UNP leadership stakes: Mangala joins the fray | Sunday Observer

UNP leadership stakes: Mangala joins the fray

Government and Opposition lawmakers engaged in heated arguments in Parliament on Tuesday, September 8 over the swearing-in of SLPP Ratnapura district Parliamentarian Premalal Jayasekara, a death row convict.

Opposition Parliamentarians from the SJB argued in the House over the precedent that is being set by allowing death row convicts to enter Parliament.

Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena defended his decision to allow Jayasekara to take oaths saying he is abiding by the Order of the Court of Appeal which stated that Jayasekara is entitled to all the rights as an MP. MP Jayasekara was sworn in as an MP amidst uproar from the SJB.

At the commencement of sittings, Speaker Abeywardena announced that Jayasekara could take his oaths as an MP. As the announcement came, SJB Kandy District MP and Chief Opposition Whip Lakshman Kiriella began protesting against the swearing in. He was followed by SJB MPs wearing black shawls around their necks and shouting slogans against Jayasekara.

Leader of the House, Minister Dinesh Gunawardena pointed out that as per the Standing Orders, the MPs could not raise a Point of Order when the Speaker was making an announcement. However, SJB frontliners Harin Fernando, Nalin Bandara and Lakshman Kiriella shouted that it was illegal for Jayasekara to take oaths as an MP. Amidst the uproar, Serjeant-at-Arms Narendra Fernando accompanied Jayasekera to the Speaker’s Chair and was sworn in. MP Jayasekara was congratulated by Government lawmakers Vijitha Berugoda, Janaka Wakkumbura and other front row members on the Government side.

Raising a Point of Order, MP Kiriella said, “Today a person who had been sentenced to death by a High Court took oaths as an MP before the Speaker.” He pointed out how a quite similar incident took place in the House in 2010. “When Sarath Fonseka was elected to this House but could not come to take oaths as he was in the prison, we raised the issue and spoke of the need to permit him to take oaths.”

But Prof. G.L. Peiris opposed it citing provisions of Section 89 of the Constitution and informed the House that the MP elect could not take oaths if he or she has been convicted by a court.

Kiriella attempted to portray that the Speaker’ had no power above the court’s conviction. Refuting Kiriella’s claim, Leader of the House Minister Dinesh Gunawardena told the House that a new MP who had been elected by his people had taken his oaths. Thereafter, there is no room for others to raise Points of Order against it. The Minister said as per the Standing Order, anyone who is sworn in before the Speaker as an MP has the rights and privileges of an MP.

Thereafter, when the Speaker moved the House to proceed with the day’s business, SJB MPs began shouting. Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa and SJB MPs threw their black shawls to the well of the House and left the Chamber in protest. However, none of the TNA, SLMC, ACMC or JVP members joined the protest.

Government lawmakers said the SJB strategically made use of Jayasekara’s case and walked out of the Chamber as they could not face the debate on the annual report of the Central Bank. They said the SJB didn’t really want to protest against Jayasekara taking oaths.

Speaker Abeywardena told Parliament on Friday, September 11 that it is too late to raise the matter with regard to Jayasekara becoming an MP, and that it should have been raised in the Court of Appeal before it decided to allow Jayasekara to take oaths. The Speaker said so when Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa raised objections to Jayasekara taking oaths as an MP while serving a death sentence in a murder case.

Maiden speech

MP Jayasekara in his maiden speech in Parliament said that he was convicted on false charges levelled against him by the Yahapalana Government to take political revenge. Jayasekara said he was sent to jail for a crime which he did not commit.

“My conscience knows that I am innocent. I have been engaged in clean politics. I have not engaged in any fraud or corrupt activities during my political career,” he said.

The MP said it was the Yahapalana Government and the then Justice Minister and the CID who were behind the moves to put him behind bars. The CID headed by its Director Shani Abeysekara manipulated the investigations against him for political reasons and filed false allegations. CID officials who were behind the moves against him should be investigated and arrested.

The main opposition party, the SJB on September 8 launched a protest to safeguard the democratic provisions in the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. SJB leaders and several hundred supporters gathered at the park commemorating Ven. Maduluwawe Sobhitha Thera and took an oath to safeguard a just society. SJB Leader Sajith Premadasa and General Secretary Ranjith Madduma Bandara and other SJB frontliners offered flowers at Ven. Sobhitha Thera’s statue. Speakers at the event warned against the provisions of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution which has been proposed by the Government. They said these proposals would take the country towards a dictatorship.

Education Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris clarified that the ‘Immunity of the President from lawsuits’ proposed in the 20th Amendment to the Constitution has not been drafted to protect the President from Court cases but to enable him to provide an uninterrupted service to the public.

He told the media that Article 35 (1) of the proposed 20A states, “While any person who holds office as President, no proceedings shall be instituted or continued against him in any court or tribunal in respect of anything done or omitted to be done by him either in his official or private capacity.”

He said that as long as the 19th Amendment remains, the President will have to report to courts and will not be able to efficiently serve the public, adding that special arrangements will have to be made by allocating considerable time for the President to address court related matters.

The President was made to appear before various Commissions and courts before his election. If he is to appear before such courts and commissions after being elected as the President, he will not have sufficient time to implement pledges made in his election manifesto ‘Vistas for Prosperity’,’ Minister Peiris said.

Clearing of forests

The Government Parliament group meeting was held at the Committee Room 1 of the Parliament complex under patronage of Prime Minister Rajapaksa on Tuesday. The PM proposed to bring about new laws to prevent bovine slaughter in the country.

Many Government lawmakers approved the Prime Minister’s suggestion. The Premier had said that killing cattle for beef should be stopped as there are many who opposed the practice. He had also said that the Government should take maximum action to prevent the clearing of forests by people for various reasons.

