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Premadasa emerges victor

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 Impeachment Saga 1991 

When Ranasinghe Premadasa became Executive President, some seniors in the UNP, especially the old elite who earlier looked down on him for caste and social reasons viewed it as an unbearable insult. They surreptitiously attacked his character. Premadasa was in a mighty hurry, wanted to do everything at the same time— why he was so strict with others. They increased attacks on him following the murder of Richard de Zoysa. The term ‘Doshabhi-yogaya’ [Impeachment] was alien to our political vocabulary until 1991, as was the term ‘Tsu-nami’ in 2004.

Deaths of Richard de Zoysa and Luxman Perera

JR jayewardene chose Premadasa as his PM, as he knew that the UNP needed to change the belief that a party as one representing the elite, business interests and the Western educated. One of the main reasons for the impeachment was the dissatisfaction felt by Gamini Dissanayake and Lalith Athulathmudali about the way the President treated them. They were disappointed at not being made the Prime Minister. Gamini who enjoyed a privileged place under JR as his blue-eyed boy, became just an ordinary minister. He was often seen at Cabinet meetings reading a book indicating his lack of attention and concern, while Lalith behaved differently. Gamini was not happy with the Ministry Secretary appointed by Premadasa, and when complained President retorted, “If you do not agree with me then there is a way out.” At one stage Gamini sought three months leave for pursuing his post-graduate studies abroad. Premadasa used the opportunity to do a reshuffle and left him out of cabinet saying “Gamini has to study”.

The deaths of Richard de Zoysa and Luxman Perera, MMC, the two suspected for producing the drama, ‘Me kawda monawada karanne?’, [Who is this; What is he doing?] an indirect attack on Premadasa family, helped Gamini to convince Lalith to join the impeachment process.

President’s priority was to make sure that the motion was not put on order paper. If it happens the Executive cannot prorogue or dissolve the parliament. Meanwhile the Premadasa loyalist got information about a letter written by Speaker, M H Mohamed addressed to the President, that Mohamed had left it with Thondamaan [senior] before he went abroad with instructions ‘not to deliver it until he got back’ [sounds funny?], and that the letter states, the motion would not go to order paper due to insufficient number of signatures on it. President along with Sirisena Cooray and his other close confidant, Secretary of Finance R. Paskaralingam, had met Thonda the same evening. They managed to pick the letter on condition that it will not be published. The next move by them was to meet Lalith and start peace talks, which attempt Gamini vehemently rejected. Not giving up, Sirisena Cooray arranged another meeting through MLM Aboosally, this time involving both Lalith and Gamini. A compromise formula proposed by President included the removal of expulsion orders on 9 rebels, withdrawal of signatures from impeachment, rejoin the Party and raise issues within working committee. Though tentatively accepted by the two dissenting leaders, idea was opposed by others including G M Premachandra, former Minister who did not participate in the discussion, but put forward a counter proposal asking the President to make a public announcement that he will hold a referendum on the continuation of Executive Presidency.

M H Mohamed vs Premadasa loyalists

Sirimavo Bandaranaike had a meeting with Lalith, Gamini and Mohamed in mid-August 1991, to discuss the issue of intra-party clashes in the SLFP. They decided to keep the leadership of the rebel faction of the party and a few others in the opposition of the planned impeachment motion. They not only received overwhelming support of all sections, but some were seen openly discussing the secretly hatched drama. Realising that any further delay could upset their plans, the rebel leaders decided to handover the motion containing 127 signatures to the speaker on the 28th of August. On the 29th afternoon Mohamed informed Premadasa that he had accepted an impeachment motion against President . By accepting the motion, the Speaker admitted the fact that there is reason to believe the President deserved to be brought before a Court of Law.

Mohamed, one of most senior party men, was considered an honorable man who was impartial and never took sides while presiding in Parliament. He became constantly under attack for this reason by Premadasa’s men in parliament like Azver, Ranjan Wijeratne and Ranil Wickremesinghe. UNP commenced a witch hunt against him and his family. Hussain Mohamed, one of his sons and sitting Mayor of Municipal had to fight his way through to get party nominations; though he won with a huge majority, he was not re-considered for Mayor’s post. His other son a popular Provincial Councilor was deliberately left out of a Ministerial post by Sirisena Cooray. A month before Impeachment saga, Mohamed was removed from Borella party Organiser’s post.

Erskine May’s ‘Parliamentary Practice’

Oblivious to the fact that who had crossed the line, the government launched a program to win back the party signatories to its fold, while simultaneously obtaining a commitment as per a letter drafted by lawyers for the entire government’s group of 116 members to sign. The letter states that they vehemently reject the impeachment attempt, and it was delivered to the Speaker with a covering letter from President quoting AG’s advice that in the above context the motion has lost its validity. As Section 67 of the constitution stipulates, our Standing Orders plus clauses of the Parliamentary Privileges Act of 1953 are applicable in deciding on validity of motions during prorogue. However, the Section 7 of Privileges Act says, in addition to the points mentioned above, the privileges enjoyed by British Parliamentarians who follows Erskine May’s ‘Parliamentary Practice’, are applicable too. May, specifically stipulates that, ‘All pending matters on order paper, excluding impeachment motions are treated null and void on prorogue.’

Mohamed responded rejecting the claims of President and AG. A clear instance where the AG, a high ranking public officer displayed his pathetic behavior by stooping to such low levels, may be under pressure from the Executive.

Among those who refused to align with the rebel group were two senior disgruntled men, they were Gamini Fonseka, who was removed from Matara organiser’s post and V J M Lokubandara, the Minister of Cultural Affairs and Media with powers hijacked by State Minister A J Ranasinghe, nick-named court jester.

Yet these two gentlemen stood by Premadasa. The impeachment motion, Speaker kept in his possession until 7th of October, without listing it in the order paper. In the event of speaker decides not to do so it will automatically lapse. If it fails to win 2/3 of members after a debate the result would be the same. Even if the parliament passes same with required number of division, once it is presented to SC for its determination the courts can rule the President innocent. Finally, in case SC finds the Excellency guilty of charges, the courts will have to convey their decision back to Speaker, and by Constitutional provisions the House will sit once more to decide by 2/3 vote the expulsion of President; otherwise Courts ruling will be treated null and void. Such a scenario can lead to anarchy.

President’s faction in the government, in the meantime launched a successful campaign to win some of the signatories back into their fold. Some of them claimed they signed it without knowing the contents or that they thought it was for a request to consider some additional perks for them. How did President’s men learnt about the letter Speaker wrote and left with Thondaaman admitting insufficient number of signatures on the motion? Why did Mohamed leave the letter with Thonda for safe custody until
his return from India? These unanswered questions point a suspicious note on Mohamed’s role— was he playing a double game?

On 7th October 1991, everybody was taking about the No-confidence motion placed before the order paper. They were expecting the Speaker to call for a secret ballot in the House, leading to the fall of government. In a surprise move the SLBC made an announcement over the Radio on the same day which was repeated every 15 minutes, saying, ‘the Speaker had declared the Impeachment motion handed over to him against the President has been set aside by him, and that he had accordingly taken steps to inform HE of his decision’.

In a subsequent No-Confidence motion against the Speaker M H Mohamed several opposition and government speakers alleged that Mohamed accepted a bribe of ten million rupees from Navaloka Mudalali, an accusation that was never denied by either party.
Thus ended the two and a half month Impeachment drama.

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Ranasinghe Premadasa

Lalith Athulathmudali

Gamini Dissanayake

Richard de Zoysa

Last modified on Sunday, 25 January 2015 10:55
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