The fallout from last week’s hurried move to abolish the executive presidency continued to reverberate through Government ranks as Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe yesterday rejected the claim by President Maithripala Sirisena that it was the UNP leader who wanted an urgent Cabinet meeting convened for the purpose.
“The President telephoned me at 8.16 a.m. on the morning of 19 September (Thursday) morning. He asked me whether he should call a Cabinet meeting to discuss the 20th Amendment. I informed the President that the civil society had made a request that we do so. (TNA MP M.A) Sumanthiran had also informed me of the President’s stand on the matter. Therefore, I told the President that it is appropriate to call the Cabinet and discuss it. I said that we should call that meeting on Thursday or Friday,” the Prime Minister told party activists.
His remarks came hours after President Sirisena told a public gathering on Saturday that he had called the Special Cabinet meeting on Thursday only because Wickremesinghe wanted to present a Cabinet paper on the abolition of the executive presidency and that the Prime Minister message was conveyed to him by Minister Ravi Karunanayake.
“I told him (Karunanayake) that I can’t convene a Cabinet meeting without speaking to the Prime Minister and asked him to tell him to call me back. However, the Prime Minister did not call me back. Then I called him myself and asked him whether he wanted the Cabinet convened to discuss the abolition of the executive presidency. He told me they had discussed it with many other parties and had reached an agreement and asked me to convene the Cabinet between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Then I fixed the meeting for 3 p.m.,” the President said.
However, the Prime Minister’s version of events which led to Thursday’s fiasco was different.
He said that a group of civil society representatives met him last week where they reminded him of the promise of this Government to abolish the executive presidency.
“I informed them that our party had passed a resolution pledging to abolish the executive presidency in 2014 and that we would continue to advocate for it. They then asked for a Cabinet decision to support the 20th Amendment,” the Prime Minister said.
He said the group had handed him a draft bill on 16 September which was to be referred to the Cabinet at which point he pointed out to the group that the 20th Amendment could not be passed in Parliament without the support of the other political parties and had asked them to inform him of the views that these other parties had towards this matter.
“On 17 September, MP Sumanthiran told me they had held discussions with the JVP on the abolition of the Executive system. He further stated that the President had informed him that he was willing to support the 20th Amendment. I pointed out to Sumanthiran that the support of the United People’s Freedom Alliance would be needed for the resolution to be passed in Parliament. MP Sumanthiran has made a public statement regarding this. No one has rejected that statement,” Wickremesinghe said.
The Prime Minister also said that Ravi Karunanayake had not called him that day.
“At about nine in the morning, the Cabinet Secretary had informed my Secretary that the Cabinet meeting would be held at 3 p.m. Thereafter, my Secretary referred the draft that the civil society had given me to the Cabinet Secretary for use if needed,” he said.
The UNP leader said he had called the ministers from his Party at 2 p.m. and informed them of this matter at which point the discussion got very heated.
“Everyone was open and opinionated. There was no agreement regarding the 20th Amendment. Before I met the Cabinet, the President was informed that there was no agreement among the Ministers. At the beginning of the meeting, I informed the Cabinet Secretary in front of the President that there was no agreement among the ministers and that submitting the Bill to Cabinet would be useless.”
At the meeting, the Prime Minister said, he had summed up the views of the ministers and they too had made various comments and it was decided it was appropriate to leave the final decision to each party.
“If there is a question regarding the statements of the members of the Cabinet, it should be discussed in the Cabinet. Failure to do so would violate Cabinet tradition. I will only show what happened here. I will not insult anyone or make any remarks,” the Prime Minister noted.