19th Amendment passage in P’ment faced many interruptions

Wednesday, 29 April 2015 02:07 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

President Maithripala Sirisena observes voting on the 19th Amendment from the President’s Chamber inside Parliament – Pic by Presidential Media Unit After the second reading of the 19th Amendment was passed with an overwhelming majority in the House at about 7.00 p.m., Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa convened the Committee Stage of the bill, during which amendments were to be moved before a final vote. The pro-Mahinda faction of the UPFA attempted to scuttle this stage early on when MEP Leader Dinesh Gunewardane raised a point of order that the list of amendments had not been distributed in all three languages. Both the Government and Opposition benches were in an uproar over the interruption, causing Speaker Rajapaksa to take a 15-minute recess. The Committee Stage then proceeded for several hours, with various amendments being accepted or rejected by the Government. The Government was forced to remove an additional amendment in the 19th Amendment preventing a MP from going to court before disciplinary action was taken by his political party, after MEP Leader Dinesh Gunewardane put up stiff resistance to the clause and demanded a vote. Gunewardane also strongly opposed the provision that removes presidential discretion to dissolve Parliament before it completes four years of its term. He said a President should be allowed to dissolve Parliament at any time. The change was rejected by the Government. The removal of this discretion is believed to be a major curb on presidential power and effectively removes Parliament from the arbitrary influence of a sitting President. Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe accepted an amendment that all independent commissions would be responsible to Parliament, but Premier Wickremesinghe insisted that the Elections Commission be an exception in this provision. The Opposition agreed to this version of the amendment. The SLFP, which had reached a compromise with the Government before the Committee Stage, did not support the Opposition being raised by the UPFA’s Mahinda faction, led by Gunewardane and Wimal Weerawansa. President Maithripala Sirisena watched proceedings during the Committee Stage from his office on the second floor of Parliament. (DB)