There are many instances of forests being cleared citing the need to increase cultivated lands. This should be stopped and a clear demarcation between cultivated lands and forest reserves should be made. The Premier said no one would be permitted under any circumstances to clear jungles and reserved forests which are dwindling at a fast rate.

The Prime Minister also pointed out to the MPs the need to pay attention to alleviate the fertiliser shortage problem immediately as people from many places complain of a shortage.

Betrayal

The JVP-led National People’s Power called the proposed 20th Amendment to the Constitution a betrayal of the mandate the people had given to the Government at the last General Election. JVP Parliamentarian Dr. Harini Amarasuriya told the media at the JVP headquarters in Pelawatte, that the Government, claiming to respect people’s sovereignty, had unveiled a draft amendment to concentrate more powers in the executive presidency at the expense of the rights of the people.

The draft of the amendment envisaged stripping the Prime Minister and Parliament of their powers. Those who drafted the Bill had shown that they had no trust in either the PM their parliamentary group or their political enemies. The proposed amendment would give more powers to the executive presidency than when it was under the J. R. Jayewardene Government.

Pledge

Minister Johnston Fernando said at the last General Election campaign, we pledged to abolish the 19A and the people voted for that. We requested the people to give us a two-thirds majority. The Opposition said the Government would not be able to secure a two-thirds majority and even some of our members said we would secure only 125 to 130 seats in Parliament. However, the people gave a two-thirds majority to the Government to change the present Constitution and introduce a new one.

Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage told Parliament that the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was brought forth by the Yahapalana Government with an ulterior motive to give more powers to the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Opening the debate on six notifications under the Ports and Airport Development Levy Act, three regulations and six resolutions under the Customs Ordinance presented to the House, Minister Aluthgamage said the Yahapalana Government through the 19th Amendment also attempted to bring limitations to prevent the Rajapaksas from coming back to power.

He said contrary to the opinions of civil society activists, the Yahapalana Government brought in the 19th amendment not to strengthen democracy or to make the judiciary independent but to strengthen Ranil Wickremesinghe and “fill the pockets of his supporters. The Yahapalana Government, instead of strengthening the judiciary, attempted to influence it by using politicians such as Ranjan Ramanayake.”

The SLPP National Organiser Basil Rajapaksa had told the media that there is no need for him to enter Parliament. Rajapaksa made these remarks while responding to journalists in Badalgama, Kotadeniyawa recently.

When questioned about the shortcomings of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution and the increase in Presidential powers, Rajapaksa said, “The people granted the President more power and that was what the people expected.”

The SLPP founder Basil Rajapaksa said the fourth anniversary of the SLPP which falls on November 1 will be celebrated on a grand scale. Rajapaksa had discussed with Provincial Council and Local Government members at the SLPP headquarters at Nelum Mawatha regarding the arrangements for the ceremony. The responsibility of organising the party convention has been vested with a group of SLPPers led by Ministers Rohitha Abeygunawardena and Prasanna Ranatunga.

Several to cross over

Reliable sources confirmed two Muslim Parliamentarians from the Opposition had held talks with Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa at his office in the parliamentary complex on September 8. The two MPs had expressed their desire to join the Government.

The Premier had referred the two MPs to SLPP National Organiser Basil Rajapaksa to make the groundwork for their accommodation. However, the SLPP-led Government had repeatedly said that they would not entertain Sri Lanka Muslim Congress leader Rauff Hakeem and All Ceylon Makkal Congress leader Rishad Bathiudeen.

However, doors are open for the junior members of their parties. Hence, several Muslim MPs in the Opposition are to cross over to the Government so that securing two-thirds majority would not be a challenging task for the Government. A senior Cabinet Minister confirmed that 10 Opposition MPs have decided to extend their support to the proposed 20A to the Constitution.

A group of Opposition MPs are to cross over to the Government when the 20A is debated in Parliament. Another Opposition MP has expressed his willingness to support the legislations and motions moved by the Government while remaining in the Opposition.

Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa conferred the congratulations and well-wishes of Parliament to Italy-based Sri Lankan sprinter, Yupun Abeykoon who has set a new national and South Asian record in the men’s 100m event at an international meet in Dessau, Germany.

With permission from the Chair, Opposition Leader Preamdasa said that Abeykoon had recorded a time of 10.16 seconds setting up a new record in the 100 metres. “I on behalf of Parliament confer our congratulations and well-wishes to Abeykoon,” he said.

Leadership crisis

The leadership crisis within the UNP has taken a new turn with former UNP MP Mangala Samaraweera also contending for party leadership. Earlier, Karu, Ruwan and Vajira had expressed their willingness to lead the party.

Former Minister Samaraweera told the media that he will consider taking on the leadership of the UNP if he is requested to accept the position. Samaraweera said that he never withdrew his UNP membership. He made these remarks to the media after recording a statement at the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) probing the alleged incidents of political victimisation on Thursday, September 10.

The former Minister also pointed out that a fitting leader can rebuild the UNP soon. Responding to queries on former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, Samaraweera said Wickremesinghe is a great leader who is doing his best to save the party.

PC system

Members of the ruling SLPP continue to voice against State Minister Sarath Weerasekara’s stance on abolishing the Provincial Council (PC) system, alleging that he is merely promoting himself by dragging the Government and the country into inconvenience.

In a continuation of this allegation, the Provincial Members Collective of the SLPP calling a press briefing on Friday, September 11 stated that Minister Weerasekara would provoke hatred among the public by his comments.

Collective member and former Western Provincial Council member Mahesh Almeda said the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa set up the Northern Provincial Council for the benefit of the youth who engaged in a terrorist war to ensure their right to hold political power. He pointed out if this PC system is to be abolished, it will not be possible to abolish it without giving consideration to the Indian factor.”

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