SLFP mounts 11th-hour blockade against 19A

Tuesday, 28 April 2015 01:07 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  • President appoints 3 MPs supporting amendment to thrash out issues with SLFP reps
  • SLFP insists on Constitutional Council comprising majority MPs
  • SLFP wants provision on President acting on advice of Prime Minister to be removed
  • Talks end in deadlock; President to intervene
  • SLFP insists they are not trying to derail constitutional reform
  • Both amendments being mooted completely dilutes 19A, says President’s team
  • What the SLFP is asking for completely negates whole of the 19th Amendment: Sumanthiran
By Dharisha Bastians An eleventh-hour bid to get consensus on the 19th Amendment ended in deadlock last night, with the SLFP demanding changes to two major provisions of the draft legislation that Presidential advocates say would completely negate the purpose of the reforms – to curb the powers of the presidency and depoliticise key State institutions. Negotiations came down to the wire last night, but ended in a stalemate, although the SLFP insisted they were not trying to derail the constitutional reforms, the Daily FT learns.                                 President Maithripala Sirisena appointed a three-man committee of MPs supporting his 19A to thrash out issues the SLFP had with the amendment, following a party leaders’ meeting in Parliament yesterday morning. The SLFP was also invited to appoint three negotiators. UNP MP Ajith P. Perera, TNA MP M.A. Sumanthiran and SLMC Leader Rauff Hakeem were appointed by the President to negotiate with the SLFP group on the amendments. The SLFP had trouble picking its representatives to debate the amendments to the draft of 19A, with its constitutional experts refusing to sit across the table, sources with knowledge of the discussions told the Daily FT. The party finally nominated MPs Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, Faiszer Mustapha and Rajiva Wijesinha to discuss the issues. The two teams met between 3 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. in Parliament yesterday. The groups managed to reach consensus on most issues, with the exception of two, TNA MP Sumanthiran told the Daily FT. The SLFP was demanding that the Constitutional Council, which will oversee the independent commissions, be largely made up of members of Parliament. The SLFP was also demanding that the Supreme Court-mandated provision that the President shall act on the advice of the Prime Minister be withdrawn. Before the draft amendment went before the Supreme Court, the provision permitted the Prime Minister to act alone. The Court suggested an amendment to the draft, allowing the President to act on the advice of the Prime Minister instead, which was accepted by the Government. “The two issues that we could not reach agreement on deals with the heart of the 19th Amendment – which is about curbing presidential power and establishing the independent commissions. If these clauses are diluted, the 19th Amendment becomes almost nothing,” Sumanthiran told the Daily FT last night. “If these key areas are deleted, in order to ensure passage of 19A, it would be a case of pulling the wool over the people’s eyes,” Sumanthiran said. When the President’s nominees informed the SLFP negotiators that if they were to block the legislation on these grounds, they would have to inform the people, the SLFP members insisted they were not withdrawing support to the 19A, the Daily FT learns. Sumanthiran, Hakeem and Perera met with President Sirisena late last night to brief him on the discussions. President Sirisena’s clout within the SLFP will effectively determine whether he can convince them to support the amendment, political observers said.       The country’s 225-member Parliament is set to vote today on key constitutional reforms, widely-touted as the most progressive draft legislation since the 17th Amendment which set up independent commissions in 2003. Twenty-three members of Parliament are tipped to address the House on the proposed 19th Amendment, which seeks to curb the powers of the executive presidency, repeal the 18th Amendment which removed presidential term limits and restore independent commissions. Kicking off the debate in Parliament on 19A, President Maithripala Sirisena told legislators that it was one of the only amendments passed in Sri Lanka’s national Legislature that sought to slash powers granted to elected representatives, instead of increasing them. The 17th Amendment was the only other such legislation to do so, President Sirisena told the House. “We have a President who doesn’t want to be president again. In fact he is willing to have his powers reduced. This is a very healthy sign,” Tamil National Alliance Leader R. Sampanthan told Parliament yesterday when he addressed the debate on the crucial amendment. The draft amendment will then move into committee stage, where amendments will be moved and debated. Opposition parties including the SLFP have two main issues with the amendment; one such issue area relates to a provision in the draft amendment that empowers the Prime Minister to recommend ministers to the President. The other is that the Constitutional Council should comprise a majority of members of Parliament.       The all-important vote that will determine if President Maithripala Sirisena will be able to deliver on his most fundamental election promise is scheduled to take place at 6 p.m. today. However, Parliamentarians said they expected the vote to be taken much later tonight. “We are going to see it through, even if we have to take the vote at midnight,” said Deputy Minister of Policy Implementation and Economic Development Dr. Harsha de Silva. The Deputy Minister expressed confidence that the amendment would be passed by the House. “The only problems I foresee are clauses of the amendment relating to the Prime Minister’s recommendation for ministerial appointments. But no one is threatening to vote against the bill despite objections to certain sections of the amendment,” Dr. De Silva told the Daily FT. The Government needs 150 votes – two-thirds of the total number of MPs – to adopt the amendment and alter the Constitution. Dr. De Silva said it was difficult to imagine that the Wimal Weerawansa faction of the UPFA, which strongly supports a Mahinda Rajapaksa comeback, would muster 75 votes to scuttle the amendment. All eyes therefore will be on the SLFP, and how many members of the Parliamentary group will back President Sirisena’s reforms.

