Sri Lanka heads for elections – reports

[TamilNet, Thursday, 17 October 2002, 12:49 GMT]
(News Feature) Sri Lanka’s cabinet Wednesday unanimously endorsed a proposal by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to go for a general election instead of a referendum on the 19th Amendment to the constitution that the Supreme Court is expected to demand, newspapers reported Thursday.

Whilst the state-owned Daily News said the polls would be conditional on a Supreme Court ruling that blocked the passing of the 19th amendment, the Daily Mirror claimed that the Court had in fact stated that a referendum was necessary – and also ruled a key clause in the bill as illegal.

The Court’s rulings are expected to be revealed to Parliament next week.

The government’s decision to go for a general election instead of a referendum was made at a pre-cabinet meeting and the decision conveyed to the Premier at the cabinet meeting, the newspapers said.

“The Ministers have expressed confidence that the [ruling] United National Front would be able to receive a stronger mandate at a General Election,” the Daily News said.

The decision to go for early elections was also taken by the UNF political committee on Tuesday, the Daily Mirror said.

Other suggestions proposed by cabinet ministers such as “to drastically cut allocations to the President, to impeach her, to abolish the executive Presidency by electing an Executive Prime Minister,” were also suggested to the Premier, the Daily Mirror added.

The speculation about a general election – Sri Lanka’s third in as many years - was fuelled Thursday by comments by Constitutional Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris to reporters.

"The government does not intend to have a referendum. We don't think it is appropriate," he was quoted by Reuters as saying.

"Because we are dealing with a whole range of issues, it might therefore be important to make an appeal to the people of Sri Lanka," he said. Asked if he was referring to an election, Peiris replied: "That is one way of doing it."

The 19th amendment is intended to curb President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s powers to dissolve Parliament after its first year in office – which would be from December 5 for the UNF government.

To pass the bill through Parliament, the government needs a two-thirds majority and is relying on the support of rebel MPs from Kumaratunga’s People’s Alliance (PA).

Clause 6 of the proposed bill permits a conscience vote, protecting MPs who vote against Party directives from being expelled. But the Supreme Court had deemed the clause illegal, the Daily Mirror reported

“But the Supreme Court order has given the government an opening by including a caveat suggesting that the present one-year ban on the dissolution of Parliament by the President could be extended to three years if necessary simply with a two-thirds majority. The Court held that no referendum was required for such a provision,” the paper said.

 

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