Friday, Sep 30, 2022

Sri Lanka's New Government To Press Ahead With 22nd Amendment: Minister

The constitutional reform was a major plank of the agreement between Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe when he took over the job of prime minister on May 12.

Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe PTI

The new Sri Lankan government will present to Parliament the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution, which will be officially adopted as the 21st Amendment, the justice minister said on Tuesday.

Sri Lanka's Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapaksha told reporters that the 22nd Amendment sought to refine the 19th Amendment’s shortcomings while annulling the 20th Amendment.

He said the 22nd Amendment, approved by the Cabinet on Monday, will be gazetted on Tuesday and will be "presented in the parliament as the first reading within seven days".

The Amendment was re-approved on Monday with some changes to its text as the same amendment was approved by the Cabinet of the previous government headed by Gotabaya Rajapaksa in June last week.

The move came as protesters, who have been demanding reform in the country's political system, needed the government to restore the 19th Amendment adopted in 2015.

Former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa in 2020 adopted the 20th Amendment, giving himself full presidential powers in contrast to the 19th Amendment which had empowered the parliament over the president.

Explaining the serial number confusion on the amendments, Rajapaksha said the main opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB), which had presented the 21st Amendment to the Supreme Court, failed to win the sanctioning of the highest court without a national referendum.

The minister said the SJB had called for the total abolition of the executive presidential system. “This cannot be done without a process to adopt a brand new constitution”, Rajapaksha told reporters here.

He said this was the reason why the government presented the amendment as 22nd Amendment. “But it will be up to the secretary general of the parliament to rename it the 21st Amendment once it is approved in the parliament," the justice minister added.

The 19th Amendment curbed presidential powers and the protest movement urged its restoration once the ongoing economic crisis kicked in April this year.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa was directly held responsible for the economic crisis despite holding absolute power. The protesters, calling for his resignation, on July 9 stormed the presidential house, forcing the then-president to flee the country in the face of the worst economic crisis in the history of Sri Lanka.

Rajapaksa's successor -- the stopgap President Ranil Wickremesinghe -- responding to the anti-government protesters' demands declared that he was up for reintroducing the 19th Amendment which had been adopted in 2015 under his premiership.

The 21st Amendment aims, among other reforms, at barring dual citizens from contesting elections to hold public office.

Wickremesinghe had batted for the 21st Amendment to the Constitution, saying it will curb the president's unlimited powers while enhancing the role of Parliament in governing the debt-ridden country which is also facing an unprecedented political turmoil.

The powerful Rajapaksa family tightened their grip on power after their massive victory in the general elections in August 2020, which allowed them to amend the Constitution to restore presidential powers and install close family members in key positions.

Wickremesinghe was the main sponsor of the 19th Amendment in 2015 which empowered Parliament over the executive president.

The constitutional reform was a major plank of the agreement between Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe when he took over the job of prime minister on May 12.

Sri Lanka has been grappling with unprecedented economic turmoil since its independence from Britain in 1948. Sri Lanka's economic crisis has created political unrest with protesters demanding the President's resignation.

Under the 21st Amendment, independent commissions are entrusted with the task of executing some of the presidential powers.

The Cabinet of Ministers is also accountable to Parliament. The National Council is also accountable to Parliament. Fifteen Committees and Oversight Committees are accountable to Parliament.