Govt. insists clarification needed on stance of minority parties
Amendments to be considered during debate beginning today
UNP could change stance on 225 seats
By Malik Gunatilleke
A hastily-summoned adjournment debate on the 20th Amendment to the Constitution will be taken up today in Parliament and will continue through tomorrow, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Ajith P. Perera said yesterday.
The decision to hold the adjournment debates was taken at a Working Committee meeting held last morning, while the debate was extended by a day upon the request of the party leaders.
The Deputy Minister said that despite the Government’s initial proposal of conducting the debate on one day, MP Dinesh Gunawardena and Prof. Tissa Vitarana as well as the SLMC leaders had requested more time to debate the matter. Hence, a decision was taken to hold debates from 2 p.m. today as well a full day on Wednesday.
“The Government needs to know the official stances of the political parties regarding the 20th Amendment. Various politicians have expressed their views on the matter but it’s important to make clear in parliament the official positions of the parties so that amendments can be considered,” he said.
The Deputy Minister also alleged that Opposition Leader Nimal Siripala De Silva and MP John Seneviratne had opposed allowing the minority parties to express their views on the matter. However,the Deputy Speaker of Parliament had ruled that the Government needs to give priority to Government business and should consider all views on the matter.
He also claimed that the Government strongly opposed the views of the Opposition Leader, calling the SLFP stance on the matter “narrow-minded”. Perera added that the time had come to consider views and opinions on these matters from all parties, including those representing minorities.
Meanwhile, parties including the JVP, SLMC, ACMC and TNA met with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe over the weekend to discuss the 20A and had expressed their concerns over its effect on minority parties.
Despite the Prime Minister’s reported assurances, fears still remain that the amendments would reduce minority party presence in Parliament. Some parties have already threatened to stage protests within Parliament if the 20A is passed and have called on the Government to halt its progression.
Earlier this month, the Cabinet approved the new electoral system proposed in the 20th Amendment that increased the number of parliamentary seats from 225 to 237. Under this system, 145 MPs would be elected under the First-Past-the Post (FPP) system, 55 according to the District Proportional Representation (PR) system and the rest from the National List.
However, UNP’s General Secretary Minister Kabir Hashim expressed last week that the UNP was not willing to compromise on its position regarding a 225-member Parliament, a position which was widely criticised in Parliament by the SLFP.
Nevertheless, the UNP also stated that it would re-consider its position if the majority of parties in Parliament reached an agreement on the matter. Meanwhile the UNP has also written to President Sirisena requesting Parliament be dissolved before two no-confidence motions against it were tabled in July. The first against Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake is expected to be taken up for debate on 6 July and a second one against Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe later on in the same month.