In a vital week of what is evolving as a new era in Sri Lanka’s history, the 19th Amendment will be debated and hopefully passed by a two-thirds majority in Parliament – despite threats by the Government’s coalition partner, the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU).
Minister and JHU General Secretary Patali Champika Ranawaka has said the party would oppose a vital clause, which provides for the Prime Minister, not the President, to become the Head of the Cabinet of Ministers. Mr. Ranawaka says this crucial clause was not in the draft Constitutional Amendment approved by the Cabinet last month and he had accused Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe of smuggling in this clause.
But Premier Wickremesinghe has refuted this charge, saying the draft amendment approved by the Cabinet, was then sent by the Presidential Constitutional Advisor Jayampathy Wickremaratne to the Attorney General, who in turn submitted a copy to the Supreme Court.
Several petitions for and against certain clauses in the amendment are now being heard by a three-member Supreme Court bench, headed by Chief Justice K. Sripavan and the ruling is expected to be sent to the Speaker this week. Government leaders say they would make whatever changes recommended by the SC and the much-awaited 19th Amendment is expected to be debated and passed in Parliament this week.
This will be the fulfilment of the main promise made in the manifesto of the New Democratic Front coalition headed by President Maithripala Sirisena, who received a mandate for it directly from the people at the January 8 Presidential Election.
On March 15, the two main parties – the United National Party (UNP) and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) – formed a National Government for the first time since independence 67 years ago. Government leaders said the main purpose was to secure a two-thirds majority in Parliament to pass the 19th Amendment and the 20th Amendment to be presented later this month for electoral reforms. Since March 15, Sri Lanka has seen a strange equation or paradox in Parliament, with the SLFP having one foot in the government and the other in the Opposition. SLFP front-liner Nimal Siripala De Silva is now the Leader of the Opposition but a ruling is expected from the Speaker this week amid calls by some for him to give up that post.
These conflict within conflict and divisions within divisions in the SLFP, are being compounded by the emergence of factions supporting former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who during the past few weeks has been accused of using temples as political platforms in a comeback bid. It is in such an unbalanced and uncertain scenario, that Minister Ranawaka is threatening to block the 19th Amendment unless the vital clause is amended.
He claimed over the weekend that he could muster enough support from “this way-that way” SLFPers to the extent that the government would not be able to get a two-thirds majority. The people of Sri Lanka would hope that some consensus on the middle path could and would be reached before the 19th Amendment is debated and put to a vote in Parliament. Political analysts believe the key role in breaking this deadlock needs to be played by President Sirisena who is also the leader of the SLFP, with support from former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunge, who is now a policy planner for the party.
At a meeting of the National Executive Council last week, President Sirisena reportedly cracked the whip and told the coalition government partners that they need to put petty party politics aside and get down to work to fulfil the main promises made in the onehundred-day programme of the government.
One of the major promises is the abolition or the drastic devolution of power from the Executive Presidency which especially during the past five years, led to a breakdown in the Rule of Law, a quasi dictatorship and a colossal plunder of billions of rupees in public funds by political leaders, their stooges or cronies and underworld supporters involved in heroin, ethanol, casinos and other rackets. President Sirisena has repeatedly insisted that in the new era or political culture that began on January 8 all politicians must rise beyond personal gain or party glory and work for the common good of all people of all races and religions. Politics will not and cannot be a business and there must be no greed for power, the President has insisted.
Those who cannot follow this vision and mission are free to go into any pigsty or mud hole. Never again, yesterday.