In another commendable middle-path compromise by the Yahapalanaya government the Cabinet yesterday approved the 20th Amendment for electoral reforms, with the number of seats being increased to 237. At a special cabinet meeting last Monday approval was given for a draft presented by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe with the number of seats being maintained at 225—125 on the first-past-the-post (FPP) system, 75 under the proportional representation system and 25 on the national list. But the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) led by the Mahinda Rajapaksa loyalists and the Jathika Hela Urumaya were insisting on the number of seats being increased to 255. The UNP and most of the party representing the minorities stuck to their 225 figure.
President Maithripala Sirisena rising in his stature as a Statesman working above and beyond petty party politics yesterday again worked out a compromise as he did to get the crucial 19th Amendment passed on April 28. In terms of the new draft of the 20th Amendment 145 MPs will be elected on the FPP system, 55 on PR and the rest on the national list.
The draft 20th Amendment has now been sent to the Attorney General and is likely to be gazetted next week perhaps on Monday. According to the law two weeks will be given for any party, movement or individual to go to the Supreme Court challenging the Constitutional validity of the draft amendment. It is likely that the draft will be taken up for debate in Parliament during the first week of July and we hope all parties will respond to President Sirisena’s appeal to rise beyond party politics and give a two thirds majority.
In the meantime, most analysts also hope that the appointments to the Constitution Council will be approved by Parliament so that the CC in turn could act fast and give priority to the appointment of the independent elections commissions and the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC). The Independent Election Commission needs to be appointed fast so that the upcoming general elections could be conducted in a free and fair manner without the abuse of State funds or resources and public servants. The CC would also need to act fast to appoint the CIABOC because this important Commission is now crippled after one of the commissioners resigned. In terms of the 19th amendment only the CC could appoint a new Commission.
At present a crisis has erupted over the work of the newly appointed Financial Crimes Investigation Department (FCID) of the police. Former President Rajapaksa and his loyalists are alleging that the FCID was appointed with a party political agenda while the United People’s Freedom Alliance’s Southern Provincial Council member U. V. Upul went to the extent of warning that FCID detectives would be stoned to death if the SLFP comes back to power. He has now been arrested and remanded but many Rajapaksa loyalists continue to attack the FCID on the basis that complaints to it have to be channelled through Cabinet Subcommittee headed by the Prime Minister. Government leaders have explained that anyone could make allegations of financial crimes to the CID or the Police while the cabinet subcommittee will decide on the priority issues that should be handled by specialised detectives in the FCID.
Another ongoing crisis is the move by some UPFA or SLFP members to get nomination for former President Rajapaksa to contest the upcoming general elections. Parliamentarian Arundika Fernando said in a TV debate on Thursday that a UPFA delegation had met President Sirisena this week to ask that nomination be given to Mr. Rajapaksa. Mr. Fernando said he had learnt that President Sirisena had turned down the request on the basis that if Mr. Rajapaksa becomes the Prime Minister he would be only ‘one bullet away’ from the Presidency. What that all means is questionable but it is quite clear from President Sirisena’s recent tough statements that he has no intention of giving Mr. Rajapaksa nomination or allowing him to become Prime Minister.
For the common good of the country we hope all parties will go alone with the vision and goals of President Sirisena for a new political culture and a National Government where all MPs will give up their desire for personal gain or party glory and sincerely work for the people on the principle of country first.