News

Emergency Proclamation passed with huge majority

  • 120 votes in favour, 63 against 
  • Sajith says real emergency is deaths in queues, likens regulations to State terror 
  • TNA says regulations ‘most draconian’, NPP says ‘most repressive’
  • Prasanna claims ‘aragalayites’ are politically-led conspirators, druggies, thieves

BY P. Waravita

The Proclamation on the State of Emergency, announced by then-Acting President and incumbent President Ranil Wickremesinghe on 17 July followed by a Gazette on 18 July, was debated and passed in Parliament yesterday (27), with 120 votes in favour of it and 63 against. 

This proclamation was made by Wickremesinghe through the Special Gazette No. 2288/30 and according to the legal provisions, if the approval of Parliament is not obtained within 14 days for the said proclamation, it will be cancelled.

Speaking during the debate, Opposition and Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) Leader Sajith Premadasa said that the real emergency remains in people dying in fuel queues, mothers not having milk powder for their babies, schools being shut due to there being no transport for students, there being no medicines for the healthcare sector, and where people cannot eat three meals a day in a bankrupt country. 

“However, today, we are debating on the emergency to enforce State terrorism. For months, protestors protested peacefully in front of the Presidential Secretariat. Was it not a very peaceful display of their democratic rights? Where did the violence start and who started it? It was the former Prime Minister and incumbent Government MP Mahinda Rajapaksa, who started the violence from the Temple Trees on 9 May. 

“We did not anticipate this massive public power. Even I did not believe that such a thing would happen, where both the Prime Minister and the President had to go home. What started at the Temple Trees was terrorism. What followed later that day on 9 May was also terrorism. That is not humanity. Civil members of society do not behave like that. I do not know which stupid person gave this dumb advice to President Wickremesinghe on the night of 22 July to attack the protestors at the Presidential Secretariat, right after he took oaths as President. There were mothers, children, disabled soldiers, journalists, and civil society members, all of whom had said that they would leave the Secretariat the next day. Then why was this State terror unleashed on them? I cannot believe that an experienced person like Wickremesinghe would do something so stupid,” said Premadasa, in condemnation. 

National People’s Power (NPP) MP Dr. Harini Amarasuriya said that the emergency regulations announced by Wickremesinghe are the “most repressive” they have seen. “I think that in particular, my generation has lived under emergency regulations for so long that it has become normalised, certainly so for the people in the North and the East. But the regulations that we are debating today are unique for two reasons: One, it includes measures that are draconian and most repressive in ways that have never been before, and two, these measures were imposed by an unelected President who was Acting President at the time.” 

Speaking further, she said that for instance, the regulations allow for a person to be arrested even by the military, and to be detained for up to 72 hours. “The Proclamation has vested within the President powers that are largely unchecked. Powers that have been delegated to the military and the Police have been expanded exponentially. For example, simple offences can now include imprisonment for even 20 years or life. These measures are unprecedented,” she declared. 

Leader of the House Susil Premajayantha presented the Proclamation for debate yesterday and Illankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi MP and Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Spokesman M.A. Sumanthiran PC referred to it during his speech.

“The Leader of the House, when he presented the Emergency Proclamation earlier, recounted a story of his experience of appearing for some suspects who were charged with the bomb attack on Parliament. In that narration, he said that his clients were found to have not given the confession voluntarily, and therefore, they were acquitted. I rest my case with that. If it was not given voluntarily, then how was it given? It was given through the abuse of emergency powers. This is a Government of contradictions, where the very Minister who introduces the debate and presents the most draconian regulations in history says this.”

However, Minister of Urban Development and Housing and Chief Government Whip Prasanna Ranatunga said that the emergency laws exist for the protection of the country and not for personal protection, stressing that the situation needs to be controlled. Furthermore, he questioned the reason for continuing the protests at the Galle Face Green since the demand of the “aragalaya” (struggle) and the “GotaGoGama” protest site at Galle Face Green to oust former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was fulfilled with his resignation. 

“Constitutionally, another President was elected. This site cannot be used for conspiracies. We know that drug addicts, thieves, and some political leaders put peaceful protestors in front of the ‘aragalaya’ to achieve their own political ends. The fence of the Presidential Secretariat has been removed. Will political leaders who supported the ‘aragalaya’ be responsible for it? Are the people who soaped themselves and swam in the Presidential Residence’s swimming pool going to be the ones who will change this country? The protest site has now become a paradise for drug addicts. Their behaviour after 9 July has also discouraged tourists and investors. Some leaders do not want tourists to come and revive the economy because they know that they cannot come to power through an election,” alleged Ranatunga.

Following the passing of the proclamation by a majority of 57 votes, Parliament was adjourned until 9 August 2022.