THE 18th Constitutional Amendment Bill will be debated and put to the vote on September 8th in the Sri Lankan parliament, following a decision taken at a meeting by the leaders of parliamentary political parties presided over by Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa.
TamilNet reports that the proposed 18th Amendment enables an incumbent President to hold office any number of times.
It also enables the President to attend parliament once in three months, and the creation of a five-member Parliamentary Advisory Council replacing the Constitutional Council under the seventeenth amendment of the country’s constitution.
The Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa is to announce the decision of a five-judge Supreme Court bench headed by Justice Shiranee Bandaranaike on the constitutionality of the bill tomorrow when parliament meets, or prior to the debate that is to commence September 8th at 9.30am.
The opposition parties’ Movement Against the 18th Amendment have declared September 8th a Black Day, and that a protest demonstration will be held at the Borella Ayurveda Junction in Colombo on the same day.
The convenor of the Movement described the amendment as ‘undemocratic’ leading to dictatorship and said it should be defeated.
The Movement Against the 18th Amendment has been formed by a group of members of the main opposition United National Party, leftist parties in the opposition including the New Left Front (NLF) led by Dr Wickramabahu Karunaratne, the United Socialist Party (USP) led by Siritunga Jayasuriya, and the Free Media Movement (FMM) led by Shiral Lakthilaka.
Meanwhile last Friday, at a Colombo press conference about the proposed constitutional amendments, Sri Lanka’s Left Liberation Front leader Dr Wickramabahu Karunaratne appealed to the people to wear black on September 8th.
Dr Karunaratne was sacked from his university lecturer post in 1978 for hoisiting black flags against the 1978 constitution that introduced the Executive President system under the J R Jayawardene regime.
He said the 18th amendment to the constitution further strengthens the powers of the executive President.
The Left Liberation Front calls for the abolition of the executive Presidency.
Three parliamentarians from the main opposition United National Party (UNP) Friday announced in Colombo that they will support the proposed constitutional amendments.
Badulla District Parliamentarian Lakshman Seneviratne and Polonnaruwa District Parliamentarian Earl Gunasekera made this announcement at a joint press conference.
Meanwhile, Galle District UNP MP Manusha Nanaykara also said he had decided to support the proposed constitutional amendment.
Earlier, Kandy District UNP Parliamentarian Mohideen Abdul Cader had extended his support to Mahinda Rajapakse’s 18th Amendment.
Meanwhile, Amnesty International has issued an appeal to the Sri Lankan government.
‘The Australian government must re-examine its claims that asylum seekers returned to countries they are fleeing from are not subjected to torture and mistreatment,’ Madhu Malhorta, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Asia said in an appeal to the Australian government last Friday.
He also demanded that the Sri Lankan government ensures the safety of three men who have been tortured and jailed following their forced return from Australia where they had sought asylum in 2009.
Three Sinhala men, two of them brothers, seeking asylum in Australia had been forcibly sent back to Sri Lanka by the Australian government.
‘This is an appalling situation that calls into question the actions of both the Sri Lankan and Australian governments,’ Madhu Malhotra said.
‘Both governments are culpable in the forced return and mistreatment these men have endured, and both must bear responsibility for the results of their policies and procedures,’ he added.
Brothers Sumith Mendis and Indika Mendis were detained in 2009 on Christmas Island when seeking asylum after their boat was intercepted and found to be carrying Sri Lankan asylum seekers.
Deported to Sri Lanka they were arrested and handed over to Criminal Investigation Department (CID) officers who had tortured Indika Mendis.
Sumith Mendis had been released on arrest but Indika was held in the notorious Negombo prison for eight months.
On 14 August 2010, the brothers were arrested again, apparently on suspicion that they were again planning to seek asylum in Australia.
Sumith Mendis was then tortured by the CID for six days, experiencing beatings and psychological abuse.
On 22 August, the brothers were taken to Negombo prison, along with Lasantha Wijeratne, another Sri Lankan who had also been deported from Australia and tortured in custody.
Sumith Mendis and Lasantha Wijeratne, were examined by a judicial medical officer and then transferred to hospital.
But ‘they now face the risk of abuse by both prisoners and guards when they are again taken to Negombo prison, unless the authorities take the necessary steps to ensure their safety,’ Madhu Malhotra said.