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Vote on Electricity Amendment Bill today: Will SLPP group disregard MR’s declaration?

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Ranil and Mahinda

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) will be in a dilemma today (06), when Parliament is scheduled to vote on the Electricity Amendment Bill.

Opposition sources pointed out that it would be the first vote since SLPP leader and former President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, in a statement on May 12, urged President Ranil Wickremesinghe to stop the divestiture drive pending the conclusion of the presidential election, scheduled for Sept/Oct this year.

Against the backdrop of that declaration, the SLPP parliamentary group couldn’t vote for the Bill, under any circumstances, the one-time SLPP heavyweight Prof. G. L. Peiris told The Island yesterday (05).

The SLPP’s first Chairman said that the vote would reveal how many of its members had switched their allegiance to President Ranil Wickremesinghe, elected by the party, in July 2022, to complete the remainder of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s five-year term.

Acknowledging that the SLPP is still the largest group represented in Parliament, Prof. Peiris said that the vote on the controversial Electricity Amendment Bill would decide the fate of the party.

The SLPP won a staggering 145 seats at the last General Election, whereas the SJB secured 54 and the TNA came a distant third with 10 seats. The JVP obtained three, EPDP and AITC (both Jaffna based parties) two each and nine political parties one each.

Responding to another query, Prof. Peiris said that the SC determination couldn’t have been made at a better time for the Opposition. The SLPP group could no longer engage in shenanigans in Parliament, the retired top academic declared, as it would have to take a stand whatever the consequences. “Actually, today’s vote is not only on a far reaching Bill but a reflection of the basis of the people who voted for Gotabaya Rajapaksa overwhelmingly at the 2019 Presidential Poll,” the SLPP National List MP said.

The SC ruling on the Bill proved that the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government was hell-bent on pursuing its agenda. Recalling the circumstances the Parliament passed the Online Safety Bill, in late January this year, with 108 MPs backing it, while 62 voted against it, Prof. Peiris said that the current dispensation seemed to be planning to adopt unparliamentary tactics. But unlike on that occasion, the vote on the Electricity Amendment Bill was taking place after the SLPP leader finally took a public stand.

Prof Peiris said that it is significant that the SC, in its Determination, found the Bill, as a whole, inconsistent with Article 12 (1) of the Constitution. To achieve compatibility, the SC compulsorily proposed about 12 amendments, without which the Bill cannot lawfully be enacted by a simple majority. Reasonable time is therefore required to study the amendments required and to ensure that they are incorporated, in appropriate form, at the Committee Stage. Undue haste is destructive of legislative due process.

These considerations are compelling, in light of empirical experience in the recent past. The SC required a series of amendments to the Online Bill to prevent conflict with constitutional provisions, the ex-Minister said.

The MP said: “Many competent persons and institutions, including the Human Rights Commission, were not satisfied that the required amendments, as proposed, were in fact made. Unlike in jurisdictions, such as India, it is not possible to invoke the jurisdiction of the SC, after the Bill has been certified by the Speaker. Government resolve to rush such a crucial Bill through, without adequate scrutiny, is all the more to be deplored.”

A deluge of far reaching legislation is planned to be enacted in the last 100 days of this government, he warned.

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