The Sunday Leader

Merely Expelling Doubts – Keheliya Rambukwella

The government says that the incumbent president can ask for the presidential election to be held on the best possible date for him after four years in office as long as it is within the legal framework.    

Many also questioned whether it is fair for the president to seek a determination on contesting for the third time from the Chief Justice given that he was appointed by the President. In response, Minister Keheliya Rambukwella told The Sunday Leader that it has been the standard practice to appoint the Chief Justice by the President – and there is nothing wrong seeking constitutional interpretations for further clarification to expel any doubts.

Excerpts of the interview:

By Waruni Karunarathne

Q: Was there a need for the President to actually go through the Supreme Court to seek a determination to contest for a third term?

A: There are rumours about the legal aspect of president contesting for the third term. We have no doubt that the legislation has enabled him to contest for the third time but there are some people who are levelling different allegations and carrying out poster campaigns against the current president contesting the next presidential election. Therefore, the best thing is to seek the determination of the Supreme Court in order to expel doubts. There is a section to provide constitutional interpretations and thus the matter can be further clarified by the Supreme Court interpretation.

 

Q: Considering the fact that Chief Justice is appointed by the president, whatever the outcome of the Supreme Court determination, can the determination be seen as fair?

A: In any system, the standard practice is to appoint the Chief Justice and even the entire judiciary by the president. Even in America, when Obama was elected, over 6,000 people had to resign from their posts – in fact the entire judiciary resigned. That is the practice. If it was good for J. R. Jayawardena and other former heads of state to appoint the Chief Justice, there is nothing wrong with President Mahinda Rajapaksa appointing the Chief Justice. Even though they are being appointed by the head of the state, there have been instances where the Chief Justice was impeached by the parliament despite the fact that they were appointed by the president. A Chief Justice appoint by J. R. Jayawardena was impeached by the Parliament and the parliament also brought an impeachment against Sriyani Bandaranayake appointed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

 

Q: The government seems to be already preparing for the election by opening several operation centres around the country. Does it mean that the government has already decided who the candidate is and when the election will take place even though the president is seeking the Supreme Court determination?

A: We go on with our plans. The incumbent president after his fourth year in office has the right to call for a presidential election at any time and therefore we have set up plans and we are getting prepared for the presidential election irrespective of all – in order to be ready for the election at anytime. Once the president seeks for the presidential election, it is entirely up to the Election Commissioner to fix a date and make necessary arrangements.

 

Q: How confident is the government about the election and has the government made specific plans with other parties in view of the election?

A: Once the date is announced we expect to launch our campaign for a massive victory. I think the President has been very clear about our stand with reference to other political parties who are in the government and who are outside. Anybody who wishes to resign from the party can go out and anybody who wishes to join the party can do so.

 

Q: There are concerns that the election date will be decided on astrology and to favour an individual as oppose to national interest.

A: The incumbent president has the right to choose the best possible date for him as long as the date is within the framework. That is not against the constitution. How can it affect the national interest?

 

Q: People fear that the election might coincide with visit of Pope Francis in January, which may result in calling off his visit. How would you respond to that?

A: The Presidential election and Pope’s visit are two different things. Pope’s officials have different concerns. From the side of the government, a team is appointed by the Media Ministry to facilitate his visit. As for the date of the presidential election – it will be decided by the Elections Commissioner.

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