By Ashwin Hemmathagama
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.