Support for 20 A: What would the Muslim MPs get in return? by M.S. Ayub

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Muslim parliamentarians in the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB), who form part of the Opposition in Parliament, have questions about the regime’s patriotic claims after it obtained the support of a few Muslim MPs to pass the 20th A (Pic AFP)


  • Had former President Maithripala Sirisena voted for it Aluthgamage’s prediction would have been exact
  • The relationship between the politicians of the ruling parties and the Muslims has not been in good terms in the recent years

Will the Government bring in a new Constitution replacing the 2nd Republican Constitution with its 20 amendments during its tenure? This question has to be raised as the Government has passed a separate Constitutional amendment, the 20th Amendment on October 22, which has awarded almost dictatorial powers to the President.
Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said days ago that 75 percent of the proposed new Constitution making has been completed whereas the Justice Ministry has requested the general public to submit proposals, ideas or view on Constitution making to the experts committee appointed by the Cabinet to draft the new Constitution,
before November 30.

While the nine-member experts committee headed by Romesh de Silva PC is supposed to do its job independently, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has given an assurance to the supporters of the Government, who agitated against the government’s move to allow the dual citizens to enter Parliament through the 20th Amendment, that their grievances would be addressed through the new Constitution. It is also interesting to note that the experts committee was appointed on September 3 and the Justice Ministry’s request to the people has been made more than a month later.

Since the main objective of Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) during the Presidential Elections and the Parliamentary Elections – the removal of all the restrictions that had been imposed on the President by the 19th Amendment – has been achieved with the passage of the 20th Amendment, the purpose and the realisation of a new Constitution remains vague.

On the other hand, will the Government go behind the minorities, especially the Muslims – who are extremists according to the SLPP and its allies – to pass the new Constitution as well? They said that they would not get the support of the “extremists” to win the Presidential and Parliamentary elections and kept their word. They again said so even on the day prior to the 20th Amendment was passed in Parliament, but now it is clear that they had struck a deal with the “extremists” beforehand, in respect of the adoption of the Amendment. Four out of five MPs of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) and two out of Four MPs of Rishd Bathiudeen’s All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) voted in favour of the Amendment.

Was this the deal referred to by Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith on October 4 when former Minister Rishad Bathiudeen’s brother Riyaj, who was in CID custody for more than five months, was released? When Riyaj was arrested on April 14 police spokesman SP Jaliya Senarthna said that they had credible evidence that Riyaj had links with the terrorists who attacked the Christian churches and tourist hotels on Easter Sunday last year. The same police spokesman who had in the meantime been promoted as SSP told the media on October 2 that Riyaj was released in the absence of sufficient evidence needed for them to prosecute him.
The SLPP and its allies have 150 members in Parliament out of which one member serves as the Speaker. Therefore it was clear that the party had to strike a deal with one or more Opposition parties to obtain the two thirds majority to pass the 20th Amendment Bill. Without at least the faintest knowledge of such a deal the ruling party members would not have been so confident of the passage of the Bill. Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage, before the passage of the Bill, boastfully said that the Bill would be passed by 157 majority votes. Had former President Maithripala Sirisena voted for it Aluthgamage’s prediction would have been exact. Sirisena, the Polonnaruwa District MP, had kept away from the House during the voting after informing President Gotabaya Rajapaksa that he could not support the Bill according to his conscience.

Aluthgamage’s prediction was a strong indication that the ruling party MPs knew the deal beforehand. Yet, Minister Wimal Weerawansa told the media a day before the passage of the Bill that the Government would not go behind “extremists.” Responding to a question he also said that it was up to them if they (the extremists) vote for the Bill “by force.” However, he probably knew by then whether they would vote by force or the SLPP leadership would violate the “sanctity” of the Government.

Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) MP Mujibur Rahman has said that it was a victory for his party to prove the absurdity of the patriotism of the Government by forcing the latter to get the support of “extremists.”  No sane person would accept that those Opposition MPs had voted with the Government without expecting any return. Tamil Progressive Alliance (TPA) MP Aravintha Kumar had justified his support for the Government by arguing that he could do nothing for his people by being an MP of the Opposition. M.H.M.Harees, the Deputy Leader of the SLMC had stated that he supported the 20thAmendment keeping the wellbeing of the people of the Eastern Province in mind. So, they expect something. When that happens, especially in respect of the six Muslim MPs the “sanctity” of the Government would further erode.

These Opposition MPs knew very well before the General Elections that the SLPP was going to abrogate the 19th Amendment to confer more powers to the President while SJB, the party under which they contested was against the move.  They now praise the 20th Amendment. Then why didn’t they support the SLPP during the election? On what ethical grounds do they justify their support to the Amendment now?

20th Amendment is not just another Constitutional amendment. The President gets the power to appoint and remove the Prime Minister, ministers, all high officials of public service, judiciary, police, armed forces, members of the commissions and independent officials such as the auditor general, under this amendment. He also would be able to tame the legislature with his power to dissolve it in 30 months. Although 148 Government MPs had voted for the Bill it would be the 8 Opposition MPs, especially the six Muslims and the Muslim community who would be castigated for any abuse of these powers in future by any President.

The relationship between the politicians of the ruling parties and the Muslims has not been in good terms in the recent years. The relationship between them and Bathiudeen has been worse. They saw a “Weerappan,” -the jungle bandit of Tamil Nadu- in him after he with the assistance of Basil Rajapaksa resettled the Muslims who were driven away by the LTTE from Mannar, exactly 30 years ago. They created a demon out of him after the Easter Sunday carnage. Then how did the MPs of the SLMC and the ACMC make their mind to support the Government, especially in favour of a bad piece of legislation?

Will they get the return they expected by supporting the Government; in case the regime is in the balance? They were not even praised in public for their support by the leaders of the Government. Justice Minister Mohamed Ali Sabri in a televised interview in Tamil had said that it was the Opposition MPs who went behind the Government and supported the Bill and not the other way around. He also belittled the six Muslim MPs’ support by stating that even if they had not voted the 20 A Bill would have been passed with the support of SJB member Diana Gamage and TPA MP Aravintha Kumar.

One can justifiably expect agitations within the rank and file of the ruling coalition if these Muslim MPs are given positions in return of their support. It would be interesting to see as to what side the SLPP leadership would take in such a scenario.

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Disclaimer: Support for 20 A: What would the Muslim MPs get in return? by M.S. Ayub - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect point-of-view

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