- Parliament council to be set up instead of the Constitutional Council
- President could dissolve Parliament only after it completes two and a half years of its term
- Emergency Bills only on national security matters and during disasters
By Yohan Perera and Ajith Siriwardana
The 20th Amendment to the constitution was approved by a two-thirds majority in Parliament yesterday with eight opposition members voting with the government. Some 156 members voted in favour of the legislation and 65 members against.
SJB MPs Nazeer Ahamed, Ishaq Rahman, Faizal Cassim, A. Aravindh Kumar who is a member of Tamil Progressive Alliance, Diana Gamage, M. S. Thaufiq, Ali Sabri Raheem and Mohammed Haris voted in favour. Four members out of the eight who voted for the 20th Amendment from the opposition represent the SLMC.
Former President Maithripala Sirisena was absent during the time of voting while members of SLFP led by him voted in favour of the Amendment. MP Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe who publicly stated he would not vote for the 20th Amendment voted in favour of it at the end. Minister of Justice Ali Sabry who wound up the debate said the 20th Amendment was a temporary move as a new constitution is being drafted. “This new constitution would be a catalyst of unity,” he said.
Leader of Opposition Sajith Premadasa earlier called for the governing system with checks and balances and thereby stressed that his party favours a system where power is shared by the President and the Prime Minister.
The 20th Amendment leads to the formation of a Parliamentary Council which comprises Prime Minister, Speaker, Leader of the Opposition, a nominee of the Prime Minister who shall be a Member of Parliament, a nominee of the Leader of the Opposition who shall be an MP.
The President will have more powers including the power to appoint, remove Prime Minister, members of the Cabinet. Under the Amendment introduced during the committee stage, the member of Cabinet is limited to 30 while deputy, non-cabinet and state ministers will be 40. However, the number of ministers will be determined by Parliament in the case of a national government.
The legislation also provides the provision to increase judges in the Court of Appeal and Supreme Courts to address the backdrop of cases which is 4,000 in each court.
SJB owner justifies decision to vote in favour
“Some say we have accepted money, but we have not taken a cent. I voted in favour as I feel that the country needs a powerful President. Why should we elect a president spending a huge amount of funds, tie him and throw him into a river,” she said.
Ms. Gamage said she would remain with the SJB though she went against the party’s stand on the 20th Amendment.