The Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB)-led Opposition, yesterday (29) pledged to work with the National Movement for Social Justice (NMSJ) to scuttle the proposed 20th Amendment to the Constitution.
General Secretary of the SJB Ranjith Madduma Bandara made the pledge on behalf of its leader Sajith Premadasa, at a meeting chaired by NMSJ Chief former Speaker Karu Janasuriya at Hotel Janaki in Colombo 5.
The Opposition grouping reached a consensus on a common action plan to oppose the 20th Amendment both in and outside parliament.
The SLPP commands a two-thirds majority in Parliament whereas the main Opposition consists of 54 members.
The Opposition held the meeting as the Supreme Court began hearing petitions filed against the 20th Amendment. The audience was informed that as many as 39 cases against the government had been filed.
Jayasuriya declared that they had the backing of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), Thamil Makkal Thesiya Kuttani (TMTK), the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) as well as the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU).
However, the JVP wasn’t represented at the meeting. Defeated Gampaha District candidate Arjuna Ranatunga represented the UNP, while lawmakers Mano Ganesan and Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam addressed the gathering on behalf of the Democratic People’s Front and Ahila Illankai Thamil Congress, respectively.
The former Speaker recently succeeded Prof. Sarath Wijesuriya, who took over the civil society organization in late 2015 following Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera’s demise.
Alleging that the 20th Amendment would grant dictatorial powers to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Jayasuriya strongly criticized the proposed law on six specific reasons, namely (1) the parliament would be reduced to a puppet in the hands of the President (2) the executive wouldn’t be answerable to the parliament, the judiciary and the people. Those institutions coming under the purview of the President wouldn’t be subjected to the auditing process (3) politicisation of the entire election process (4) facilitating waste, corruption and irregularities by abolishing the Audit Service Commission and the National Procurement Commission (5) weakening of the judiciary and (6) enabling dual citizen to enter parliament.
Both Jayasuriya and Maddumabandara pointed out that the government project faced unexpected opposition with growing protests against the proposed law.
SJB MP Rajitha Senaratne told the gathering that they would conduct a countrywide protest campaign on Oct 5 against the 20th Amendment. It would be followed by a rally at Hyde Park on Oct 8, where all political parties represented in parliament and civil society groups were scheduled to participate.
MP Senaratne found fault with the media for not vigorously campaigning against the 20th Amendment.
Jayasuriya led the call for the government to abandon the hasty bid to enact 20th Amendment and take tangible measures in consultation with all stakeholders, both in and out of parliament to introduce a new Constitution acceptable to all communities.
The government was warned of dire consequences of unilateral efforts to enact 20th Amendment that would deliver a knockout blow to democratic way of life. Dr. Senaratne alleged that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s recent declaration that public servants should accept his verbal directives as circulars, signaled an extremely dangerous trend.
MP Mano Ganesan said that the urgent requirement today was to address the national question. Declaring that the national issue couldn’t be addressed by enacting the 20th Amendment, he urged the government to abandon the project. Instead of 20th Amendment, the government should initiate immediate action to bring in a new Constitution, he added.
Among those present on the occasion were civil society activists Constitutional Council member Javid Yusuf and Prof. Rohan Samarajeeva.
The Opposition fiercely attacked the SLPP bid to do away with State auditing process. “How could the SLPP justify abolishing the audit process?” MP Ganesan asked, claiming that many government members were disappointed at the way the ruling party handled the 20th Amendment. Opposition speakers insisted the SLPP couldn’t justify 20th Amendment by claiming the 19th Amendment had been introduced to keep the Rajapaksas at bay.
The NMSJ said that it was ready to lead a high profile campaign similar to the one which had paved the way for the change of government in 2015. The NMSJ said that the SLPP shouldn’t misrepresent the mandates it received at presidential and parliamentary polls, in Nov 2019 and Aug 2020 to bring about a dictatorship.