Cabinet approves move to curb President

[TamilNet, Thursday, 29 August 2002, 08:13 GMT]
(News Feature) The constitutional standoff between Sri Lanka's President Chandrika Kumaratunga and the government of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe deepened this week as state media reported that the cabinet Wednesday adopted the 18th amendment which seeks to curb the powers of the President to dissolve parliament whilst also precluding action against members who vote for same.

The state-owned Daily News reported Thursday that the United National Front (UNF) government adopted the proposed 18th amendment at a cabinet meeting Wednesday "in a move to restore the supremacy of the legislature."

ranil_wickremesinghe_6.jpgThe cabinet also resolved to allow the President till September 3rd to state her views on the Amendment, the paper said, adding that Kumaratunga was out of the country at present.

The cabinet went ahead and took up the draft at the meeting despite a directive by the President insisting that matters related to her authority not be discussed in her absence. Kumaratunga flew to London last week on a private visit. But her failure to attend Wednesday's meeting is seen in the light of a strongly worded statement issued by the Presidential Secretariat Tuesday challenged the validity of the cabinet action and the amendment itself.

The statement protested that "though the Cabinet has taken the decision (to discuss the 18th amendment) no Cabinet paper seems to have been made available to the Members of the Cabinet prior to the meeting on August 21."

However the Daily Mirror reported Wednesday that copies of the draft amendment were handed over to Opposition parties in Parliament on Tuesday.

chandrika_kumarathunge_5-p.jpgThe government needs support from MPs from Kumaratunga's main opposition People's Alliance (PA) party if it is to secure the two thirds majority in Parliament to pass the amendment. As such the bill crucially also includes protection for MPs who vote against party directives from disciplinary or punitive action.

"It is also learnt that the Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapakse appointed a committee comprising PA Parliamentarians with legal expertise to go through the document," the Daily Mirror said, adding that "The PA would decide on the matter after the committee report was received."

But the Presidential Secretariat insisted the President was unaware of the 18th amendment: "The President is still awaiting the proposed Cabinet Paper which is purported to be on the amendments to the constitution concerning the President's powers. She requires time to consider such amendments in consultation with her advisors."

However the Island newspaper said Thursday that Kumaratunga would respond on September 1 at the convention of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) which is the main constituent of the PA.

"(The President) will take advantage of a gathering of the SLFP leadership at Bogambara on Sunday to explain her stance on a range of contentious issues including the peace process," the paper said, adding that The entire SLFP parliamentary group, Provincial Councillors, local government members and electoral organisers have been asked to attend.

"The president will take the opportunity to publicly reject the government's move to hastily amend the Constitution for its own advantage," The Island quoted political sources as saying.

Whilst the UNF government which, campaigning on a pro-peace platform, swept the PA from power last December is bringing the 18th amendment up to protect itself from Kumaratunga’s considerable powers, the move is being widely welcomed given the two protagonists' respective stances on the Norwegian peace initiative.

The Sunday Leader newspaper, which is seen as close to the UNF said in its editorial: "The obstacle to peace is not the PA or the SLFP: it is a small band of cynical extremists led by Kumaratunga. ...As important as a vibrant opposition is to keep the government on its toes, the obstacles to peace must be weeded out one by one. And Wickremesinghe's decision to start with Kumaratunga is entirely correct."

In its editorial Wednesday, the Daily Mirror pointed out: "All Tamil parties are now supporting the peace process. So is the main Muslim party, (the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress) and even PA coalition partners. President Chandrika Kumaratunga, still blowing this way and that, faces a tryst with destiny."

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