By Shamindra Ferdinando
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has assured civil society groups, the National Joint Committee (NJC) and Yuthukama that the proposed 20th Amendment to the Constitution would be rescinded to pave the way for a new draft.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa gave this assurance at a meeting with Manohara de Silva, PC and lawmaker Gevindu Cumaratunga last Friday (11) evening at the Presidential Secretariat. Manohara de Silva is also a member of a special committee headed by Romesh de Silva, PC, to formulate a new Constitution.
The meeting took place close on the heels of Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekera, on behalf of the Federation of National Organizations (FNO) urging President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to alter the 20th Amendment.
Earlier, the SLPP said that changes, if necessary, could be made at the Committee Stage in Parliament.
The SLPP also dismissed the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) threat to move the Supreme Court against the 20th Amendment on the basis the Attorney General cleared the 20th Amendment draft.
Also on the same day, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa named a nine-member group headed by SLPP Chairman and Education Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris to study the proposed 20th Amendment in the wake of growing protests by even those who backed the SLPP at both 2019 presidential and 2020 parliamentary polls. The Premier’s committee includes putative chief architect of the hotly disputed 20th Amendment Justice Minister Ali Sabry, PC as well as Labour Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva, who represents the SLFP. With 13 elected on the SLPP ticket and one on the SLFP ticket, the latter is the second largest in the government parliamentary group.
The Premier has called for their report by Tuesday (15) according to a statement issued by the Premier’s Office under the hand of his Media Secretary Rohan Weliwita.
Addressing the media at Sri Sambuddha Jayanthi Mandiraya yesterday (13), SLPP National List member Gevindu Cumaratunga appreciated swift response of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa to concerns expressed by them. In spite of the SLPP having a two-thirds majority in Parliament and the means to ensure the 20th passage, the top leadership responded to public concerns. Lawmaker Cumaratunga said.
Cumaratunga said that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had declared his readiness to withdraw the present draft 20th Amendment and re-submit a rectified draft. The lawmaker said that in spite of the 20th being a temporary measure to remove obstacles placed by the treacherous 19th Amendment, they were determined to take remedial measures.
In response to a query by The Island, the MP said that the public shouldn’t mix concerns expressed by them with those who still believed the 19th was the panacea for all our ills.
The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL), too, last Friday named a special 14-member group headed by Nihal Jayamanne, PC, to examine the 20th Amendment. The Executive Committee of the BASL and the Bar Council will make recommendations in respect of the 20th Amendment once Jayamanne handed over his report.
Cumaratunga asserted that the decision to submit a fresh draft wouldn’t cause a delay in the process. “We are determined to remove serious hindrance caused by the 19th. It launched a debilitating blow to the presidential system of governance by diluting his/her powers as part of an overall strategy to weaken the state,” Cumaratunga said.
Dr. Amarasekera too appreciated the President’s decision.
Political sources told The Island that the government parliamentary group last Tuesday (8) discussed the urgent need to address issues caused by the proposed 20th Amendment. Members had pointed out shortcomings/mistakes at the meeting chaired by Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa though decision to appoint a team led by Prof. Peiris had been taken on Friday, sources said. A section of the parliamentary group had been seriously concerned and disappointed over the way the government expedited the process at the expense of transparency, sources said.
Meanwhile, Industry and Commerce Minister Wimal Weerawansa, addressing a public gathering at Avissawella on Saturday (12), explained Premier Rajapaksa’s decision to table an altered 20th Amendment soon in parliament. According to Weerawansa, who is also a member of Prof. Peiris’s team, said that the leaders of political parties in the SLPP-led coalition decided to submit a fresh draft at a meeting chaired by the Prime Minister. The minister said that examination of the 20th Amendment would begin tomorrow (15).
Minister Weerawansa pointed out that the 20th Amendment in its present form once approved in parliament couldn’t be challenged in the Supreme Court. The National Freedom Front (NFF) leader said such a measure was unfair by the people. The minister pointed out that when changes made in the Committee stage couldn’t be challenged in court. The previous government denied the public chance to challenge 19th Amendment by incorporating changes in Committee stage, the minister said, underscoring the need to allow the public an opportunity to move court even against Amendment/law if they felt a particular Amendment/law violated their rights. There were countries which allowed such public challenge, the minister said. The minister emphasized the need to introduce a new Constitution.
Lawmaker Cumaratunga said that they couldn’t take the issue lightly especially in the backdrop of the previous administration causing debilitating damage to the existing governance structure. The readiness on the part of the President and the Prime Minister marked the beginning of a new era where the top leadership swiftly and decisively acted on public concerns