President’s Policy Statement : Requests end to power struggle between the two main parties | Sunday Observer

President’s Policy Statement : Requests end to power struggle between the two main parties

President Maithripala Sirisena, inaugurating the second session of the eighth Parliament on Tuesday (May 8) said, given the challenges that the nation is facing right now, all parties should work together as this is the last opportunity for Sri Lanka to emerge as an unconquerable nation. The President’s speech highlighted what the National Unity Government has done in the interest of the people and the key pieces of legislation enacted during its three year tenure in office. He stressed that the last three years demonstrated the fact that the country is still lacking in political and social maturity needed to realise the objectives of a coalition government.

Delivering his Policy Statement which lasted about 35 minutes, at the inauguration of the new session of Parliament, the President stressed that the continuing power struggle between the Government and the Opposition, and within the political parties itself has been a formidable challenge to national progress in the last three years. He said, consensual political culture has provided the basis for many modern states, but it seems foreign to Sri Lanka. The power struggle in Government and in political parties in the past three years had driven the people to despair. However, referring to the criticism of the Government’s efficiency, President Sirisena reiterated, despite such criticisms, the Government has been able to achieve substantial progress, though there is a more to be done.

A main concern in the Policy Statement was that if we are to overcome challenges faced by the country, it is necessary to put an end to the power struggle between the two main political parties in the coalition government as well as the competition for power between the Opposition and the ruling party. The President described the post conflict situation management as a challenging task. Much has to be done to erase the war mentality ingrained in society for three long decades and establish communal harmony. He said, it is extremely difficult for the Government alone to do this, and invited all sections of society to help achieve this worthy objective.

The absence of several key Parliamentarians during the special parliamentary session when the President delivered his Policy Statement was conspicuous. Fifteen government MPs including UNP Chairman Minister Kabir Hashim and Assistant Leader Ravi Karunanayake were absent. Nearly eight Opposition members, namely, former President and MP Mahinda Rajapaksa, Chamal Rajapaksa, Namal Rajapaksa and Wimal Weerawansa were also not in the Chamber when the President addressed the House.

Quorum bell

Yet another highlight was that 16 SLFP MPs who voted for the No Confidence Motion against Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe crossed over to the Opposition ranks in Parliament a few minutes before the President’s Policy Statement. The 16 MPs led by former Minister Susil Premajayantha walked to the Opposition benches while the quorum bell was ringing. The JO MPs, in a jubilant mood, welcomed them, while a few members from the Government benches jeered at them. The crossing over of the 16 MPs paved the way to change the composition of Parliament with 129 MPs for the Government and 95 for the Opposition.

Some Government and Opposition lawmakers who spoke to the media at the traditional tea party expressed divergent views about the President’s speech. Agriculture Minister Mahinda Amaraweera said, the President’s speech at the inauguration of Parliament, while reflecting what was done by the government during the past three years, laid down the Government’s future plans. It is important for the people to read the President’s speech to realize what the Government has done during the past three years. However, JVP MP Bimal Ratnayake, claiming that the ceremony heralding the inauguration of Parliament was a waste of time and money said, they have requested the Speaker to reveal the cost of the ceremony. MP Ratnayake said, the President had not presented any fresh action plan and they didn’t view it as a useful move and added that nothing new would happen even after the inauguration of Parliament. He argued that Parliament was prorogued by the President to resolve the crisis in his party which resulted in a delay in carrying out parliamentary business.

The Government ensured the safe passage of the controversial Judicature (Amendment) Bill in Parliament on Wednesday (May 9) with a majority of 87 votes for the setting up of a Permanent High Court at Bar to expedite cases of large scale corruption and financial crimes. The Bill was passed with amendments, receiving 119 votes for and 52 against, following a division called by JO MP Wimal Weerawansa. The JO and SLFP members in the Opposition voted against the Bill. TNA voted with the Government while the JVP was absent. A notable fact was that 53 members, both, from the Government and Opposition ranks were absent at the time of the voting.

Even before the debate kicked off, the JO members agitated against the taking up of the Judicature (Amendment) Bill for debate, raising a number of procedural matters. They attempted to portray that the Bill was a witch-hunt of political opponents. They were of the view that the intention of the Bill is to transform the allegations levelled against some JO members into more serious cases. MP WimalWeerawansa charged that the Bill had not been referred to the Sectoral Oversight Committee and described it as a serious breach of Parliamentary procedure. He said, the Sectoral Oversight Committees of the previous session of Parliament were not valid and they have to be re-appointed. Refuting Weerawansa’s claim, the Speaker told the House, Standing Orders have clearly mentioned that Oversight Committees continue to function even after prorogation. JO Leader Dinsesh Gunawardena argued that the Bill needs to be passed with a two thirds majority as it has changed the provisions of the Constitution. Leader of the House and Minister Lakshman Kiriella, who clarified the position said all clauses of the Bill that the Supreme Court said was inconsistent with the Constitution have been duly amended.

Accusations

Winding up the debate, Justice and Prisons Reforms Minister Thalatha Atukorale said unlike during the previous Government, there is no preferential treatment to anybody before the law under this Government. There were accusations of a Bond scam, but now there are two persons behind bars in relation to that case which is being heard. The Minister queried “Could anyone expect such a thing during the former regime? Therefore, same law applies to former Central Bank Governor Arjuna Mahendran and former Sri Lankan Ambassador to Russia Udayanga Weeratunga. The Opposition submitted seven petitions against this Bill and it seems they feared the move would expedite cases of large scale corruption and financial crimes. Refuting the JO’s claim, Minister Atukorale said they are not targeting any individual or a group through this Bill and this is not a political witch-hunt against anybody.

Displaying the Government’s commitment to uphold democratic norms, a full day debate was given on Thursday (May 10) to both Government and Opposition members to air their views on the President’s Policy Statement. The Opposition members said there is nothing constructive in the President’s Policy Statement. Both the SLFP and UNP members in the Government referred to the President’s speech as an honest statement made by a Head of State on both the success and failures of the National Unity Government over the past three years.

Moving the Adjournment Motion on the President’s Policy Statement, JO Leader Dinesh Gunawardena called for dissolving Parliament to arrest the aggravation of the anarchical situation in the country. He said the President had failed to present a useful Policy Statement. He said what the President implied in his statement is that this consensual government is unable to rule the country.

JVP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake told the House the National Government experiment had failed and there was no National Government in the country right now. MP Dissanayake said that the UNP could not form a Government by taking 23 MPs of a party with 95 Parliamentarians and call it a National Government. “The Maithri-Ranil regime over the past three years was the most unsuccessful and unproductive, the country had ever experienced. No other Government had ever received such discontentment by the people in such a short period of rule. The President and Prime Minister have totally disregarded the mandate and expectations of the people and were merely embroiled in a power struggle. 

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