Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court has shot down any prospect of President Maithripala Sirisena staying on in office for a year longer officials said Monday.
A five-judge bench in a unanimous decision ruled that the President’s term was limited to five years by the 19th amendment to the constitution that he himself initiated after winning the 2015 elections.
The bench headed by Chief Justice Priyasath Dep told President Sirisena that he had only five years in office as a result of the 19th amendment although he was elected initially for a six year term.
Sirisena asked the highest court for a clarification after what he called two conflicting opinions on his term of office.
Attorney General Jayantha Jayasuriya had argued before the Supreme Court that Sirisena’s term ends in 2021 giving him full six years and the five-term term will apply only to any new president.
However, the 19th amendment itself was crystal clear. It had a transitional provision which clearly spelt out that Sirisena was entitled to a five year term after voluntarily trimming the tenure by one year.
Seeking of another year was seen by political analysts as a move to remain in office for longer and neutralise the Mahinda Rajapaksa faction of his Sri Lanka Freedom Party. Instead, the latest Supreme Court decision conveyed to the President on Sunday and confirmed by his office on Monday could backfire on Sirisena’s campaign for the February local council elections.
The move to seek an interpretation to the 19th amendment had also put Sirisena on a collision course with his senior coalition partner.
The United National Party-led government of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was banking on a presidential poll by January 2020, six months ahead of the next general election.
Sirisena’s letter to the Supreme Court seeking an interpretation suggested that he wants to remain in power for another year despite having repeatedly claimed he voluntarily shortened his tenure.
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.