Opposition MPs to support 20th Amendment | Sunday Observer

Opposition MPs to support 20th Amendment

The Cabinet of Ministers approved the draft of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution when it was presented at the Cabinet meeting by Justice Minister Ali Sabry on Wednesday. The Extraordinary Gazette notification on the draft of 20th Amendment to the Constitution was issued on Thursday.

Co-Cabinet Spokesman, Minister Udaya Gammanpila told the weekly Cabinet press briefing that the Government’s constitutional amendments will be in two-steps. The first step would be the 20th Amendment which will rectify the “anomalies” in the Constitution and the second will be the drafting of a new Constitution.

Political sources have revealed that a group of Opposition MPs will support the Government to pass the proposed 20th Amendment to the Constitution with an overwhelming majority in Parliament. Nine Opposition MPs as two separate groups have informed this to a powerful political figure in the Government. The 20th Amendment has proposed to abolish the Constitutional Council and introduce a new Parliamentary Council in its place.

The proposed 20th Amendment has given powers to the President to appoint Ministers taking away the limit, consulting the Prime Minister if thought necessary and appoint judges and key officials after seeking the opinion of a Parliamentary Council. The President could also dissolve Parliament after one year, while the requirement of a legislator to be a dual citizens is removed. The 20th Amendment has empowered the President to appoint members to the independent Commissions after obtaining the approval of Parliament. The Head of the State will be part of the Cabinet and will act as the Head of the Cabinet of Ministers. However, the proposed 20th Amendment is expected to retain restrictions imposed on the term of the President to five years and the limit on a President’s tenure to a maximum of two terms. It has also retained the Right to Information Act.

The abolition of the 19th Amendment and the introduction of the 20th Amendment was one of the key pledges given by the SLPP Government during its General Election campaign. After securing a two-thirds majority at the August 5 General Election, the Government took up the promise swiftly. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa delivering the Policy Statement at the ceremonial opening of the ninth Parliament said, “as the people have given us the mandate we wanted for a constitutional amendment, our first task will be to remove the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. After that, all of us will get together to formulate a new constitution suitable for the country.”

Govt’s responsibility

Education Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris, addressing a recent public gathering in Kandy, said that those opposed to the Government were busy propagating the lie that the enactment of 20th Amendment in place of the 19th Amendment would be a setback to parliamentary democracy. Prof. Peiris said that it would be the responsibility of the Government to inform the people as to why the 20th Amendment was being brought in. He said that the 19th Amendment was meant to cause chaos.

The Minister asked whether the decision to deprive legally elected President with a massive mandate from holding defence portfolio or any other portfolio could be justified under any circumstances. Prof. Peiris said that former President Maithripala Sirisena had been allowed to hold defence and some other portfolios as an interim measure depriving his successor to exercise the authority of a minister. Prof. Peiris said that the battle between the then President and the Prime Minister erupted as a result of the 19th Amendment. He said if not for the 19th Amendment creating an environment of hostility leading to a major security lapse, the Easter Sunday attacks could have been prevented.

Opposition lawmakers have criticised the Government’s moves to bring in a new amendment or to introduce a new Constitution.

SJB General Secretary MP Ranjith Madduma Bandara told the media that the Government is trying to create a rule of nepotism by abolishing independent commissions.

SJB Parliamentarian Mujibur Rahuman had told the media that the 20th Amendment sought to take the country back to 2015. He criticised the SLPP Government for causing irreparable damage to democracy by granting the President dictatorial powers. He said the Government had abused its two-thirds majority. The JVP has also announced its objection against the proposed 20th Amendment citing it as a precursor to a dictatorship rule. JVP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake during a media briefing on Friday said, “this constitutional amendment is undemocratic and harmful to the people.” Dissanayake said that the President has been given more powers than the Prime Minister, including provisions such as immunity.

Different views have been expressed on the oath to be taken by SLPP Ratnapura District Parliamentarian Premalal Jayasekara. Referring to Attorney General’s opinion, Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardana has said it is the House that has to decide on the issue.

Addressing a recent press briefing, Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara said the admission of MP Premalal Jayasekara to Parliament is a decision of the Speaker and Parliament and not of the Attorney General. He said this in response to a question posed by journalists about the fate of MP Jayasekera in the context that it would be illegal for MP Jayasekera to go to Parliament in accordance with a statement by the Attorney General.

Minister Nanayakkara said the Attorney General has made a statement to this effect and has proclaimed that MP Jayasekera cannot go to Parliament, but the Attorney General has no power in this respect. This has now gone to the Courts of Appeal. Accordingly, the AG will go to the Court of Appeal to obtain confirmation of the verdict in question, which is the responsibility of the AG. The Court of Appeal verdict pertaining to allowing Parliament-elect Premalal Jayasekara to attend Parliament sittings will be announced tomorrow. Jayasekara had filed a writ petition before the Court of Appeal seeking an order to permit him to attend Parliament sittings.

