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President will not overstay mandate - Deputy Speaker Chandima Weerakkody

Deputy Speaker Chandima Weerakkody said all those who talk about the third term of President Mahinda Rajapaksa had not even served a single term. This is nothing new but only shows their inability.

The Deputy Speaker in an interview with the Sunday Observer said that as long as the people want President Mahinda Rajapaksa as President, there is no one who can stand in the way. There is no candidate who can face upto President Rajapaksa as a presidential candidate. That is why they are creating baseless and unacceptable legal arguments.

The Deputy Speaker said the Government has not yet declared a Presidential Election. However, a Presidential or whatever election will be held at the appropriate time but certainly before the term expires. There is no plan or expectation of the Government to go beyond the period which the President and Parliament were elected like the UNP's dictatorial rule.

We are a strong Government and we have a clear majority. If we want, we can continue for another two years. But as a practise, the President has never held a Presidential or any other election later than the specified term. During the tenure of the UNP in 1982, the term of parliament was extended denying the people's right to a new parliament.

Q:UNP General Secretary Tissa Attanayake has said that the UNP does not see incumbent President contesting for a third term at a future Presidential Election as a major issue. Under this backdrop why are the small parties such as JVP and some other political elements agitate over President contesting the third term?

A: Nothing else excepting for the fact that they are afraid. I appreciate the opinion expressed by the UNP General Secretary. At the same time, the majority of UNPers held a press conferences explaining that the incumbent President cannot contest the third term.

All that I can understand is that they are afraid. All those who talk about the third term of the President did not serve even a single term. This is nothing new but their inability that is bothering them.

Q: Although the Government won the Uva Provincial Council election and formed the council, the UNP says that they have laid the foundation for a future victory at a national election with the results of the recently concluded Uva PC elections.

What have you got to say about this?

A: If you look at Badulla, the UNP 'A team' contested. One UNP candidate in the Badulla district stepped down. All other UNP candidates who contested the Uva PC elections were prospective parliamentary candidates earlier.The UPFA list hasn't a single candidate who contested from the provincial list and got even a candidature in a parliamentary election.

There is a vast difference. With all that, the UNP's most popular young parliamentarian stepped down and contested the Uva PC election. With all that they could have won.

But the fact remains that they badly lost. Historically Badulla has been a weak electorate for the SLFP and the UPFA.

Some constituent partners of the UPFA such as the SLMC and the NFF also contested the Uva PC election separately. But the UPFA contested alone and won the election.

As far as the victory is concerned, it was a solid victory. At the same time, if there had been any setbacks, we as a party have an active machinery to evaluate and find out where we have gone wrong and rectify the mistakes that we have committed during the past. In future elections, certainly we will perform even better than how we performed last time.

Q: When all the economic indicators are in favour of the Government with regard to the socio-economic standards of the country, the belief is that the Government is stable and cannot be toppled. But the Opposition claims that they are confident of future victory. How do you see this situation?

A: The Opposition has been saying so for the past 20 years. But they had repeatedly failed. Only time that they won also, they couldn't understand, how the people feel. As a result, they lost once again and they couldn't deliver anything to the satisfaction of the people. They have always been dreaming. This is yet another dream that they will realise when the results are announced at any future election.

Q:The Democratic Alliance (DA) comprising the Communist Party (CP), Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) and the Democratic Left Front (DLF) have declared that there was absolutely no need for an early Presidential Election. When formidable constituent partners are agreeable to hold an early election, what is the reason for the DA to express their personnel views?

A: Anyone can hold a personnel view. the UPFA is a democratic party. While holding your personal opinion, we can continue as an alliance. That is the success story of the UPFA. Anyone could argue about it. We are a strong Government and we have a clear majority. If we want, we can go another for two years.

But as a practise, the President has never held a presidential or any other election other than on the date that is later than the specified term. During the UNP time, you may remember in 1982 the term of the parliament was extended denying people's right choice to have a parliament. Because that was a parliament elected under the previous constitution which continued till 1989 for 12 years.

We have not yet made an announcement that a Presidential Election will be held. Presidential or any election will be held at an appropriate time but certainly before the term expires. There is no plan or expectation to go beyond the period for which President and parliament were elected like dictatorial the UNP rule.

