President gives Parliament six-month ultimatum

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President Ranil Wickremesinghe said, if Parliament fails to reach an agreement on electoral reforms, he will hold a referendum and ask the country which system they prefer.

He said, he will convene Parliament to state unequivocally that they must agree on electoral reform, despite the fact that the parties are arguing among themselves.

He made these remarks during a meeting with Samantha Power, Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), who is in Sri Lanka on a two-day official visit.

The President also said they will bring
anti-terrorist legislation.

“I am calling the Parliament to declare unequivocally that they must agree on electoral reform. This has been going on for a while. The parties are arguing with one another. I give them a six-month period. If they do not, I will hold a referendum to determine which system the country prefers. Political parties cannot continue to put this off indefinitely. They will have to bite the bullet at some point. So, if they refuse, I will hold a referendum on the major reforms,” he said.

The President also said former Speaker Karu Jayasuriya and Victor Ivan developed the grassroots concept of people’s councils.

He added that they are providing them with whatever financial assistance they require, and that officials at the grassroots level have been asked to promote the concepts. “As a result, it will not be done by us. Even with the Galle Face movement, people at the village level must be allowed to express their opinions. So, in the 14,000 basic units, there will be 14,000 people’s councils,” he explained.

He also said discussions have taken place with Tamils regarding detention under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. “We have agreed on a formula that will set off the period in detention against the judgement, and since they have all had more than ten years, no judgement will be more than ten years,” he said.

He also emphasised the novel idea of including youth representation in committees, where their ideas will be given due consideration.

“In addition to the Members of Parliament, there will be five youth representatives, all of whom are under the age of 35. They may ask questions through the Chairman, but they may not contribute to the main report. However, we are providing them with an addendum so that they can say whatever they want on the report. It will then be published. This is the first time it has happened in the world, and we must choose five members. We have a Youth Parliament that will legislate and bring it under the law,” Wickremesinghe said.

The President also emphasised the need for anti-corruption legislation, which was recently approved, and the Women Parliamentarians’ Caucus has been asked to draft the Women’s Equality and Empowerment Bill. “I believe that is the first, and the first for the region. A private member’s bill to decriminalise homosexuality has been introduced. And I stated that the Government would not oppose it. We support it, but you must gain the support of individual members. It is a personal matter for them,” he added.

Samantha Power, Administrator, US Agency for International Development (USAID), Julie Chung, United States Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Sonali Korde, USAID Deputy Chief of Staff, Änjali Kaur, USAID Deputy Assistant Administrator of the Bureau for Asia, Gabriel Grau, USAID Sri Lanka Mission Director, Anamika Chakravorty, Political Officer, US Embassy, State Minister of Foreign Affairs Tharaka Balasuriya, Chief of Staff Sagala Ratnayake, President’s Secretary Saman Ekanayake, Foreign Ministry Secretary Aruni Wijewardane, Finance Ministry Secretary Mahinda Siriwardana, and Advisor Dr. R.H.S. Samaratunga participated in the meeting.