By Chandani Kirinde
A Cabinet meeting was hurriedly summoned last afternoon to obtain approval to rush the 20th Amendment to the Constitution, which seeks to abolish the Executive Presidency, through Parliament, but was stopped on its tracks after a group within the United National Party (UNP), as well as three minor parties, opposed the move.
There were heated arguments at the meeting, with Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera strongly objecting to the move, saying the proposal must be withheld until the Presidential Election is concluded, while Ministers Rajitha Senaratne and Ravi Karunanayake spoke in support of pushing the 20th Amendment through Parliament before the poll.
The opposition from minor parties came from Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) leader Rauff Hakeem, Democratic People’s Front leader Mano Ganesh, and Tamil Progressive Alliance leader Palany Thigambaram.
However, it was not clear who had initiated the proposal, with sources at the Prime Minister’s office saying that it was President Maithripala Sirisena who wanted the matter discussed, while others hinting Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was behind the move.
While there was no Cabinet paper related to the issue, what was up for discussion was the possibility of presenting the 20th Amendment to the Constitution to Parliament next week for approval, and thereafter to put it to a referendum, and leave the final fate of the Executive Presidency in the hands of the people.
However, early on, there were signs that the faction in the UNP/UNF that supports the candidature of Minster Sajith Premadasa was opposed to the move. Minister Harin Fernando was among the first to make public the group’s displeasure, saying “any move on this should happen after the Presidential Election” and “talk of abolition after an election being called is not correct.”
Hakeem, who spoke to reporters after the meeting, was critical of the move and hinted the Prime Minister was behind it. “This proposal comes because of a defeatist mentality that we cannot win the Presidential Election,” he said. Premadasa, too, said the hurried proposal might have been the result of ‘Sajith-phobia’ which has set in since he announced his intention to contest on the UNF ticket.
Yesterday’s move also exposed the deep divisions among political parties on the issue. Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MP M. A. Sumanthiran tweeted last evening that he is disappointed with those who oppose the move to abolish the Executive Presidency.
“Disappointed with the “Yahapalanayas” who oppose the move to abolish EP. Selfishness and opportunism at its worst. Abandoning your promises and mandates got [sic] over quarter of a century? @TNAmediaoffice will support abolishion [sic] at whatever time based on policy and not expediency,” he tweeted.