Q: Former Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva has said that the President could not seek the opinion of the Supreme Court on the constitutionality of seeking a mandate for a third term. Would you like to comment on this controversial statement made by the former Chief Justice?

A: No one can prevent President seeking an opinion of the Supreme Court in such a matter. If any citizen of Sri Lanka faced such an issue, he or she would have gone before the Supreme Court long before.

Before this Amendment was brought, an opportunity was given to the public to go before the Supreme Court and challenge it.

But no one challenged it. If a Presidential Election is called, even the incumbent President will have to contest.

As per the provisions of the Constitution, instances that disqualifies a candidature is clearly set out. Contesting a third term is not a disqualification.

If you go by the argument proposed by the former Chief Justice, long years ago when people joined the public service, the retirement age was 55. It was subsequently that it was increased to 60. If you go by the former CJ's argument, all those who received letters of appointment have to retire by 55 and not eligible to work until 60.

These are arguments to satisfy their political aspirations. I never expected a respected professional to stoop so low. What is important is the people's choice. As long as people want President Mahinda Rajapaksa as the President, there is no one who can stand in the way. All this is because of the fear that there is no candidate in this country who can face President Rajapaksa as a Presidential candidate. That is why they have gone to this extent which I see as a baseless and unacceptable legal argument.

Q: there was media speculation that the President will present the Budget in Parliament on October 24. Has it been confirmed to hold the Budget deviating from conventional practice of having it in November?

A: There has not been a conventional practice as such. It is a matter of requirement under Standing Orders of Parliament to give 21 days from the date the Appropriation Bill is initially presented to Parliament, for the Finance Minister to deliver the budget speech.

This time the Appropriation Bill was presented on September 26. The Budget speech can be presented on October 24 because the required 21 days is completed.

Q: The Opposition alleges that the number of days allocated for the Budget debate has been curtailed by depriving the opportunity given for the Opposition to air their views on the Budget. Would you like to explain?

A: A decision was arrived at the Party Leaders meeting on Friday (October 10). These dates were decided with the consent of both parties.

Under any circumstances, there is no reduction of the dates or time . This time around the time allocated for both parties has been increased.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa is due to present the Budget speech on October 24. The second reading of the Budget will go on until November 1.

The vote on the second reading will be taken on November 1.

The third reading will continue from November 3 to November 24. The vote on the third reading of the Budget will take place on November 24. That was the final decision reached at Friday's Party Leaders meeting.

Q: Will the reunion of UNP's top-brass have a great impact on the UPFA's vote base islandwide at a future Presidential Election?

A: Not at all in respect of any election. Because infighting has intensified from the day that they got on the same platform. Though they sit together for photographs, backstabbing and internal rivalry has intensified. That is what I see.

That will further break away. Because UNP voters would realise though they are together in photographs, their personnel agenda to undercut one another was continuing in a subtle manner. This is effectively communicated to the UNP membership.

Q: UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe has said that his party is of the view that the executive presidency should be abolished and the 17th Amendment to the Constitution be reinstated. When the UPFA Government has already implemented the 18th Amendment, how do you respond to this proposed reversal?

A: First of all, a person who doesn't want to amend his party constitution and who has lost almost 30 times has not decided to step down from the dictatorship of the party, would anyone think such a person will want to bring any amendment to the executive presidency, which was the UNP's brainchild.

Q: The UNP has requested the Elections Commissioner to seek the assistance of international election observers at the next Presidential Election. Your comments?

A: If any observer is physically present, it is no threat at all. But seeking various underhand assistance with ulterior motives is the issue that the country must be concerned about. Certainly any international observers coming here are welcome. But some invisible hands moving into the country at their invitation is what we must be concerned about.

Q: It has been reported during the last few months parliamentary sessions had to be adjourned on several occasions due to the lack of quorum and sometimes by the Ministers seeking more time to answer oral questions of Opposition MPs. As the Deputy Speaker, what action have you taken to remedy this situation?

A: The lack of quorum has not been a regular feature. But of course there have been a few instances where Parliament was adjourned due to a lack of quorum.

We notified the party leaders concerned and it is they who should take action in respect of parliamentary attendance of their members and also about the issue where Ministers failed to answer as well as members who raised questions and were not present.

This also becomes an issue. Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa has informed party leaders about these issues. I hope we would see a positive outcome in time to come.

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