20A passed with 2/3 majority | Sunday Observer

20A passed with 2/3 majority

25 October, 2020


The Government easily secured a two-thirds majority in Parliament on Thursday (October 22) to pass the Bill titled the Twentieth Amendment to the Constitution with 156 MPs voting for and 65 MPs voting against the Bill. The SJB, NPP, TNA and several other Opposition MPs from different independent parties voted against the Bill. The Constitutional Amendment would strengthen the hand of the President and restore the powers that were stripped from the President under the 19th Amendment to the Constitution introduced by the former Yahapalana Government.

All Government members voted for the Bill and several Opposition MPs also voted for it. As a notable feature, eight Opposition MPs, SJB National List MP, Diana Gamage, SJB Anuradhapura District MPs Ishak Rahuman and M.S. Thowfeek, SJB Digamadulla District MPs H.M.M. Harees and Faizal Cassim, SJB Badulla District MP A. Aravindh Kumar, SLMC Batticaloa District MP Naseer Ahamad and MNA Puttalam District MP A.S. Raheem also voted with the Government lawmakers.

SLPP Parliamentarian Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe who was a strong critic of the 20 th Amendment also voted in favour. Former President and ruling party MP Maithripala Sirisena who brought the 19th Amendment was reportedly not present during the voting at both stages.

The final vote was taken on Thursday night at the end of the two day debate on the Bill which was strongly opposed by Opposition lawmakers. During the third reading of the Bill (Committee Stage) the Government introduced several amendments, some in keeping with the determination of the Supreme Court and others suggested by those within the Government. Chief Opposition Whip, Lakshman Kiriella asked for a division on the clause on permitting dual citizens to enter Parliament and when that particular clause was put to vote it received 157 votes for and 64 votes against.

Conscience

SJB National List MP, Diana Gamage, told Parliament on Friday (October 23) that she voted with the Government according to her conscience on the previous day when the vote was taken on the 20th Amendment to the Constitution because she loved the country over her party affiliations.

Participating in a debate at the time of the adjournment of the House, MP Gamage said, “We must love our country over political affiliations. I take an example from history. In ancient Rome, Caesar was stabbed. Among those who stabbed Caesar was his close friend Antonio. After stabbing Caesar, Antonio came to address the Romans with the bloodstained knife and told them what happened.

“Then the Romans questioned him and asked him how he, being the close friend of Caesar stabbed the latter. Antonio said that he loved Caesar but his love for Rome was much more than that. Likewise, I did too when I voted with the Government. I have my party but I love the stability of my country. That was why I voted with the Government for the Amendment.

“We all are representatives of the public. We have a duty to our people. It is the people who bore our cost and the expenses of this House. We must give priority to people and act according to their wishes. I have great respect for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the people gave him a mandate to develop this country. I am sure that he would do that.

“He cannot do that being shackled by the 19th Amendment. You cannot expect a person whose hands are tied to swim against the current. We must set him free and then hope he would swim. People wanted to do away with the 19th Amendment. Therefore, I voted to pass the 20th Amendment,” she said.

Sheer lack of manpower and improper coordination resulted in the failure of SJB’s attempt to disrupt Wednesday’s Parliament sittings by staging a protest against the 20th Amendment to the Constitution. SJB MPs arrived at the Parliament in a motorcade led by Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa, proceeded to walk to the Chamber wearing facemasks printed with vinashakari vissa epa (No to destructive 20) and red armlets similar to the Nazi armband with a logo against the 20th Amendment instead of the black swastika in the white circle.

The motorcade comprising around 25 MPs and their vehicles started from the Opposition Leader’s office at Marcus Fernando Mawatha arrived at the Parliament roundabout at the Polduwa Junction and proceeded along the road to the Parliament. After alighting from their vehicles, the SJB MPs followed Opposition Leader Premadasa shouting ‘vissa epa’ (No to 20) around 9.45 am. They remained wearing the protesting facemasks and armlets in the Chamber but their protest did not draw the support of other Opposition parties including the JVP and TNA.

SJB Parliamentarian Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka told Parliament on Thursday that there are some in the SJB who speak foolishly. Field Marshal Fonseka was referring to a remark made by SJB MP S. M. Marikkar on Wednesday that military persons cannot engage in politics. Fonseka said “One MP tried to imply that military personnel are not capable of engaging in politics.

However, I must say that there are four former US Presidents who happened to be Generals. One such person left the military when he was elected President of the USA. I am sad that there are MPs in our camp who talk in an absurd manner.” Field Marshal Fonseka confronted a ruling party MP whom he accused of saying that the former Army Commander had raped a woman soldier and said, “this member does not know the truth, as no such thing could happen in the Army where officers are disciplined. It was this MP who sold Ganja hidden under vadai in the past.”

