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EC proposes tough measures, seeks additional powers

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… MPs skipping sittings to lose seats

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Election Commission (EC) has recommended unseating of lawmakers who failed to attend at least one third of the total number of sessions in the first two years of the five-year term without justifiable reasons.

The unprecedented subject matter is among eight far reaching proposals Commissioner General of EC Saman Sri Ratnayake recently submitted to Romesh de Silva, PC, heading the ninemember committee, tasked with formulating a new draft constitution.

The EC emphasised that lawmakers unless suffering from some illness, or specific justifiable reason, should attend the stipulated number of parliamentary sessions or face the consequences. Major political parties have repeatedly admitted parliamentary attendance is low. On a number of occasions during yahapalana administration, sittings had to be suspended due to lack of quorum.

The five-member EC chaired by attorney-at-law Nimal G. Punchihewa include S.B. Diwarathne, M.M. Mohommed, K.P.P. Pathirana and Jeewan Thyagaraja.

Punchihewa said that their recommendations in respect of issues at hand and matters that required urgent attention were submitted to the constitution making body. The Election Commission Chairman said so when The Island sought an explanation regarding the UNP deliberately delaying the filling of its National List slot for eight months. The issue was raised at a workshop organized by the EC at its Rajagiriya headquarters on March 16.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, in terms of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution enacted in last October, expanded the EC from three to five members.

The EC at a meeting held on January 29, 2021 decided the following as part of constitutional measures to improve the political environment (1) inclusion/acceptance of the right to vote as a fundamental right (2) Categorized Local Government and Provincial Council polls in addition to Presidential and Parliamentary polls to be included in the Constitution (3) Empower the EC to unseat elected members who failed to furnish accurate information regarding funds received and campaign expenses within 30 days after the release of results. In the case of defeated candidates, to deal with them on the basis of having committed an election violation (4) Elected lawmakers to lose their seats in case they failed to attend at least one third of total number of sittings within the first two years of their five-year term (5) Introduce necessary amendment/amendments to expand the provisions in respect of Referendum to pave the way for obtaining public opinion as regards some sections of a particular Act. In terms of the 1978 constitution a referendum can be conducted to ascertain public opinion on a particular matter (6) Empower the EC to take tangible measures to unseat lawmakers, Provincial Council and Local Government members in case they are convicted by a court of law after having examined the relevant cases (7) Authorize the EC to fill National List vacancies in terms of National Lists submitted by political parties along with nominations if a particular political party failed to name its appointed members within seven days after the declaration of results and (8) Provision for specific percentage for women members in parliament, Provincial Councils and Local Government bodies.

Authoritative sources told The Island that in the wake of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa calling for much delayed Provincial Council polls as soon as possible relevant authorities were discussing ways and means to finalize consensus on formula. Sources said that in the absence of consensus various interested parties pushed for different agendas. Sources said that it was not yet clear whether an agreement could be reached on 70:30 (70 per cent elected and the remaining 30 chosen from the defeated candidates).

The EC hasn’t received an opportunity yet to make representations to Romesh de Silva’s team though written submission was made several weeks ago.

Asked whether the recommendations that had been submitted to the expert group received the blessings of political parties represented in parliament, sources said that the matters therein were taken up with political parties, both in and outside parliament, in addition to polls monitoring groups. Sources said that a meeting with the expert group was necessary to explain some matters. Responding to another query, sources said that perhaps the third recommendation should be expanded to cover campaign financing received by political parties at presidential and parliamentary elections.

In spite of a section of the media and some lawmakers raising foreign funding made available for political parties at presidential and parliamentary polls, the EC was yet to take tangible measures, sources acknowledged.

In fact the former US Secretary of state John Kerry even crowed about spending several hundred million dollars to ensure leadership changes in several countries, including Myanmar and Sri Lanka after they were carried out to fruition. In the latter case the toppling was engineered in January 2015.



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AG says no legal impediment to Bathiudeen attending Parliament

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Public Security Minister: Those detained under PTA shouldn’t be allowed in

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC, says there is no legal impediment to Opposition MP Rishad Bathiudeen attending Parliament while being detained in terms of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).

