Prez confirms PM’s assertion new govt. in place by Sept.


By Shamindra Ferdinando

President Maithripala Sirisena yesterday confirmed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s recent declaration that a new government would be in place by September this year.

The President, however, declined to indicate when Parliament would be dissolved.

The President was fielding questions at a meeting with the media and proprietors of media organizations.

Pointing out that the election date would be decided by the Election Commissioner, a smiling President Sirisena said that he wasn’t in the habit of consulting soothsayers regarding auspicious times.

Asked whether 20 Amendment to the Constitution would be in place before the next general election, he said that decision would be made by parliament soon.

The Commander in Chief asserted in no uncertain terms that he wouldn’t interfere in the on-going process meant to decide on electoral reforms. According to him, several rounds of talks would take place during this week to explore ways and means of reaching a consensus among political parties.

The dissolution of Parliament would be subject to the setting up of 10-member Constitutional Council in terms of the 19 Amendment to the Constitution, he insisted.

The President said that in the wake of the passage of the 19 Amendment, his next objective would be the general election.

Responding to a query, President Sirisena said that all members of parliament supported the new electoral system, though the majority preferred the next election under the existing PR system.

In spite of him being the leader of the SLFP, the President insisted that he allowed parliament to take the final decision on 20 Amendment. The President also asserted that the electorate needed at least a year to study a new system before a national level election could be held.

The former Health Minister in the previous government said he accepted the challenging task of being the Opposition presidential candidate on the basis of his understanding partners that the executive presidency would be either abolished or its powers drastically pruned.

In spite of having introduced the presidential system of governance in 1978, the UNP at its 1999 annual convention decided to abolish dictatorial powers enjoyed by the President. The SLFP had strongly opposed the executive presidential system right from the beginning; therefore by 1999 both major political parties in the country reached a common understanding on this contentious issue, he said.

The President admitted that he too in his capacity as the then General Secretary of the SLFP endorsed the 18 Amendment to the Constitution. Instead at of least doing away with the dictatorial features of the executive presidential system, the 18 A further consolidated the one-man rule.

President Maithripala Sirisena quoted his predecessor Mahinda Rajapaksa as having jokingly told a cabinet meeting that he brought in the 18 Amendment because he felt want for more powers.

"I pushed for drastic reduction of presidential powers. My Constitutional Advisor and the Attorney General briefed the Supreme as regards the presidential powers to be abolished. However, certain powers couldn’t be abolished due to the Supreme Court ruling that such a course of action needed to be endorsed at a referendum. Hence, we had to work in accordance with Supreme Court directive", the President said.

In spite of the failure on his part to go the whole hog due to the Supreme Court intervention, the President asserted that 19 Amendment had achieved some major objectives. The President pointed out that the 19 Amendment had enabled the Auditor General to scrutinise Presidential Secretariat expenditure, thereby restoring the supremacy of parliament. "The President is now answerable to parliament. That’s a significant improvement."

The President said that the vast majority of people appreciated what he had achieved within a short period of time, though his political opponents see differently.

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