“Say they conduct elections and get an outcome they don’t like. How can we be sure they won’t dissolve Parliament again?” asked TNA legislator and senior lawyer M.A. Sumanthiran.

Role of poll panel

All eyes were on the Election Commission on Saturday, to see if the poll watchdog would independently seek the Supreme Court’s opinion on the matter. Following a meeting of its three commissioners, sources told The Hindu that one of them was of the view that “there was no vacancy in Parliament” and hence the question of holding polls did not arise.

The remaining two, however, had underscored the need to follow the President’s gazette notification and had reportedly asked the Commissioner General to begin preparatory work for the scheduled polls. On seeking the court’s opinion, a source familiar with the discussion said: “The Commission will give its input if it is named as a party [by any other petitioner].

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