The breaking news is Sri Lanka’s new constitutional amendment to end the presidential system, i.e., Shri Lanka – 20th Amendment Out 19th Amendment In. Sri Lanka’s opposition proposes a constitutional amendment to end the presidential system. Let us see Why Sri Lanka did this Constitutional amendment?
WHAT’S HAPPENING? Why Shri Lanka – 20th Amendment Out 19th Amendment In?
One person was killed and 13 others wounded after police opened fire at a group of people protesting against the government in Sri Lanka on Tuesday. Seeing the likely chances of protests spreading across the country, PM Mahinda Rajapaksa has proposed a constitutional amendment – repealing the 20th Amendment to the Constitution and Bringing back clauses of the 19th Amendment as the 21st Amendment to the Constitution, meaning Shri Lanka – 20th Amendment Out 19th Amendment In.
WHAT WAS THE 19TH AMENDMENT OF THE SRI LANKAN CONSTITUTION?
The enactment of the historic 19th Amendment in April 2015 was rushed by then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. It had removed the powers of the President to sack the Prime Minister at his discretion. By amending the Articles 46 (2) and 48 of the Sri Lankan constitution, the cabinet ministers could have been dismissed only if the Prime Minister ceased to hold office by death, resignation, or otherwise, Or only if the Parliament reject a statement of government policy or the budget or if the parliament passes a vote of no confidence against the Government.
The amendment also restricted the President’s powers to dismiss Cabinet ministers as he was required to act on the advice of the Prime Minister. A major criticism against the amendment, however, was that it was rushed by the then PM Wickremesinghe for his selfish needs, and without following the due process.
Usually, when a Bill is tabled in parliament, it is considered the ist reading, and the 2nd reading is the stage to discuss the amendments in detail, while the 3rd reading is the comprehensive debate on the amended bill including proposals moved in.
But Wickremesinghe kept pushing amendments during the 3rd reading also, many in English, forcing several people including Tamils to demand translations. President Maithripala Sirisena was promised certain executive powers in the first term and the second term, which was expectedly a ceremonial position at the Presidency, like in India.
WHAT WAS 20TH AMENDMENT? Which is Removed by Shri Lanka (Shri Lanka – 20th Amendment Out 19th Amendment In)
The 20th Amendment to the Constitution passed in October 2020 was also controversial. The 20th amendment (20A), which replaced the 19th Amendment (19A), had again enhanced the executive powers of the President in an unprecedented way besides abolishing the independent constitutional council for a Parliamentary Council. It had passed a controversial clause that gave electoral rights to dual citizens.
Passed with a two-thirds majority, the criticisms on 20A were more severe as it was observed as one that could derail the balance between the legislature, executive, and judíciary by centralizing maximum powers into the hands of one individual.
Many conservative and radical Buddhist groups representing the majority Sinhala Buddhists also had reasons to oppose 20A on various grounds, including the clause allowing dual citizens to become members of parliament. Among the many criticisms, the Colombo-based Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) said the 20th amendment had removed the checks and balances on the executive presidency. Meaning Shri Lanka – 20th Amendment Out 19th Amendment In.
“In particular, it abolishes the binding limitations on presidential powers in relation to key appointments to independent institutions through the pluralistic and deliberative process of the Constitutional Council. It is a regression to what was in place under the Eighteenth Amendment, effectively providing sweeping powers to the President to appoint individuals to key institutions, and with it, politicizing institutions that are meant to function independently of the political executive and for the benefit of citizens.
” The CPA also said, “The opportunity for citizens to challenge the executive actions of the President through fundamental rights applications has been removed, suggesting that the President is above the law.”
The proposed amendment to douse the fire may be one to remove several key powers of the President, essentially reducing the Presidency to a ceremonial position, like in India. It is expected that the amendment might be retaining the powers of the President on all three armed forces while handing over almost all other key powers including governance, and cabinet ministers to the Prime Minister.
Sri Lanka’s main Opposition SJB on Thursday presented a constitutional amendment bill that among other provisions seeks to abolish the presidential system of governance, In existence in the country since 1978, and replace it with a system that reinforces constitutional democracy. The move by the SJB party came in the backdrop of massive protests demanding the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his Sri Lanka Podujana (Peramuna)-led government over the country’s worst economic crisis.