Heated exchange

There was a heated exchange of words in Parliament between Minister Wimal Weerawansa and SJB MP Ranjan Ramanayake during the 20th Amendment debate when Weerawasna accused Ramanayake of influencing judges while the latter tabled a recording of a conversation he had with Shashi Weerawansa.

The Minister accused Ramanayake of talking to Padmini Ranawaka who was a member of the three-member bench which sentenced former MP Duminda Silva to death. Ramanayake then started playing a recording of a phone conversation he had with Shashi Weerawansa. He said, “I will table this recording. I have many recordings of conversations which I have had with wives of many MPs. I was not allowed to table these during earlier occasions.” However, this resulted in the exchange of hot words and accusations at each other.

Navin joins fray

Former UNP parliamentarian Navin Dissanayake has said that he will contest the UNP Leader’s post. Speaking at a recent media conference, Dissanayake said that if the current UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe decides to step down then he will come forward and contest for the post. He said only the UNP Working Committee cannot decide who should be the UNP leader. Dissanayake said that the opinion of the UNP supporters and all members should be sought to appoint a new leader. He said the UNP lost the last Parliamentary election as most of the UNP supporters did not vote.

Mechanism

Health Minister, Pavithra Wanniarachchi told Parliament that a mechanism is in place to trace contacts and added that Opposition Leader, Sajith Premadasa, who visited a hotel in Yala recently was swiftly informed that he was a second contact.

“That was done because of the effective mechanism in place,” she said. Opposition Leader, Premadasa, said he followed the health advice of the doctors. Minister Wanniarachchi said Sri Lanka was the first country in South Asia which started PCR testing and added that it took three months to complete 50,000 PCR tests but 100,000 PCR tests were done within seven days after the Minuwangoda cluster.

SJB Vanni District MP, Rishad Bathiudeen, who is in remand custody was brought to Parliament on Thursday clad in Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) as a precaution as he’s under 14-days quarantine before being shifted to the prison. MP Bathuideen who was taken into custody on October 19 and subsequently remanded was brought to Parliament by prison authorities in keeping with a written request from the Serjeant-at Arms.

The MP was also allocated a special seat inside the Chamber to ensure social distancing. Party Leaders in Parliament on Wednesday decided to facilitate the MP to attend sittings in keeping with the Parliament (Powers and Privileges) Act.

UN anniversary

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, participating in the celebration to mark the 75th anniversary of the United Nations, reiterated Sri Lanka’s commitment to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. “We are firm in our commitment to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, and create a greener and more sustainable environment for the future,” Premier Rajapaksa said.

“I call upon my fellow world leaders to work collectively in restoring compassion back to the eco-system in our respective countries.” Due to the prevailing pandemic, the event took place virtually under the theme “Shaping Our Future Together.” In his remarks, the Premier thanked the United Nations for providing support to Sri Lanka in a wide range of sectors and highlighted the importance of member states supporting the United Nations in becoming a “more agile and accountable institution.”

Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena has been urged to probe an attempt to assault Minister Wimal Weerawansa at the Parliament complex on October 21. SJB Parliamentarian Nalin Bandara who drew the attention of the House said that the attempt to assault the Minister threatens the security of Parliament.

He said that SLPP National List MP Jayantha Ketagoda had attempted to assault the Minister. The Speaker said that he will look into the matter. It was reported that Ketagoda had attempted to assault Weerawansa following a disagreement on the dual citizenship issue.

Weerawansa had reportedly complained to Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa over the incident. However, when inquired by a journalist at a media briefing held on Thursday, Minister Weerawansa said no such assault took place. He claimed MP Ketagoda had attempted to cause divisions within his party by presenting various proposals.

The SJB on Friday decided to expel the eight Parliamentarians who voted in favour of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution from the party’s Parliamentary Group. The decision had been made at a SJB Parliamentary Group meeting held under the patronage of party leader, Sajith Premadasa.

“The SJB decided to immediately expel from our Parliamentary Group all SJB MPs who voted with the Government to pass the autocratic 20th Amendment to the Constitution in violation of the unanimous SJB decision not to do so,” SJB MP Harsha de Silva said in a Twitter post. In a letter directed to SJB General Secretary, Ranjith Madduma Bandara on Friday, twenty two SJB MPs had expressed dissent over the conduct of the SLMC and ACMC members who supported the Constitutional Amendment during the vote in Parliament on Thursday.

They conveyed their appreciation to the Leaders of the two affiliated parties, MP Rishad Bathiudeen and MP Rauff Hakeem, for standing by the SJB’s unanimous decision to vote against the 20th Amendment. In addition, the SJB has decided to launch a disciplinary inquiry into its National List MP Diana Gamage who voted in favour of the draft bill of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution on Thursday.

SJB General Secretary Madduma Bandara told the media that SJB’s Assistant Secretary Diana Gamage went against the collective decision of the party by endorsing the 20th Constitutional Amendment. He denounced Gamage’s move as an insult to the SJB supporters.

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