- Says Govt. rushing to repeal 19A to facilitate Basil Rajapaksa’s entry to Parliament
- Argues that 19A was one of few Amendments which had public support
- Challenges Govt. to present draft proposal for new constitution without trying to make amendments
- Says securing two-thirds majority is not “blank cheque” to do as Govt. pleases
By Asiri Fernando
Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa
The Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) has invited political parties and civil society movements that want to protect the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, to meet them at Parliament this Friday (28 August).
The invitation for the gathering has been issued by Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa, as an initial step aimed at creating a unified voice against the Government’s plan to repeal the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which was passed in 2015.
Speaking at a press conference at the SJB party office yesterday, Parliamentarian Dr. Rajitha Senaratne said that the SJB has invited a wide cross-section of people and organisations who understand the democratic progress brought by the 19th Amendment to gather at Parliament on Friday. The SJB plans to discuss a unified approach to protect the 19th Amendment and the future.
Dr. Senaratne was joined by SJB Parliamentarians Dr. Harsha de Silva, Eran Wickramaratne and Shiral Lakthilaka at the press conference.
“We are for transparency and accountability of the 19th Amendment to be carried forward, not for it to be trimmed,” Dr. Senaratne said, arguing that the Government wanted to repeal the Amendment to benefit themselves and not because of any other reason.
“The Government wants to change the 19th Amendment to suit their needs and to consolidate their power. Should an Amendment, which was public-centric and introduced transparency and accountability, be removed to give a few persons power?” Dr. Senaratne questioned. He argued that the main reason behind the move to repeal the 19th Amendment was to allow Basil Rajapaksa to enter Parliament, by removing the restriction on dual citizens.
“All of this is to allow Basil (Rajapaksa) to enter Parliament, the ‘dual citizenship’ clause in 19A is what’s preventing them. Basil hasn’t renounced his US citizenship. Having obtained the two-thirds majority in Parliament, the Government is trying to change the Constitution, by making it the way that suits them. All of this is to let a person with dual citizenship enter Parliament,” Dr. Senaratne charged.
The SJB pointed out that the 19th Amendment had broad consultation with the public, and that each part of the Amendment was individually voted for approval by the former Parliament. The main Opposition called the Amendment the “the most public-centric’’ piece of legislation to be added to the Constitution thus far.
“The international community congratulated Sri Lanka on the democratic progress achieved by the 19th Amendment, Sri Lanka was no longer isolated from the international community,” Dr. Senaratne opined, stating that Sri Lanka risked losing international support at a crucial juncture if they repealed the 19th Amendment for the benefit of “one family.” “The 19th Amendment had a massive backing by the public in 2015, with the intention of distributing some of the powers vested in the Executive Presidency and to depoliticise public institutions. It introduced nine independent institutions,” Dr. Senaratne stressed, claiming that all previous Amendments brought to the Constitution were done to gain or maintain power of those in Government at the time.
“The Government should not mistake the two-thirds majority it has in Parliament as a blank cheque to do as they please,” SJB Parliamentarian Eran Wickramaratne stated. “Constitutional change can be challenged in court, and at times the Judiciary will decide if a proposed Amendment violates the Constitution,” Wickramaratne opined.
Parliamentarian Lakthilaka questioned why the Government was rushing to introduce “bits and pieces” to the Constitution instead of publicising a draft of a new Constitution, so that it can be broadly debated and understood by the public. “Why are they delaying that? What are they afraid of? They have a mandate, why not introduce the new draft Constitution?” Lakthilaka argued.