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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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JVP accuses EC of conspiring to delay LG polls

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By Saman Indrajith

JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake, MP, has told Parliament that the Election Commission and its Chairman are collaborating with the government to postpone the local government elections.

Participating in the Third Reading stage debate on Budget 2023, on Friday, MP Dissanayake said that as local government bodies should be reconstituted before March 20 2023, the Election Commission had to publish a gazette calling nominations by late December or early January.

“The EC has the authority to do so. It has sought the Attorney General’s opinion on some matters. There is no need at all for it to seek the AG’s advice,” he said.

“This is a conspiracy. The Elections Commission can publish the gazette even tomorrow. It is clear that the Elections Commission is collaborating with the government,” he said.

Dissnayake said that Election Commissioner Nimal Punchihewa’s impartiality was in question. “We know where Punchihewa worked before and at what party office. We know the governments and persons he has worked with closely. He is not an independent person.”

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Diana wants bars open 24/7

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By Saman Indrajith

State Tourism Minister Diana Gamage says liquor outlets should be kept open longer if the country wants to boost tourism.Participating in the Third Reading stage debate on Budget 2023 on Friday, State Minister Gamage said: “We have to keep these places open 24/7. I have spoken about it many times. Liquor is the highest tax earner in the country. In this paradise, we are closing bars after 11pm. Foreigners in hotels can’t get any alcohol if they need, because all the places are closed.

We need to keep this country open 24 hours. Like Singapore and other countries, people must have entertainment.”

“I talk about the night life, and when I talked about that earlier many criticized it and saw it as a big sin. That is ones who are incapable of understanding it,” she said.

“What we call night life is actually a night economy. All the countries in the world have developed because of night economy. These countries get 70 percent of their income from the nigh economy. They only get 30 percent during the day time. We have to develop a night economy in this country. That will earn 70 percent of the income. Only that can develop this country.

“We can do that. And also our museum, that closes at 5 pm. In other countries, museums earn most during night. It must be opened 24/7.  This night economy is essential for a country’s economy. People must have places to spend their money.”

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SJB asks govt. to introduce political reforms fast

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By Saman Indrajith

Chief Opposition Whip Kandy District MP Lakshman Kiriella has asked the government when it will introduce the political reforms demanded by the international community.

Speaking in Parliament on Saturday, Kiriella said that when the Opposition parties met the members of the Colombo-based diplomatic community during the Aragalaya protests, the latter had demanded that Sri Lanka implement political and economic reforms to receive foreign assistance to get out of the prevailing crisis. “That was six months ago. We have been asking the government repeatedly to inform this House whether it has implemented those reforms.

“The riginal plan was to establish an interim government for six months to restore the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. It was stated that an election would be held after six months. Now, what has happened? The politicians who are responsible for the crisis are still in power.

“Foreign Minister Al Sabry met USAID Administrator Samantha Power on Friday. Samantha Power called for the same political and economic reforms again. The international community is asking for the same.”

Leader of the House, Minister Susil Premjayantha said that political reforms were being implemented. “It is as part of the political reforms we are setting up a National Council, Sectoral Oversight Committees and three other committees. Counter terrorism act is in the pipeline. It will be taken up within couple of weeks. We passed several bills with your support. There were nine amendments to be introduced to the criminal law,” he said.

Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa: “The bills and amendments that have been passed are not enough as far as the international community and we are concerned. The biggest request is to allow the people of this country for a new mandate. Allow the people to express their will. Give them a chance to establish a new government or to maintain the same government now they have.”

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