A crucial breakthrough

The Government made a crucial breakthrough yesterday by winning provisional support from the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) for the 20th Amendment to the Constitution.

The TNA pledged conditional support during a meeting which party seniors held with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe based on assurances that several amendments would be introduced to the draft Bill during the committee stage. The provisions that would have enabled Parliament to exercise the powers of the Provincial Councils while they stood dissolved will be among those to be removed, Daily FT learns.

Attorney General Jayantha Jayasuriya also attended yesterday’s meeting to discuss the contentious constitutional amendment which has been defeated by two provincial councils, with the Northern and the Eastern provincial councils deferring to vote until 7 September.

During the discussions the TNA members had insisted that their support for the 20th Amendment was contingent upon amendments to be adopted during the committee stage. The debate is expected to take place during the third week of September.

The Prime Minister held discussions with the Attorney General and several party leaders regarding the amendment on Monday and Tuesday. The current draft of the 20th Amendment has already been defeated by two provincial councils, with the Northern Provincial Council deferring its vote to 7 September along with the Eastern Provincial Council.

“We have agreed to support the 20th Amendment if certain amendments are made during the committee stage discussions. The Government needs the support of the TNA if they are to pass the proposed amendments. The AG is to inform the Court about the amendments to be incorporated,” TNA MP M.A. Sumanthiran, who was present at the meeting, told Daily FT.

“We discussed the matter with the Prime Minister and it was evident that the purpose of this amendment has not been communicated to the public correctly. There are a number of changes to be brought to the proposed 20th Amendment as well, and these were discussed at the meeting,”

Provincial Councils and Local Government Minister Faiszer Musthapha, who participated in the meeting, is to present a Cabinet Paper at the special Cabinet meeting summoned today. The Cabinet Paper is likely to recommend the implementation of the Mixed Member Proportionate System with 60% held under the Westminster (First-past-the-post) system and 40% under the Proportional Representation (PR) system – which was introduced through the Local Authorities Elections (amendment) Bill passed by Parliament – for the Provincial Council Elections.

The Steering Committee of the Constitutional Assembly has already made a decision to employ the same electoral system in Parliamentary Elections as well.

While there is no necessity to amend the Constitution to change the electoral system, an amendment is needed to hold all Provincial Council Elections on the same day, Sumanthiran said.

“Although the amendment looks like an attempt to postpone the elections, the bona fide exercise is to ensure that elections are held on the same day and to bring about the change in the system,” he said.

“The delimitation process will also take about a year. So there is no need to postpone the elections to 2019. A decision was taken to hold elections in a year’s time when the process is complete.”

However, Sumanthiran highlighted that these reasons have not been communicated to the public clearly. Following the discussions, elections of three provincial councils, whose terms will expire in October, will be postponed by one year, while the elections of three others will be advanced by one year.

Further, provisions brought in the 20th Amendment to control any Provincial Council which is dissolved before its term through Parliament will also be amended. The discussion has focused on two options – appointing a caretaker Government or opting for an election to appoint councillors for the remainder of the term.

“We are not agreeable to the current provision. The control has to stay within the province. However, it cannot be in the hands of the Governor either. So it has to be either a caretaker government or an election to appoint members for the unexpired period,” Sumanthiran said.

The 20th Amendment has already been defeated by the Southern and Uva Provincial Councils, while the Western Provincial Council has decided to postpone the debate on the matter. The Northern Province, controlled by the TNA, and the Eastern Province, where the TNA holds a majority, will decide on the amendment on 7 September.

“On our request the Northern Province postponed its decision to 7 September and the Eastern Provincial Council will decide on the same day. If an agreement is reached on the changes to the 20th Amendment which can be incorporated during the committee stage of the Parliamentary debate then we can vote in favour of the amendment,” Sumanthiran said. (Daily FT)

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