Leadership crisis

The leadership crisis within the UNP has taken a new turn as Karu-Ruwan-Vajira trio are contending for the party leadership. UNP senior Vajira Abeywardena has expressed his desire to take up the party reins citing 38 years experience in politics. Abeywardena addressing the media, said that he is the most senior UNP working Committee member after former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, adding that he has received a number of requests from the Maha Sangha and the party supporters to accept the UNP leadership. He said that he is capable of reviving the party if he is offered the party leadership. Abeywardena told the reporters that he has worked under former Presidents J.R. Jayewardene, Ranasinghe Premadasa and party stalwarts Gamini Dissanayake and Ranil Wickremesinghe.

“I have vast experience in working with them and these experiences will help me revive the party,” he said.

Former United National Party (UNP) lawmaker Ruwan Wijewardene had expressed willingness to take over the party leadership due to the request of several factions, including party supporters. Wijewardene at a recent public gathering said, “I am confident that we can lead the UNP to victory by restructuring and strengthening the party.”

He said the UNP’s election defeat is an opportunity to identify the loopholes in the party and to restore confidence in party supporters. The Youth Wing of the UNP Jathika Yovun Peramuna has also passed a resolution calling for the appointment of Ruwan Wijewardene as the new party leader. Former Speaker Karu Jayasuriya told the media that he is ready to accept the UNP leadership as he is one of the most senior members of the party.

“I am capable of re-building the UNP once again to its former dignified level. The UNP has come down to its lowest due to the lack of confidence among its members. Since 1996, I have been working hard to maintain the status of the party. I have no intention to get the UNP leadership by force or in an undue manner. I have no idea to represent Parliament once again, but I am interested in re-building the UNP to its former level in the next few years,” he said.

Former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe gave a statement to the Police unit of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) probing into political victimisation on Friday. Nearly 5 hour-statement had been recorded from him.

The UNP leader appeared before the Commission based on a complaint by former Economic Development Ministry Secretary and Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation Chairman Dr. Nihal Jayathilake. The complaint has made the member of the anti-corruption committee appointed by the Yahapalana Government as respondents and UNP leader Wickremesinghe has been the Chairman of this anti-corruption committee. The former Prime Minister arrived at the police unit of the Presidential Commission investigating into the Easter Sunday attacks earlier.

The SLPP Provincial Councilors’ Forum has expressed its opposition to the recent statement by State Minister Sarath Weerasekera that the Provincial Council (PC) system should be abolished. They have also passed a resolution condemning the statements by State Minister Weerasekara regarding the PC system, claiming it as a white elephant.

Addressing the media at the SLPP headquarters, former Chairman of the Sabaragamuwa Provincial Council and Chairman of the forum Kanchana Jayaratne said, “We have seen in recent days that State Minister Sarath Weerasekara has expressed some views on the Provincial Councils. Neither the SLPP nor the Prime Minister nor the the President has made any such statement as a Government. Jayaratne said they passed a resolution on September 3 to express their disgust at Weerasekara’s statement and the ideology he holds. “We see this as a conspiracy to undermine the strength of our Government. If one or the other tries to conspire together, there is no room for that,” he said.

Democracy

Chief Opposition Whip MP Lakshman Kiriella has stated that the SJB would challenge the 20th Amendment in the Supreme Court to safeguard the mechanisms introduced by the 19th Amendment to ensure independence of the judiciary and the public service. Speaking to the media at the SJB head office, Kiriella said, “the proposed 20th Amendment will deprive the people of their democratic rights. We will obstruct the Government’s march towards dictatorship. The first step in that battle will be going before the Supreme Court against the proposed amendment. People asked for strengthening state institutions and making them independent. As a result, we introduced the 19th Amendment to the Constitution to prune down some powers vested in the executive presidency. We re-established independent Commissions which ensured democracy. Now, the Government has brought in another amendment to do away with those democratic mechanisms and to consolidate powers in the hands of the President.

Former President Maithripala Sirisena and State Minister Roshan Ranasinghe, who verbally attacked each other from the political platform during the General Election in the Polonnaruwa district, met each other at a ceremony on Friday. Two political rivals were engaged in a cordial discussion at the opening of the Elders’ Home constructed in the Parakum Uyana in Polonnaruwa which was financially supported by the former President’s brother Dudley Sirisena.

State Minister Ranasinghe addressing the ceremony said, “We all live a short period and should live in peace and harmony. We have realised this and petty differences will be set aside. The Government is prepared to go along a journey in unison. We respect former President Sirisena as a veteran politician. I congratulated him on his longstanding political career when I met him in Parliament. In future, the former President and I would join hands to implement all programs to develop Polonnaruwa.”

SLFP’s anniversary

The SLFP marked its 69th anniversary on September 2. SLFP Chairman, former President Maithripala Sirisena in a statement, said the SLFP has always played a role in nurturing localism and nationalism. He said the SLFP has always stood for the independence and unity of the country. Multi-faith religious ceremonies were held to mark the occasion and to commemorate the SLFP leaders and members who have passed away. The SLFP joined hands with the SLPP at the last General Election and supported President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the last Presidential Election.

Former President and a Patron of the SLFP, Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga told the media that she would work with the younger generation to reinvigorate the SLFP that was weakened due to the conduct of former President and SLFP Chairman Maithripala Sirisena.

Former President Kumaratunga, making a statement to mark the 69th anniversary of the SLFP, said she had been saddened by the fate of the SLFP, which was formed by the late Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike. 

Comments