20A: SLPP rejects criticism, plans to secure its passage next month
Posted on September 8th, 2020

By Shamindra Ferdinando Courtesy The Island

Dismissing criticism of the proposed 20th Amendment that it would pave the way for a dictatorship, Education Minister Prof. Peiris yesterday (7) told the media at the SLPP office, Battaramulla, that it would be presented to Parliament next October ahead of the presentation of Budget 2021.

Prof. Peiris, who is also the Chairman of the ruling SLPP, said that the government wasn’t worried about the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) moving the Supreme Court against the 20th Amendment as it was gazetted having secured the Attorney General’s approval.

Flanked by Ports and Shipping Minister Rohitha Abeygunawardena and SLPP General Secretary attorney-at-law Sagara Kariyawasam, Prof. Peiris indicated that they didn’t see a requirement to make any changes to the 20th Amendment at the committee stage.

The minister said that the government enjoyed the required parliamentary support necessary for the passage of the 20th Amendment. The SLPP on its own secured 145 seats whereas its allies obtained half a dozen seats to ensure the required two-thirds.

Responding to a query, a smiling Prof. Peiris said SJB’s Lakshman Kiriella or any other party could seek legal recourse against the 20th Amendment. We are confident the 20th Amendment can be adopted without any hassle,” Prof. Peiris said, pointing out that finding fault with the 20th Amendment seemed ridiculous after the AG endorsed it without subjecting any of its provisions to a referendum.

Prof. Peiris said that the 19th Amendment enacted in the wake of 2015 presidential election, was meant among other things to deprive Namal Rajapaksa an opportunity to contest the presidency, disqualify Basil Rajapaksa and Gotabaya Rajapaksa from contesting either presidency or parliamentary election on the basis of them being dual citizens of US and Sri Lanka and Mahinda Rajapaksa from seeking a third term.

The 20th Amendment has proposed the eligibility of a 30 year –old to contest the presidency in addition to dual citizens the opportunity to contest national level elections.

Prof. Peiris said that those who had been critical of the 20th Amendment had conveniently forgotten it didn’t touch two of the most important features in the 19th Amendment. He emphasized that the two term limit on a President as well as both presidential and parliamentary terms being restricted to five years from the earlier six would remain intact under the 20th Amendment.

Asked why much desired constitutional bar to restrict the number of ministers to 30 and non-cabinet ministers to 40 had been proposed to be abolished, Prof. Peiris pointed out there was provision in the 19th Amendment to make ministerial and other appointments regardless of the restriction by simply forming a National Government. The UNP and the SLFP did form such a government and made appointments beyond the prescribed 30 cabinet and 40 non-cabinet limits, Prof. Peiris said.

Responding to another query, Prof. Peiris side-stepped the issue by pointing out that the SLPP, too, could have finalized such an arrangement by entering into an agreement with the EPDP (Eelam People’s Democratic Party). The EPDP won two seats in the Northern Province at the recently concluded general election.

Prof. Peiris also welcomed the Court of Appeal granting MP elect Premalal Jayasekera an opportunity to attend parliamentary sittings tomorrow (8).

Jayasekera is held at Welikada prison after being found guilty by Ratnapura High Court over a 2015 killing in the Kahawatte police area in the run up to the presidential election of that year. Prof. Peiris said that Jayasekera enjoyed the right to move both the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court challenging the ruling given against him.

The Education Minister said that the SLPP received two mandates to do away with the 19th Amendment. Gotabaya Rajapaksa, in his capacity as the SLPP candidate won the presidential election by a staggering 1.4 mn votes whereas the SLPP secured a near two-thirds majority at the general election. Therefore, there couldn’t be any issue as regards the SLPP taking tangible measures to drastically alter the 19th Amendment before introducing a new Constitution.

Recently, the government announced a 9-member group led by Romesh de Silva, PC, to formulate the new draft Constitution.

The former Law Professor strongly defended the controversial decision to re-introduce emergency Bills while guaranteeing full immunity to the President. Referring to a Supreme Court case, Prof. Peiris emphasized that the country’s apex court had accepted the right of the President to receive immunity. Prof. Peiris said that emergency Bills were necessary in times of emergency such as the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks which plunged the entire country into crisis.

Prof. Peiris dealt with the continuing controversy over the 20th Amendment proposing a five-member Parliamentary Council in place of the Constitutional Council comprising ten. Of course the method of appointments to seven Commissions as well as key posts had been changed to give the President power to exercise his mandate, Prof. Peiris said, dismissing claims that the Commissions were being abolished. The proposed system reflected the will of the people whereas the 19A empowered the Constitutional Council at the expense of the President elected by the people of the whole country.

Prof. Peiris alleged that the Election Commission member Prof. Ratnajeevan Hoole and Constitutional Council member Javid Yusuf were two persons who abused their positions in the respective outfits to undermine the SLPP. Prof. Hoole once declared in Jaffna not to vote for the SLPP whereas attorney-at-law Yusuf openly campaigned against the SLPP’s push for a two-thirds majority to do away with the 19th Amendment, Prof. Peiris said.

Prof. Peiris said that their plans were on track though nearly ten months were wasted due to the inability on the part of the President to dissolve parliament immediately after winning the presidential election last November due to the shackles placed by the 19A and the subsequent crisis caused by the corona epidemic.

Prof. Peiris emphasized that the people’s President would exercise powers for their betterment.

One Response to “20A: SLPP rejects criticism, plans to secure its passage next month”

  1. Ratanapala Says:

    The Yahapalana Government should have been dissolved in the aftermath of the Bond Scams or subsequent to the landslide defeat at the Local Government Elections in February 2018. This was when people showed without a shadow of a doubt that the Yahapalanaya did not enjoy people’s confidence. And yet the people had to suffer the ingnominity of several more years of disastrous Yahapalana administration.

    Lame Duck President Sirisena unsuccessfully tried to get rid of Ranil W with a first offer of Premiership to Sajith Premadasa, then to Karu Jayasuriya, failing both to Mahinda Rajapakse. This too ended in failure when the Supreme Court rejected the faux pas.

    People’s suspicions were proved right when the disastrous failure of security culminated in the killing of innocents at the Easter Sunday massacres. All this happend when all security concerns were thrown to the four winds in the name of Reconciliation.

    19th Amendment to the Constitution was the crucible in which poisonous broth was brewed! The nation was proven right when UNP serially lost, first the Presidential Poll, then the Parliamentary Poll and finally when Ranil W and the UNP were thrown lock stock and barrel out of the legislature.

    19th Amendment should be discarded unceremoniously and power returned to the President. The seal of approval a President receives at a nation wide poll cannot be put to nought at the whims and fancies of the legislature alone!

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