Sri Lanka President Maithripala Sirisena has asked the Supreme Court if he can remain in office for six years despite having reduced his tenure to five through a constitutional amendment, officials said Tuesday.
The move to seek an interpretation to the 19th amendment to the constitution which among other things reduced the term of office to five years will put Sirisena on a collision course with his senior coalition partner.
The United National Party-led government of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was hoping for a presidential poll by January 2020, six months ahead of the next general election.
Sirisena’s letter to the Supreme Court seeking an interpretation suggests he wants to remain in power for another year despite having repeatedly claimed he voluntarily shortened his tenure.
The Supreme Court in a letter to the Bar Association of Sri Lanka has asked its members to be present in court on Thursday at 11 a.m. when the matter will be taken up.
Sirisena loyalists argue that he was elected in January 2015 when the presidential term was six years and the reduced five year-term should apply from the next election in 2021 and not 2020.
However, a transitional provision of the 19th amendment makes it clear that the tenure of the incumbent president will be five years and it has been endorsed by the Supreme Court in 2015 before parliament turned it to law.
The President has told the Supreme Court that he wants the opinion of the court by January 14.
The move comes as the Sirisena-led Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) faction battles it out not only with the breakaway faction of the SLFP led by former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, but also the Prime Minister’s UNP.
Sirisena has previously said he was going to be the last executive president of the country because he was going to abolish that office and turn the country into a full parliamentary democracy.
There is known to be growing tension between the President and the Prime Minister after Sirisena recently declared that he believed that the UNP-led government was probably more corrupt than the Rajapaksa regime they toppled together.
Here is the relevant section from the 19th amendment:
The President of the Republic shall be elected by the People and shall hold office for a term of five years.”.
(b) the persons holding office respectively, as the
President and Prime Minister on the day preceding
April 22, 2015 shall continue to hold such office
after such date, subject to the provisions of the
Constitution as amended by this Act (ie: five years).