Sumanthiran urges MPs not to go in ‘reverse gear’ in direction of autocracy

Sumanthiran urges MPs not to go in ‘reverse gear’ in direction of autocracy

October 22, 2020   04:34 pm

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TNA parliamentarian M.A. Sumanthiran says that the people of the country did not give President Gotabaya Rajapaksa the mandate to strengthen the Executive Presidency or even to retain it, at the last presidential election.

Making his remarks today (22) during the parliamentary debate on the 20th Amendment to the Constitution, he said that out of the 20 amendments to be made to the Constitution that have come through the House, only two amendments had more than 200 members voting for it. 

He said the 17th Amendment was passed in the House with only one member abstaining and that the 19th Amendment is the other amendment that was passed in the House with only one member, MP Sarath Weerasekara, voting against it.

“I should congratulate Honorable Sarath Weerasekara for a consistent stand at least. Although I did not agree with you then and don’t agree with you today. But at least you have been consistent,” he said pointing at the SLPP MP. 

“The others cut very sorry figures here today, having raised their hands to propositions that are diametrically opposite. In opposite directions.” 

“That’s the vicissitudes of politics, they might say but it’s not honorable conduct,” he added. 

When the 17th Amendment and the 19th Amendment was passed, why was it that almost the whole House approved it, he questioned. “Why did it happen? It didn’t happen for any other amendment, but those two.” 

Because those had the total approval of our people that this country must remain a democratic country, he said. “That messy as it is, democracy is the way that we have chosen and that’s the way, that’s the path we will tread.”

“Democracy is messy. We know that. All of us know that. Discussion deliberation takes time and sometimes it is costly even. But that is democracy. That is people’s rule. That’s how you ensure that it is the people’s will that eventually materializes.”

Sumanthiran said that the Minister of Justice had yesterday quoted him saying that he had conceded that there were problems with the 19th Amendment. 

“Yes I agree that I have said that and I am able to say it even today. There were snags.” 

However, those were brought about more because of the last minute Committee Stage amendments that were “forced” in this House and due to certain changes that the Supreme Court required, he said. 

Sumanthiran said that the 19th Amendment was to be the first step in the process of abolition of Executive Presidency. “It was in that direction and this House had every right, indeed the duty, to proceed in that direction.” 

He stated that from the mid-1990s there has been a consensus in this country that the Executive Presidency must be abolished. 

“In the last presidential election this country did not give President Gotabaya Rajapaksa the mandate to strengthen the Executive Presidency or even to retain it. It was never articulated in that way,” he said.

“What was stated was that the 19th Amendment is a problem and we will get rid of 19th Amendment,” the TNA MP added. 

“If the 19th Amendment is a problem yes those problems ought to have been identified and those ought to have been corrected. You don’t have to go in reverse gear. You don’t have to travel in the opposite direction to democracy in the direction of autocracy. That’s a wrong thing being done in this amendment.” 

He said that is why TNA leader R. Smapnathan said yesterday that they have made their decision. “We have always made our decision on principle and in principle we are opposed to this.”

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