Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously ruled that the dissolution of Parliament by Maithripala Sirisena was “illegal”, in a body blow to the embattled President, whose controversial decisions plunged the island nation into an unprecedented political turmoil.
A seven-member apex court bench said that the President cannot dissolve Parliament till it completes its 4 1/2 year term, triggering demand for the impeachment of Sirisena as well as ex-strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa.
“I make order that the November 9 Gazette sacking Parliament has no force or effect in law and declare its operation illegal,” Chief Justice Nalin Perera said as he delivered the landmark judgement to a packed courtroom.
Fearing trouble, authorities beefed up the security around the Supreme Court and deployed the elite special task force.
United National Front (UNF) Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa said that the ruling was unanimous by the seven judge bench.
The decision has laid to rest one of the many controversial moves which had complicated the political and constitutional crisis emanating from President Sirisena’s decision on October 26 to sack the incumbent prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, and install former president Mahinda Rajapaksa in his place.
Later, he also dissolved the 225-member Parliament and called for a snap election on January 5.
Sirisena, 67, sacked the Parliament when it appeared that Rajapaksa would not be able to muster the support of 113 MPs to gain a simple majority. Wickremesinghe on the other hand commands a majority in the House.
On Wednesday, Wickremesinghe proved his majority in Parliament, with 117 out of 225 lawmakers in Parliament voting to pass a confidence motion in his leadership. Rajapaksa has so far failed to prove his majority in Parliament.
There was no immediate comment from either Sirisena or Rajapaksa. Sirisena has previously said that he has always taken decisions in the best interest of the country and the people. He had also said that he will honour the court’s decision.
“I look forward to the constitutional interpretation of the Supreme Court. Whatever it may be, I will take future political decisions accordingly, to the best interest of our motherland, not to the benefit of any person, group or party,” the President tweeted on December 9.
Reacting to the apex court’s ruling, sacked Prime Minister Wickremesinghe said, “We trust that the President will promptly respect the judgment of the courts.
“The legislature, judiciary, and the executive are equally important pillars of a democracy and the checks and balances that they provide are crucial to ensuring the sovereignty of its citizens,” he tweeted.
The leftist JVP, or the People’s Liberation Front, said the sacking of the
Prime Minister Wickremesinghe was a “coup orchestrated by Sirisena and Rajapakse” and demanded a resolution in Parliament to bring them to justice.
“This first thing this (restored) parliament should is to investigate the coup and bring both the president and his illegal prime minister to justice,” JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake said.
Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP) welcomed the verdict as a victory for democracy.
As many as 13 petitions were filed in the Supreme Court against Sirisena’s November 9 order sacking the Parliament, almost 20 months before its term was to end.
The apex court’s decision has come as a serious blow to Sirisena after he had failed in his attempt to see Rajapaksa gaining majority in the assembly to oust Wickremesinghe. This would mean no snap parliamentary election could be called by Sirisena at least until February 2020.
The Supreme Court on November 13 had issued an interim order ruling Sirisena’s gazette notification as temporarily illegal and halted the preparations for snap polls.
The bench - extended to 7 from the original 3 when they issued the interim order - had marathon sessions over four days last week before reserving the order to this week.
The current parliament could still call for a snap poll with a resolution passed with two thirds majority.
Wickremesinghe had held his ground without leaving his official residence as he said his dismissal was illegal. He said the 19th amendment to the Constitution had made Sirisena powerless to remove a sitting prime minister.
Prior to the crisis, Wickremesinghe had the backing of 106 parliamentarians while Rajapaksa and Sirisena combine had the backing of 95 lawmakers.
The President has said that due to sharp personal differences with Wickremesinghe, he would not reappoint him as the Prime Minister.
However, Wickremesinghe’s party claims that Sirisena will be left with no choice as he would be the man who will command the confidence in the House.