The CID arrested the leader of the All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) in the early hours of April 24 for aiding and abetting the 2019 Easter Sunday suicide bombers.

Multiple blasts in different locations killed 270 people and wounded about 500.

The AG set the record straight in the wake of the CID failing to arrange for MP Bathiudeen to attend Parliament on May 4 and 5.

The Island learns that Police Headquarters recently consulted the AG as regards the legality of the Vanni District SJB MP attending parliamentary sessions and the SJB, on his behalf, requested the Speaker to facilitate the arrangements.

The ACMC contested the last general election on the SJB ticket. Its parliamentary group comprises four, including Bathiudeen.

The police sought the AG’s advice after having received a missive from Serjeant at arms Narendra Fernando in that regard. The AG has advised the police that MP Bathiudeen could attend parliamentary sessions.

However, Public Security Minister Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera has advised the police against the ACMC leader attending Parliament. The Minister has issued instructions in this regard having requested the Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena to prevent those detained under the PTA from attending parliament.

MP Bathiudeen has been detained for a period of 90 days pending investigations. His brother Riyajj too has been detained under PTA for 90 days.

 Minister Weerasekera, in Parliament yesterday (5) defended his decision to prevent MP Bathiudeen from attending parliament. Dismissing concerns raised by SJB MP Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka and TNA MP M.A. Sumanthiran about the ACMC leader being deprived of his right to attend parliament sessions, Minister Weerasekera emphasized that he was responsible for public security.

Minister Weerasekera reminded Speaker Abeywardena that he had requested him not to allow anyone detained under PTA to attend parliament pending conclusion of investigations.

Weerasekera said that the CID wouldn’t have detained the MP concerned without valid reasons.

Perhaps, Field Marshal Fonseka had no concerns for public security, the former Navy Chief of Staff said, emphasising that the government wouldn’t conduct investigations the way the former Army Commander and the TNA spokesman desired.

Bathiudeen earlier served in the Cabinets of President Mahinda Rajapaksa (2010-2014) and President Maithripala Sirisena (2015-2019). The ACMC switched its allegiance to SJB at the 2020 August parliamentary election after having backed Sajith Premadasa’s candidature at the 2019 presidential.

Bathiudeens’ lawyer Rushdhie Habeeb told The Island that the decision to prevent MP Bathiudeen from attending parliament was political. Habeeb said that the issue at hand would be raised vigorously, both here and abroad, and a media briefing would be called soon to explain the situation.

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MONLAR draws attention to ticking COVID time bomb in plantations

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

A large number of estate workers had been diagnosed with COVID-19, and given the generally congested living environment and lack of health facilities on plantations, the entire estate sector was a ticking time bomb, Moderator of the Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR) Chinthaka Rajapakshe said yesterday.

Rajapakshe told The Island  that the latest outbreak on the estates had occurred after the return of some persons from Colombo during the Sinhala and Tamil New Year.

“We had warned that this would happen. People kept on returning home although the preparedness of the plantation economy to face a COVID-19 outbreak was non-existent.”

 “If one person gets it, the entire line will get it, and therefore urgent steps should be taken to minimise COVID-19 spread,” Rajapakshe said, adding that such an eventuality would not only destroy lives but also cripple the plantation sector, causing an enormous loss to the state coffers.

 

 

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Clandestine dealings of fishers will precipitate spread of deadly Indian variant here – Expert

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

There was a risk of the deadly Indian COVID-19 variant spreading to Sri Lanka as well, Chief Epidemiologist of the Ministry of Health, Dr. Sudath Samaraweera told the media yesterday in Colombo.

Dr. Samaraweera said that Sri Lankan fishermen continued to interact with their Indian counterparts in mid-sea and therefore it was only a matter of time before the Indian variant entered Sri Lanka.

“We must be extremely vigilant. We have seen the devastation caused by this variant in India. These mid-sea interactions by the fishing community must be stopped.”

Dr. Samaraweera added that although the Dambulla Economic Centre

had been reopened for business yesterday morning, health officials had been compelled to close five shops as their owners violated the Covid-19 protocol.    

“This is a commercial hub where people from all parts of the country converge. So, if there are COVID-19 cases here, then it will spread across the country. Therefore, people have to act carefully and responsibly.”

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