By Shamindra Ferdinando
The UNP has stepped up pressure on President Maithripala Sirisena to abolish the executive presidency without further delay or face the consequences.
Key government strategist MP Dr. Jayampathy Wickramaratne, PC, spearheading the new constitution-making process and Deputy Minister of Power and Renewable Energy Ajith Perera yesterday emphasised that their post-presidential election understanding with President Sirisena in respect of the abolition of executive presidency wasn’t negotiable.
UNPers said so at a meeting at the new town hall organised by a trade union collective backing ongoing high profile government project to introduce the new Constitution.
Among those on the podium were Health Minister and government spokesman Dr. Rajitha Senaratne, UNP Badulla District MP A. Aravindh Kumar, Convenor of the National Movement for Social Justice (NMSJ) Prof. Sarath Wijesooriya and trade union activist Saman Ratnapriya.
At the beginning of the conference, Ratnapriya stressed that their initiative was aimed at strengthening the government’s constitution making project.
Dr. Wickramaratne said the UNP had backed Maithripala Sirisena’s candidature as he had accepted to do away with the executive presidency. Had Sirisena not accepted that, the UNP wouldn’t have backed him at January 2015 presidential polls, the MP said.
According to the LSSP stalwart appointed on the UNP National List the executive presidency should have been abolished during President Sirisena’s 100-day programme. However, that plan had to be abandoned as President Sirisena couldn’t muster the required support among UPFA MPs. The constitutional affairs expert said that had they been able to keep to their original plan a referendum would have taken place ahead of the parliamentary polls in 2015 August.
Asserting that President Sirisena remained committed to abolish executive presidency in accordance with his understanding with the late Ven Maduluwawe Sobitha and the UNP, Dr Wickramaratne said the SLFP should support President Sirisena to fulfill his obligations.
Dr Wickramaratne insisted that their flexibility on those issues shouldn’t be construed as readiness to give up the insistence on a referendum.
Comparing President Sirisena’s promised stand on a new Constitution with that of his predecessor Mahinda Rajapaksa, who in his manifesto for the last presidential poll had promised a new Constitution, Dr. Wickramaratne said that both would have had to adopt the same path, namely referendum followed by a two-thirds majority in parliament.
Dr Wickramaratne discussed the reports that had been submitted by six sub committees that dealt with fundamental rights, judiciary, law and order, public finance, public service and centre– periphery relations. He also explained the Steering Committee’s interim report that dealt with six vital subjects, nature of the state, executive, parliamentary elections, principles of devolution, religion and state land.
The MP claimed that they hadn’t even thought of a Draft Constitution yet.
Deputy Minister Perera without naming names alleged that some leaders had directed their henchmen to justify the continuation of the executive presidency so that they could contest again. The UNPer warned that had they failed to reach consensus on far reaching constitutional reforms soon, there would be another presidential election in three years.
Attorney-at-law Perera said that the UNP wouldn’t change its stand on the proposed new Constitution under any circumstances. Perera said: “We want a brand new Constitution subject to a referendum. There is absolutely no requirement for 20th Amendment or some other Amendment. What we need is a brand new Constitution.”
Deputy Minister Perera said that it would be a grave mistake on the SLFP’s part to believe pressure could be applied on the UNP to give up its push to abolish executive presidency.
Commenting on the ongoing simmering controversy over the UNP bid to do away with the unitary status of Sri Lanka, Deputy Minister Perera said that wouldn’t be acceptable to his party. The UNPer declared that they could decide on some other word in place of Orumittha Nadu to reach consensus on the matter.
The UNPer said that contrary to allegations the proposed new Constitution couldn’t be adopted subject to referendum through a clandestine operation. A smiling Deputy Minister Perera said that such political objective couldn’t be achieved through secret project as it would be subject to a countrywide referendum.
The Deputy Minister also responded to allegations that the UNP wanted to do away with the executive presidency to pave the way for UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe to function as executive PM. The UNPer declared there was absolutely no basis for such claims. Referring to what he called failed Israeli and Japanese experience, Deputy Minister Perera said Sri Lanka could never have a system not practiced in any part of the world at the moment.
Perera said that the UNP was of the view that the next President shouldn’t be elected by the people. The UNPer explained how they could reach agreement on a selection process involving the parliament.