 President urges MPs to support 19A

By Ashwin Hemmathagama Our Lobby Correspondent President Maithripala Sirisena making a historical speech yesterday in Parliament urged all Parliamentarians to support the 19th Amendment, describing it as a decision for the betterment of the future generations. Moving the second reading of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, President Sirisena explained to lawmakers the importance of the historical moment. “We are gathered here to move forward by establishing the good governance Prime Minister D.S. Senanayake wanted in Sri Lanka. After many years, people entrusted me to bring in the 19th Amendment. The executive presidency was opposed from the day it was introduced.” “In 1994 the abolishing of the executive presidency was a part of the political manifesto of former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. In 1999 she came back to power again mentioning the same. Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa also mentioned it in the ‘Mahinda Chinthana’ political manifestos in 2005, 2010 and 2015. Now all of us have reached a point where it will be changed. People do know about the executive presidency and the importance of independent commissions,” insisted President Sirisena. Updating the House about his commitment and the sacrifice to rally all political parties behind the amendment, Sirisena said: “Since I was elected, I never used the powers of the executive president. Even in my political manifesto, I pledged to remove it. My flexibility will help remove it. Gone are the days the international community used to assess another country based on skin colour. Today the assessments are based on the level of democracy, good governance, human rights, fundamental rights, and the behaviour of the politicians of the country. So today we have become a country with no international enemies,” he added. President Sirisena noted that in the last presidential election, the manifestos of both presidential candidates had contained pledges to abolish the presidency. “Both Mahinda Rajapaksa’s 5.8 million voters and my 6.2 million voters voted for those manifestos, so 12 million voters in this country endorse this amendment,” he told the House during his speech. National Freedom Front Leader Wimal Weerawansa, whose UPFA faction is widely expected to oppose the amendment when it is taken up for voting tomorrow, said the 19A was a ‘pseudo-democratic exercise’. “This has bad intentions. Why elect a president if his powers are going to be reduced?” Weerawansa charged. He said their faction of the UPFA would oppose the amendment unless eight amendments they were suggesting to the legislation were accepted by the Government. Meanwhile, Minister Palitha Range Bandara pointed out many former leaders took advantage of the executive presidency and got elected but were unable to abolish it, preferring to enjoy its authority and powers. “However, President Maithripala Sirisena showed how he could follow the Buddhist rule and give up things. It is clear that this amendment is presented here for the betterment of the public but not for the benefit of the Maithripala or Ranil.” Joining the debate, Deputy Minister of Justice Sujeewa Senasinghe pointed out that the powers of the executive presidency were used by past leaders to increase their authority. He recalled that former President Mahinda Rajapaksa came into power promising to abolish the executive presidency but did not carry out the promise. “The 19th Amendment is not to strengthen the powers of the UNP or Ranil Wickremesinghe. This may not be a complete amendment but let’s take it as a start for the betterment of future generations.” Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe informed Parliament during the debate that the Government was in agreement to remove the provisions that mandated criminal prosecution for private media organisations that did not comply with the Election Commissioner’s orders during the polls. Opposition Leader Nimal Siripala De Silva charged that the decision to remove the provision had been a result of submissions made to the President by the SLFP.