Sirisena had sought Court’s advice on his term as President

Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court has clarified that President Maithripala Sirisena can stay in office only for five years, a week after he sought its opinion on whether he can serve a six-year term.

“The Supreme Court has conveyed the opinion that the President’s term of office is five years,” a statement from the President’s office said on Monday, amid accusations by Mr. Sirsena’s political rivals that he was trying to undermine the 19-Amendment. The legislation, enacted after he assumed charge as President in 2015, stipulates a five-year term for Presidency.

Dispelling confusion
However, with his supporters and some in legal circles interpreting it as being applicable only to his successors, Mr. Sirisena’s office had said the inquiry sought to dispel any confusion in this regard. The Supreme Court held an open hearing on the matter last week with representations from both sides. . The Colombo-based Centre for Policy Alternatives made representations stating that the Amendment’s transitional provisions explicitly state that the five-year term limit applies equally to the sitting President.

On the other hand, the Attorney General said President Sirisena, who assumed charge on January 9, 2015, had already commenced the six-year term when the 19th Amendment came into effect.

The development came even as the coalition government helmed by Mr. Sirisena, along with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, completed three years in power.

Unity government
Though their respective parties, staunch political rivals, formed the country’s first national unity government, the differences between them have grown louder more recently, particularly ahead of local government elections early February. Mr. Sirisena’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party and the PM-led United National Party will contest the polls separately.

Past Presidents have similarly sought judicial opinion during their term, but the Supreme Court’s clarification to their query was not made public in most instances, according to political observers.