The passing of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was a milestone that was achieved by the good governance regime. It was passed by an overwhelming majority, which shows that many were affected by the addiction of having executive powers. In a candid interview carried out by our sister paper Deshaya, Leader of the Opposition; Nimal Siripala de Silva has expressed his views on this move. Following are the excerpts:
Though the UPFA say that they had performed an exemplary task in the passage of the 19th Amendment, many hold the view that you all tried to defeat it?
The UNP proposed that the journalist can be sent to three months in jail. We brought in amendments at the committee stage and changed it. We proposed that the Constituent Assembly should consist of MPs as we felt that the executive powers of the President should not be vested with outsiders. These are not disruptive proposals. What we did was correct the clauses that were objectionable and extended our support for the adoption.
There was a consensus within your group that, if the SLFP agrees not to support this bill, it would never be passed, and in that event would your group be held as public enemies?
That is what I say that with our support the Bill was passed. After obtaining our votes, why are they blaming us?
What we observed was bringing in amendments to every clause with the idea of creating an anti-government attitude and disrupt the entire process...
These amendments were discussed with the government and agreed upon. These critics are those who are not aware of Constitutional Amendments.
Whatever you say, did you call for a division with the idea of putting the government into a difficult position?
That is Parliamentary procedure. Certain amendments were accepted and some were rejected. In that event a division is called. But it never led to a division, and if it had then the proposals of the government would have been defeated. We had to show the power of the majority, as we cannot be ruled by a minority. The majority considered what was right and they voted for it.
When the 18th Amendment was brought in, the same Parliament had the so-called majority, but there was no issue...
That was a different issue.
No, is it something interwoven with this?
When the 18thAmendment was brought in, it had only a minor clause to be changed. But in this Amendment there are several clauses such as Right to Information, new commissions etc., You cannot compare this with the 18thAmendment.
The clause may have been a minute one but the Amendment brought in serious consequences. Prof. G.L. Peiris did not show his prowess as a lawyer as displayed this time when the 18thAmendment was brought in?
Yes, legal arguments should be made. Not one day, but several days would be taken by Parliament to debate certain Amendments.
During the debate on the 19thAmendment, most of the Speakers regretted having raised their hands, in support of the 18thAmendment, and feel ashamed. Does that not prove that they had voted against their conscience at that time?
The atmosphere that prevailed during the time the 18thAmendment was brought in was completely different. Now everything has been changed. The mistake committed by us by voting for the 18th Amendment was corrected by our voting for the 19th Amendment, and why keep on harping on the same issue?
Some are querying as to why - as the leader of the Opposition - you did not intervene during this debate?
We had divided the legal arguments among our team. The Amendments proposed were all agreed upon by our team. It is not the proper way for only the Leader of the Opposition to speak and keep obstructing others from raising their voices.
MP Wimal Weerawansa had stated that during this debate it was made clear to everybody as to who the real Opposition Leader was...
That was the view that he had expressed. I do not want to reply to him as he is not a member of the SLFP.
Had there been a subtle move to increase the number of Ministers to 100 to establish a National Government; by both the SLFP and the UNP?
Yes, it is a practical solution. Presume that the SLFP does not have the majority, and then it would lead to anarchy. I think that would be the UNP’s position as well.
It is now said that President Maithripala Sirisena made the SLFP proud by being its leader. But he created that position by obtaining the votes of other parties. What is your take on this?
Yes, he won by the votes of the UNP. It is history and nothing wrong in that. He did not leave the party but he is
But he is indebted to the UNP...
He contested under the symbol of Swan and he did not join the UNP. He paid off the debt to the UNP by appointing Ranil Wickremesinghe as the Prime Minister, even though he represented a minority group in Parliament.
While you are the Opposition Leader, is a certain group meeting separately as the United Opposition?
That is another group from the Opposition. We have no issues. Whatever they say, we will be facing the next elections as one group, and definitely we will establish an SLFP government.