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Challenging the 20A: All submissions to Supreme Court end tomorrow

ECONOMYNEXT – The Supreme Court will close submissions from all parties challenging or supporting the controversial proposed 20th Amendment to the Constitution which seeks to bring back full executive powers to the Presidency, tomorrow, October 3.

A bench comprising the five senior-most judges of the Supreme Court, Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya, Justices Buveneka Aluwihare, Sisira de Abrew, Priyantha Jayawardana and Vijith Malalgoda is hearing the petitions. They are due to deliver their ruling on October 13.

Thirty-nine Fundamental Rights petitions were filed challenging the proposed amendments which essentially takes away the independent commissions created by the 19th Amendment and grants sweeping powers to the President.

Leading the charge against the 20A in court has been the main Opposition Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) which has filed numerous petitions through the Party General Secretary Ranjith Madduma Bandara as well as several other Members of Parliament and party activists.

In Bandara’s petition Counsel Suren Fernando argued that many of the proposed amendments are inconsistent with the concept of checks and balances to the power of the executive, with the Rule of Law and the “franchise of the People.”

The petition also said that the proposals are prejudicial to the sovereignty of the People and argued that they “cannot be enacted into law except if approved by the People at a Referendum in addition to a two-thirds vote of the whole number of the Members of Parliament in favour as required by Article 83(a) of the Constitution.”

Former Minister and leader of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress Rauff Hakeem, representing himself made an emotional appeal to the judges. He be

Hakeem, who is an attorney began his submission by quoting his own speech in parliament on 19A debate, where he said must “grasp with both hands, the opportunity to atone for having voted for 18A.”

Hakeem said that is why he decided to appear in person to oppose this amendment which will create a President above the law and unaccountable.

“For me a party leader with a small number, I will be able to do little against a government with a juggernaut majority.”

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So he said “we are in your lordships’ hands” and noted that “the country is in for a period of absolute cronyism and nepotism if we don’t prevent this happening.” He too prayed for the court to order a referendum.

Another petitioner, Municipal Councillor Lihini Fernando, pointed out that the 20A proposes the Amendment of an article in the Constitution that lays down the mandatory retirement age of 60 of the Attorney General (AG).

The Petition, submitted by Attorney Viran Corea, says because of this the AG can ask for extensions of office from the Executive and the officer “may feel pressure to satisfy the appointers.”

Two members of the United National Party Deputy Leader Ruwan Wijewardene and General Secretary Akila Viraj Kariyawasam and the leader of the Tamil National Alliance R Sampanthan were also among the petitioners along with former Minister Mangala Samaraweera.

A number of Civil Society organisations including the Centre for Policy Alternatives and several Human Rights activists and the Bar Council are also challenging provisions in the 20A and calling for a referendum. (Colombo, October 1, 2020)

Reported by Arjuna Ranawana