Sri Lanka 's president reveals unannounced swearing-in that can extend her term
Tue January 13, 2004 10:35 EST .
SHIMALI SENANAYAKE - Associated Press Writer - COLOMBO, Sri Lanka - (AP) Further complicating Sri Lanka - 's political crisis, the president on Tuesday revealed an unannounced swearing-in ceremony that could allow her to stay in office until 2006.
Chandrika Kumaratunga took her oaths in December 1999 after winning an election for a second and final six-year term, which was to expire in 2005. But the president, whose actions cannot be challenged in a court of law, now says she held another ceremony the following year.
``It is up to me to take a decision whether I am to continue in the office of presidency till 2006 or not,'' Kumaratunga said in a Sinhala language interview with the state-owner Independent Television Network.
Kumaratunga's stunning revelation comes amid a bitter power struggle with her political rival Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who had no immediate comment.
The president and prime minister have been deadlocked since Nov. 4 when Kumaratunga fired three Cabinet ministers after accusing Wickremesinghe of jeopardizing the country's security by giving too many concessions to the rebels.
Wickremesinghe runs the government's day-to-day affairs but Kumaratunga, who heads a different political party, controls the military and has the power to sack the government.
Kumaratunga said she was compelled to take oaths in 1999, days after escaping a Tamil Tiger rebel suicide bombing, to squash rumors that she was physically unfit to hold the office of presidency.
``I had to do it to calm down the people who had already taken to the streets in protest of my attack,'' she said.
Kumaratunga denied any secrecy in the 2000 swearing-in ceremony, but admitted it was administered in the presence of only the Chief Justice and her confidant Lakshman Kadirgamar. She argued there was no need to make it a public ceremony since it was done within the framework of the constitution.
``There are two plausible and legally justified interpretations that can support both arguments,'' said Rohan Edirisinha, a top constitutional expert.
He said by operation of law and constitutionally the president's term begins in 2000. Similarly, it can be argued that since Kumaratunga took oaths a year earlier, her office commenced from 1999.
The stalemate between Kumaratunga and Wickremesingh has stalled attempts to forge a lasting peace with the Tamil Tiger rebels and end a two-decade civil war that has killed more than 65,000 people. Norway brokered a cease-fire in February 2002.
Published: Tue Jan 13 15:11:20 EST 2004