Parliamentary and the Judiciary powers being transferred to Executive Presidency: 20A paves way for autocracy – Sumanthiran

By Gagani Weerakoon | Published: 2:00 AM Oct 23 2020

By Gagani Weerakoon

The 20th Amendment to the Bill paves the way for autocracy, with some of the powers that had been vested with Parliament and the Judiciary by the 19th Amendment being transferred to the hold of the Executive Presidency, Jaffna District Tamil National Alliance Parliamentarian, M.A. Sumanthiran PC, pointed out in Parliament yesterday (22).

Participating in the second reading stage debate on the 20th Amendment, he said: “I register my opposition to the Bill before us because this is in the wrong direction. Out of the 20 Amendments that came to this House, there are two Amendments that had more than 200 MPs voting for them. That was the 17th Amendment to the Constitution which was passed here with one MP abstaining and the 19th Amendment that had been passed with only one MP voting against it. 

Sarath Weerasekera voted against it. Although I do not agree with his standpoint then and today, I should respect Weerasekera for his consistency shown in opposing the 19th Amendment then and now. The others cut very sorry figures here today, having raised their hands for propositions that are diametrically opposite, in opposite directions. That is the vicissitudes of politics, they might say, but it is not honourable conduct. When the 17th and 19th Amendments were passed, why was it that almost the entire House voted for them? It did not happen with any other Amendment. 

This was because those Amendments had the total approval of the people and their opinion was that this country must remain democratic. Messy as it is, democracy was chosen. But that was the right path. Democracy is messy, costly and time consuming in its deliberations but that is the path that we should take. I vividly remember the discussions we had in and outside the chamber and how the committee stage dragged on till midnight with the then Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe PC leading us through by explaining the content of that Bill. 

So many amendments were moved from the Opposition side by Dinesh Gunawardena, Professor Tissa Vitarana and Vasudeva Nanayakkara. All but one got together and agreed to those amendments. I agree that the incumbent Justice Minister quoted me as saying that I conceded that there were problems with the 19th Amendment. Yes, I agree that the 19th Amendment has some snags. The 19th Amendment was the first step in the process towards the abolishing of the Executive Presidency. There had been a consensus in this country since the mid-1990s to abolish the Executive Presidency. For a quarter of a century, the country had repeatedly granted mandates to remove the Executive Presidency. 

“The 19th Amendment created two centres of power as it reduced some powers of the Executive Presidency. But that was only a temporary measure because it was meant to move forward towards democracy. This country did not give a mandate to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to strengthen the Executive Presidency. The mandate was given to do away with the 19th Amendment which had problems. Those problems have to be identified, and those ought to have been corrected. You do not have to go in reverse gear. You do not have to travel in the opposite direction of democracy towards the direction of autocracy. That is wrong and that wrong is done by this Amendment. That is why we oppose it.”

By Gagani Weerakoon | Published: 2:00 AM Oct 23 2020

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