Ranjan Ramanayake imprisonment: Pardon request or Mannapperuma replacement?
SJB contemplates next steps
When seat becomes vacant to be confirmed
EC, Parliament yet to receive judgment copy
By Pamodi Waravita and Ruwan Laknath Jayakody
The Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) is mulling its next steps following the imprisonment of its Parliamentarian Ranjan Ramanayake, which range from seeking a presidential pardon to filling his parliamentary seat with Ajith Mannapperuma.
The Supreme Court (SC) sentenced the actor turned politician and SJB Parliamentarian to four years of rigorous imprisonment (RI) over charges of being in contempt of court yesterday (12). The case was filed against the former State Minister for allegedly making remarks defamatory to the judiciary in August 2017 when he addressed the media and claimed that the majority of the country’s judges issued partisan rulings and were corrupt.
Speaking to The Morning in the wake of the ruling, SJB General Secretary MP Ranjith Madduma Bandara said that discussions are underway with the relevant legal representation on the future course of action that the party leadership could take regarding Ramanayake’s parliamentary seat and whether an appeal could be made to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on behalf of Ramanayake for a pardon.
“We are deeply saddened by this incident as he is someone who has never done any wrong to anyone. He has always stood up for innocent people and the loss of his parliamentary seat will be felt across the board,” Madduma Bandara said.
When queried as to whether Ramanayake’s seat would fall vacant with immediate effect or in six months’ time, he noted that this was a matter to be decided by the Election Commission (EC).
However, Private Secretary to the SJB Leader and Opposition Ravi Jayawardena told The Morning that the SJB had already decided that it is Mannapperuma who should fill the seat left vacant by Ramanayake.
“We do not know if the decision will be immediate or not as it will be decided by the Elections Commissioner. The Elections Commissioner has to decide whether the replacement will be done immediately or in six months.”
He added that the parliamentary seat has been deemed unavailable to Ramanayake since he has been convicted.
Mannapperuma missed out on a seat at the last parliamentary election but is next in line after the lowest ranked SJB MP from the Gampaha District Kavinda Jayawardena, in terms of votes, including preferences.
When contacted regarding his nomination to the seat, Mannapperuma told The Morning that since he is next on the preferential votes list, he believes that he would get the seat if it becomes vacant, and that he would accept it if requested as it is his duty to those who voted for him.
“However, I am not overly concerned about it at this very moment. I haven’t yet received any communication from the Leader of the SJB and the Opposition Sajith Premadasa regarding this matter.”
However, deliberations centred round the Constitution are presently underway at the Parliamentary Secretariat with regard to deciding the fate of the seat occupied by Ramanayake following the SC’s conviction of the actor turned politician on charges of contempt of court.
Speaking to The Morning, Parliament Director – Communications Shan Wijetunge said that firstly, the Speaker of the Parliament and the Parliament had to receive a copy of the verdict from the SC. EC Member M.M. Mohamed, when contacted in this regard by The Morning said that neither had the EC received a copy of the judgment from the SC nor had the matter been taken up for discussion when the EC met yesterday.
However, parliamentary sources, explaining to The Morning about the aforementioned deliberations on the law in this regard, noted that there were two opinions prevailing regarding the matter.
“One view is that he loses the parliamentary seat with immediate effect while the other is that he can come to the Parliament until the lapse of six months of the term of the sentence.”
Section 120 of the Penal Code defines the offence of contempt of court as one where “whoever by words, either spoken or intended to be read, excites or attempts to excite hatred to or contempt of the administration of justice”. Further, the SC has inherent power to deal with the offence of contempt of court.
Article 91 (1) (a) of the Constitution, which deals with disqualifications for election as a MP, states that no person shall be qualified to sit and vote in Parliament if he becomes subject to any disqualification under Article 89, the latter which deals with disqualifications to be an elector. The disqualification applicable in the instant case is found in Article 89 (d) which holds among others that “if he is serving or has during the period of seven years immediately preceding, completed the serving of a sentence of imprisonment (by whatever name called) for a term not less than six months imposed after conviction by any court for an offence punishable with imprisonment for a term not less than two years or is under sentence of death or is serving or has during the period of seven years immediately preceding, completed the serving of a sentence of imprisonment for a term not less than six months awarded in lieu of execution of such sentence”, he is disqualified.
When contacted in this regard for some clarity on the applicable law, a leading President’s Counsel (PC) who has a doctorate and several publications on election law, explained that there is no ambiguity in the relevant law.
“He loses the seat forthwith”.
The PC cited the precedent established in the case of MP S.B. Dissanayake, who was previously found guilty of the same, and had to vacate his parliamentary seat immediately. Not only would he be physically prevented from attending Parliament, but he would also be disqualified from contesting for seven years thereafter, the PC further noted.
Yesterday’s verdict came after petitions had been filed by, among others, a retired military officer and a Buddhist monk, claiming that Ramanayake’s comments about judges could shatter public confidence in the judiciary and create a warped image of the institution in the public mind. Subsequently, the Attorney General had served charges against Ramanayake before the SC.