‘Defeat fault of President, Premier: 19-A ensures continuation of cabinet’
February 19, 2018, 10:44 pm
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Constitutional affairs expert and National List MP Dr. Jayampathy Wickramaratne yesterday said the 19th Amendment to the Constitution guaranteed the continuation of the existing cabinet of ministers, including Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Dr. Wickramaratne, who had played a pivotal role in introducing the 19th Amendment, stressed that the piece of legislation prevented the executive taking unilateral measures in a time of crisis.
The MP said so, addressing the media at Samasamaja Piyasa, Rajagiriya, where the United Left Front (ULF) explained its stand on the outcome of the Feb. 10 local government polls and simmering political crisis caused by the Joint Opposition/ Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) emerging victorious.
Dr. Wickramaratne was flanked by senior party officials Jagath Hemachandra, Keerthi Kariyawasam and Chameera Perera.
However, the yahapalana constituent faulted President Maithripala Sirisena and PM Ranil Wickremesinghe for the drubbing the unity government had received at countrywide polls three years after 2015 January presidential polls.
Dr. Wickramaratne said the 19th Amendment had strengthened the parliamentary system though for want of required two-thirds UNP-SLFP (Maithree faction) vote, the unity government had no option but to dilute some provisions to secure the support of the other political parties represented in Parliament.
In spite of them not being able to formulate the 19th Amendment to the Constitution to their original expectations, it was certainly sufficient to thwart anticipated moves against the unity government.
The MP emphasised that decisions couldn’t be made at the expense of Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, whose advice in respect cabinet appointments was a perquisite.
Commenting on JO/SLPP demand for the dissolution of the Cabinet, Dr. Wickramaratne said that would be possible only if the government failed to secure parliamentary approval in respect of policy statement, budget or lose a no-faith motion.
In addition to those safeguards, the executive couldn’t dissolve parliament until the completion of four and a half years of five-year term secured by the UNP at 2015 Aug general election, Dr. Wickramaratne said. The MP stressed that certain provisions had been included to ensure stability.
In an obvious reference to the SLFP contemplating quitting the unity government, Dr. Wickramaratne said that in that case the number of ministers would be reduced to 30 and the number of state ministers and deputy ministers to 40 in terms of the 19th Amendment.
Dr. Wickramaratne pointed out that Wickremesinghe had been sworn in as the Prime Minister before the formation of the unity government following August 2015 parliamentary polls. In fact, in addition to Wickremesinghe, Mangala Samaraweera and Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC, had been sworn in as foreign and justice ministers, respectively, Dr. Wickramaratne said.
Reiterating his longstanding call for the abolition of the executive presidency, Dr. Wickramaratne pointed out that the current debilitating crisis highlighted their failure to dilute executive powers further. Calling for comprehensive constitutional reforms, he added that the executive enjoying special powers was certainly inimical to good governance and accountability and was a severe problem.
Dr. Wickramaratne said that after further diluting executive powers, the President should be elected by Parliament.
At the onset of the briefing, Western Provincial Council member Keerthi Kariyawasam blamed President Sirisena and PM Wickremesinghe for pursuing political strategies inimical to the unity government. Yahapalana leaders were accused of betraying the 2015 mandate to follow what he called future private agendas at the expense of those who had voted for a genuine change.
Acknowledging that the unity government had suffered a major setback, Kariyawasam pointed out that the administration had been able to implement democratic reforms to a certain extent, in addition to the 19th Amendment to the Constitution and the enactment of the Right to Information Act.
The ULF alleged that President Sirisena had gravely undermined yahapalana by intervening on behalf of the Buddhist clergy, armed forces and officials responsible for crimes and corruption during the Rajapaksa administration. Premier Wickremesinghe, too, had adopted a similar strategy in respect of the former President and his family, Kariyawasam said, adding that yahapalana leaders, instead of taking tangible measures against them, reached an understanding with the corrupt much to the disappointment of ULF.
The failure to bring in Rajapaksas and their henchmen before a court of law dealt a heavy blow to the government, the left alliance alleged. The failure was described as the primary reason for their defeat.
The ULF also found fault with President Sirisena and the SLFP for regularly criticizing government economic policies, in some instances unfairly. Declaring some SLFP criticisms weren’t acceptable, the ULF asserted while explaining how the Joint Opposition exploited the situation to its advantage. The economic policy couldn’t be implemented for want of a common stand on strategy, the ULF said, asserting it was the second cause for the poor performance.
Kariyawasam, who addressed the gathering on behalf of attorney-at-law Lal Wijenayake, General Secretary of the ULF alleged that the treasury bond scams involving Perpetual Treasuries Limited allegedly perpetrated in 2015 and 2016 had been the third reason for their downfall. Pointing out that the first scam had taken place before 2015 Aug parliamentary polls, the grouping alleged PM Wickremesinghe not only turned a blind eye to the massive fraud, he also shielded the then Central Bank Governor Arjuna Mahendran. Treasury bond scams resulted in the suppression of corruption charges directed at the Rajapaksas and their henchmen, the ULF claimed, pointing out that President Sirisena caused irreparable damage by attacking the UNP over treasury bond scams. The battle between the President and the PM in the run up to Feb. 10 polls gave an advantage to Rajapaksa’s group, thereby causing a very unfortunate situation.
The ULF expressed satisfaction that those opposed to the Rajapaksas could secure much more votes than the ‘fascist’ grouping at Feb. 10 polls.