Ranil Tells UNP WC His Plans Post-Leadership
By Gagani Weerakoon
Amidst controversies, criticism and attempts to submerge disagreements within their own ranks, the much anticipated report consisting amendments, recommendations and suggestions to the 20th Amendment draft Bill did not reach the table where the Cabinet of Ministers met last week. Instead, as per a senior Cabinet Minister, it was 'unofficially' discussed.
However, it was decided to table it in Parliament at its earliest. According to Deputy Secretary General of Parliament, the First Reading of the Bill will take place on Tuesday (22) as measures have been taken to include the 20th Amendment Bill in the Order Paper for the day. This will be the already gazetted Bill, as the Government made it clear that the amendments suggested by the Committee appointed by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa will not be regazetted. Those will be, if at all, included in the Bill during its second reading i.e. at the Committee Stage.
The original clauses of the 20th Amendment drafted will remain, but will be open for debate once it is presented to Parliament.
The Cabinet has also decided that once a new Constitution is discussed, certain clauses in the 20th Amendment which has proved to be controversial will also be taken up and changes will then be incorporated.
Clauses such as a dual citizen being able to contest for a parliamentary seat and the removal of the Public Service Commission, Functional Commissions, Office of the Secretary to the President, Office of the Secretary to the Prime Minister, and Offices of the Cabinet of Ministers, which are allocated funds from the State Budget and assigned to the Auditor General for auditing under the Article 154 (1) of the Constitution and placing it under the financial control of Parliament, will remain.
With criticism mounting, Prime Minister Rajapaksa appointed a committee chaired by Minister of Education Prof. G. L. Peiris to study the 20th Amendment to the Constitution.
Cabinet Ministers Udaya Gammanpila, Ali Sabry, Nimal Siripala de Silva, Wimal Weerawansa and State Ministers Susil Premajayantha, S. Viyalendran and MPs Dilan Perera and Premanath C. Dolawatte were appointed as the committee members.
The report of the committee was handed over to the Prime Minister on 15 September.
The Prime Minister appointing a separate committee, to study and recommend amendments to the 20th Amendment Bill, opened floodgates to various speculations. Some even questioned as to who was behind drafting it and what sort of a mockery it is that one brother appoints a committee to study an amendment to the Constitution drafted by the other brother.
Responding to these sceptical remarks, Cabinet Spokesman Minister Keheliya Rambukwella at the weekly Cabinet Media briefing said that the architects of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution were President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the Cabinet and as such the Government had no intention whatsoever to withdraw it simply because a plethora of divergent comments have been made about it.
President Rajapaksa and the Cabinet will take the full responsibility of 20A as the people have given a mandate to the SLPP Government and President Rajapaksa at two major elections to replace the 19A with the 20th Amendment, Minister Rambukwella added.
He also said the draft of 20A would be tabled in Parliament after two weeks from the gazette notification enabling any citizen or organisation interested in the draft amendments to file a petition in the Supreme Court for an interpretation within a week.
“We are ready to accommodate any positive and progressive amendment, suggestions of changes to the proposed amendments at the committee stage in Parliament. Therefore, no one must worry about the 20A as it is not something written on a stone. As a democratic Government we are ready to listen to all and accommodate their positive suggestions,” Minister Rambukwella said.
When 19A was introduced in the 100-day governance by the Yahapalana Government in 2015, no opportunity was given for a public debate like today, he added.
Responding to a journalist, Minister Rambukwella said the Cabinet agreed to the basic framework of the 20A and added it was drafted by the Cabinet and the Legal Draftsman.
In response to another query, he said the Government would not withdraw the 20A, but incorporate any suitable proposals or changes. The second reading stage of the 20th Amendment is most likely to be held in the first week of November and the Appropriation Bill for 2021will be tabled in Parliament, in the third week.
Meanwhile, Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that the proposed 20th Amendment to the Constitution may negatively impact on the independence of key institutions, including the National Human Rights Commission.
In her global human rights update to the 45th session of the Human Rights Council on Monday, Bachelet said she was troubled that the new Government of Sri Lanka is swiftly reneging on its commitments to the Human Rights Council since it withdrew its support for Resolution 30/1.
Among other developments, she said the proposed 20th Amendment to the Constitution may negatively impact on the independence of key institutions, including the National Human Rights Commission.
She also said, the pardon given in March to a former Army Sergeant convicted of participating in unlawful killings; appointments to key civilian roles of senior military officials allegedly involved in war crimes and crimes against humanity; and moves within the Police and Judiciary to thwart the investigation of such crimes, set a very negative trend.
“The surveillance and intimidation of victims, their families, human rights defenders, journalists and lawyers should cease immediately. I encourage the Council to give renewed attention to Sri Lanka, in view of the need to prevent threats to peace, reconciliation and sustainable development,” she said.
In response, the comments made by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, on the proposed 20th Amendment to the Constitution are unwarranted and pre-judgmental, based on presumption, Sri Lanka told the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC). Making a statement to the 45th Session of the UNHRC on Tuesday, Sri Lanka said the Draft 20A submitted through Parliament will be discussed, debated, following a complete democratic process, where all stakeholders will have the opportunity to present their views. The statement further said, the pardon to the former Army Sergeant was granted in terms of the powers and provisions of the Constitution of Sri Lanka.
