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Sri Lanka opposition-MP-turned-minister lambasts opposition leader over boycott


Colombo (04/07 – 62.50) Sri Lanka Minister of Labour and Foreign Employment Manusha Nanayakkara lambasted Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa and the main opposition Samgi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) for boycotting parliament just as highly anticipated constitutional reforms were about to take place.

Nanayakkara told parliament on Tuesday, June 21 that the SJB, the party he had controversially walked out on with fellow SJB MP Harin Fernando to join the government, could not stand the fact that, contrary to their dire warnings, the draft 21st amendment to the constitution was about to be tabled in parliament.

The SJB and the opposition National People’s Power walked out of the chamber Tuesday morning in protest of what they said was the government’s inability to present to parliament a viable plan to bring Sri Lanka out of its deepening economic crisis. Premadasa and NPP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake vowed to boycott parliament sessions this week.

Nanayakkara found fault with Premadasa, his party leader until a few weeks ago, for the boycott. Premadasa had failed in his duty as a lawmaker, he said.

“Parliament is in session for three days this week. Why did he pick today to boycott it?

“We’re now presenting the 21st amendment, which they said will not materialise if we join the government. Now, with the support of the government and the president, we have [essentially brought back] the 19th amendment, with even more reforms. This is a victory for the country,” he said.

The architect of the 21st amendment, Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, also took a swipe at the SJB earlier Tuesday for its own “impractical” draft 21st amendment which sought to abolish the executive presidency and contained provisions that would require a referendum.

Rajapakshe’s version of the 21st amendment will in some ways be a restoration of the 19th amendment introduced by the Yahapalana government under the premiership of Wickremesinghe and most of the SJB before the party broke off from Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP).

Nanayakkara said the so-called leaders in the opposition parties did not have the backbone to take up a leadership position at desperate times. He and others in the government have criticised Premadasa the SJB for not taking up the premiership when offered by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa after then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa was compelled to step down amid widespread violence on May 09.

Wickremesinghe, whose UNP had just the one seat in parliament – his own – took the job, inviting criticisms from opposition parties that he had stepped forward to “save” the ever unpopular Rajapaksas.

Nanayakkara claimed that the “so-called leaders” knew how difficult it would be to take up the PM position, which was why no one volunteered.

“The lawyers, the clergy as well as the 11 independent parties sent their conditions for an all-party government. We as the SJB, wanted to get into that committee but every single time, it was put off by the SJB leader Sajith Premadasa,” said Nanayakkara.

President Rajapaksa had invited Premadasa on several occasions to take up the position of the Prime Minister, he claimed.

“But the opposition leader put it off every time, making some sort of an excuse.

“Then we were informed that Mr Wickramasinghe had been selected, and we asked Premadasa what his final call was. Then he got a bit nervous and called a meeting. The meeting ended without any decision being made. A second meeting was called on the day Prime Minister Wickramasinghe was sworn in.”

A letter sent by Premadasa to President Rajapaksa at the last minute with conditions spelt out for an all-party government, the MP said, was too little too late and came only after some SJB members had threatened to function as independent MPs.

Several MPs including Former President Maithripala Sirisena who headed the Yahapalana government inquired as to who exactly had proposed that Wickremesinghe would be made PM.

“When the opposition leader refuses, and the NPP leader refuses, when others turn down the job, someone has to take it. The president has the power to give the position to someone who he feels commands the confidence of the House, according to the constitution. That is a courageous decision and we should respect it,” said Nanayakkara.

Though the opposition leader refuses the position now on grounds of integrity, he wanted it, claimed Nanayakkara.

“Now the Opposition leader is saying, ‘I was disgusted. I won’t take it even if they gave me the throne and all that. But he actually did ask for the throne, so to speak. He did ask for the premiership. But he did not get it,” he said.