By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema
The speech by TNA Parliamentarian and Attorney-at-Law M.A. Sumanthiran, who opened the debate for the opposition, at Wednesday’s (8) parliamentary session was undoubtedly one of the finest speeches to be made in the House.
Sumanthiran said the bill drives the final nail into the coffin of democracy.
Objecting to the manner in which the government brought the bill before parliament, Sumanthiran said, “That itself is an indictment and an indication of the anxiety of the government to have it passed, with little or no public discussion on the matter.”
He added that the Cabinet decision to present the bill as an Urgent Bill in the national interest was laughable. He observed that the removal of the term limit on the President seeking re election would not arise at least for another four years and two months.
“Then, how can this Bill be urgent and in the national interest?” he asked.
As soon as Sumanthiran started to comment on the 18th Amendment, government members started to heckle and jeer. Some members started to shout “Kotiyek, kotiyek (Tiger, Tiger).”
Amidst the heckling Sumanthiran continued and asked the Prime Minister why the government did not listen to the wealth of advice by this country’s intelligentsia when amending the constitution.
“We registered our strong objections to the manner in which this Bill is being rushed through. There is no notice to the public and only 24 hours was given to the Supreme Court to deliver their determination. This House too had no notice of this Bill. The Cabinet of Ministers has certified that this is urgent in the national interest,” he said.
“Did the Cabinet have a copy or even a draft of this Bill? What the Cabinet certified and what was sent to the Supreme Court were too different versions and this came to light at the hearing in the Supreme Court,” he noted.
However, Sumanthiran pinpointed the government’s fears by saying, “There can be many fears. Some may be personal. But there is also the fear that if this is permitted to be discussed in public, it will be roundly rejected. There is room for such fear because the people of this country have repeatedly voted to abolish the Executive Presidency.”
“In all civilized jurisdictions that have the Executive Presidency, they have a two-term limit. They are all not less intelligent than us. It is a universal principal that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” Sumanthiran said.