“The Government rejects the references made to false and unsubstantiated allegations levelled against senior military officials being appointed to key positions of institutions.
Sri Lanka has consistently refuted the credibility of these allegations and wishes to highlight that the domestic processes such as the LLRC and Paranagama Commissions that examined these allegations particularly with regard to the last stages of the conflict, have not found substantive evidence against any of the senior military officials referred to in this regard.
In the absence of any substantive proof, Sri Lanka considers that the continued arbitrary accusations on crimes or crimes against humanity made against these senior military officials are unacceptable and a violation of the principles of natural justice,” the statement said.
Sri Lanka further said, “We hope that this Council would appreciate that Sri Lanka, while successfully containing the spread of COVID-19 through a balanced, multi-sectoral approach, and despite this challenge, held its commitment to the democratic processes, and conducted Parliamentary Elections successfully and peacefully, last month, which the EU has acknowledged.
Ranil's Retirement Plan
When the UNP Working Committee (WC) met last Monday Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe revealed what he plans to do once he retired from the leadership.
That was amidst arguments whether there should be a secret ballot or not to select the Deputy Leader.
At the beginning of the WC meeting, former Minister Vajira Abeywardena distributed a booklet written about him.
"Are you planning on contesting for the Deputy Leader post?" a few asked.
"My aim is in the leadership and not this. However, I am even ready to accept the Deputy Leader post and work only if it is given to me unanimously without a vote," Vajira responded.
Former State Minister of Defence Ruwan Wijewardene was elected Deputy Leader at a secret ballot.
A secret ballot was conducted when both Wijewardene and Assistant Leader Ravi Karunanayake informed the Working Committee that they would contest for the post. Wijewardene was elected as the Deputy Leader with a majority of 18 votes. He polled 28 votes while Karunanayake polled 10 votes.
Working Committee member Vijeyakala Maheshwaran was not present and Leader Wickremesinghe did not cast his vote.
Wijewardene after being elected as the new Deputy Leader said he will compete for the party leadership as well in the future.
“I will also compete for the party leadership in the future. The party will continue with the present leadership for a few months after which a new leader would be selected. My only intention now is to reorganise the party and bring back the glory it enjoyed in the past. I will travel to every corner of the country and reorganise the party,” he added while highlighting that he would not go to Parliament through the National List.
Wickremesinghe meanwhile, informed the party Working Committee that he is willing to resign from the leadership at any moment.
He said this in response to a few members of the Working Committee who had said the party should not suffer any more over leadership struggles. He also said that he only will stay till a conducive environment for the new leader to take forward the party is created.
"I finally will have time for myself and the family. I can also finish writing about three four books that I've been planning to write for few years," he said. UNP General Secretary Akila Viraj Kariyawasam has informed the party higher-ups that he is willing to resign from the post.
Kariyawasam told journalists that he did so since it was time to make changes to the party.
“I offered to resign before the elections as well but some UNPers did not understand the fact that there should be unity among party members. Some parted without understanding this fact,” he added.
He also said the reorganisation process of the party had already begun and other posts including the leadership will be changed in the future.
Sajith's preferred Presidency
Leader of Opposition Sajith Premadasa said his party Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) is for retaining Executive Presidency with reduced power and with checks and balances among the three arms of Government.
Speaking at a seminar titled ‘Let's defeat 20th Amendment’ in Colombo on Tuesday, Premadasa said he and his party is for a three-pillar system of Government and does not want the powers of both President and Prime Minister curtailed.
“I was a firm believer of Executive Presidency initially, but began to favour a Presidency with reduced power with the happenings in this country both in 2014 up to 2015. We are looking towards establishing a system where the three pillars of the Government do not try to overcome one another. USA is a great example for us as the Congress, Senate and the President work together as the need arises. There is a secret consultation system in the USA especially when it comes to matter, such as defence in the USA where all parties are consulting before taking any important decision pertaining to defence such as taking military action. Sri Lanka also should have such a developed system,” he said.
At the same time, he said SJB will work towards defeating the proposed 20th Amendment.
Meanwhile, some SJB members have expressed hope in working together with UNP in future under a new leadership.
This comes in the wake of the newly elected Deputy Leader Wijewardena saying he is prepared to work together with SJB in future.
He said this after participating in religious observances at the Gangarama Temple in Hunupitiya.
“SJB members were originally from the UNP. Some of them have been talking to me during the past few days and I am prepared to work with them in the future,” Wijewardene said. “My priority is to bring back the UNPs glorious days and give it a new outlook. I will have a dialogue with all concerned to unite the party once more."
Wijewardene said he would have a discussion with Assistant Leader Ravi Karunanayake and get his support for the welfare of the party. “He is a matured politician who has done much for the party. We need his services,” he said adding that the UNP Working Committee would decide on a nominee to fill the National List slot.
He also said the party would oppose the 20th Amendment and ensure that democracy prevails in the country.
Gangarama Temple's Viharadhikari the Ven. Kirinde Assaji Thera in his Anusasana advised Wijewardena to follow the advice of the Maha Sangha and the other religious leaders and work closely with them when carrying out party affairs. “UNP is a giant tree but it has been damaged by the winds that struck the party. Its roots have been exposed and it is you who should see that the tree is fixed firmly to the soil and help this tree to produce new branches,” the monk said.