19A Passed with major Amendments

Published : 9:32 am  April 29, 2015 | No comments so far |  | 

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By Kelum Bandara and Yohan Perera

The much awaited 19th Amendment to the Constitution was passed in Parliament yesterday, mainly after the Government agreed to incorporate a clause proposed by the Opposition that the Constitutional Council should consist mostly of MPs.

 
Also the next contentious clause that the President should seek the advice of the Prime Minister when appointing members to the Cabinet was also amended upon agitation by the Opposition. It was replaced with the clause that requires the President to consult the Prime Minister only if the former wishes.

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Besides these, the Government altered a number of other clauses at the insistence of the Opposition — which commands a majority in the House. The committee stage debate dragged on for more than three hours, barring a 15 minute suspension for the translations of amendments into Sinhala if originally made in Engish, and into English if originally made in Sinhala, at the request of the Opposition. The committee stage was taken up only at 11.00pm.
The Constitutional Bill was put to the vote at 7.00 pm. Leader of the House Lakshman Kiriella called for a division. There were 212 votes for and one against with one abstention. Ten MPs were absent when the vote was taken.

 
There were last ditch attempts, to bring about a consensus between the two main groups in Parliament. Finally, the government conceded to a key demand by the Opposition, particularly, the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP), to appoint at least seven MPs to the Constitutional Council.

 
The Prime Minister said the Government had agreed to it though his party held a different view. The Government also agreed during the committee stage to incorporate an amendment proposed by MP Tissa Vitarana that each independent commission should be held answerable to Parliament — excepting the elections commission.
Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, on behalf of the Government, shot down an amendment proposed by MP Sajin de Vass Gunawardane.

 
The Government also held back a clause that provided for an increase in the size of the Cabinet in the event there was a national government. Instead it was left open for Parliament to decide in that event. Otherwise, Cabinet would be restricted to 30 members –  and the deputy and state ministers to 40.

 
“The Prime Minister said the Government had agreed to it though his party held a different view. The government also agreed during the committee stage to incorporate an amendment proposed by MP Tissa Vitarana…..”

 
Upon objection by the Opposition, the Government also withdrew the clause that blocks MPs from seeking relief from the lower courts when disciplinary action is taken against them by their parties. Mr. Rajapakshe announced this after Mr. Gunawardane threatened to call for a separate division on this clause.
During the day there were consultations among the parties. But consensus on some of the clauses was only reached well after 5.00pm.

 
The debate was taken up in the House on Monday, with the President appealing to the MPs across the political divide to think beyond the confines of their individual parties and to support the enactment of the 19th Amendment.
The Constitutional Bill seeks to prune some powers of the executive president and to set up independent commissions by reviving the 17th Amendment to the Constitution. It is proposed to establish a Constitutional Council that can appoint members to the independent commissions.

 
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The Constitutional Council will include the Speaker, the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition by virtue of their office. Five members from different relevant fields were slated to be appointed by the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader in consultation with each other according to the initial draft. It was proposed that two more nominees be appointed by the President and the minority parties in Parliament. However, the appointment criteria were changed after the incorporation of the new clauses.

 
The Opposition, including a section of Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP) and the Democratic Left Front (DLF) advocated the position that the Council should be a body comprising members of parliament.

 
Finally it was agreed that it should consist of at least seven members of parliament, including the Speaker, the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader.

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