Sri Lanka’s coming constitutional changes

  • IASbaba
  • September 7, 2020
  • 0
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Topic: General Studies 2,3:

  • Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests

Sri Lanka’s coming constitutional changes

Context: Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa Political party SLPP garnered a historic two-thirds majority along with its allies in the recently held parliamentary polls.

During the address to newly elected Parliament, President announced that

  • Their first priority is to get rid of the 19th Amendment, and replace it with the 20th Amendment
  • He also told about his plan to rewrite the Constitution under the rubric of a ‘one country, one law’ principle 

What is the 19th Amendment of Sri Lankan Constitution?

  • The 19th Amendment was brought in by the previous President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. 
  • It rolled back the 18th amendment that had been brought in by the preceding President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
  • The 18th amendment had removed the two-term bar on running for office, and centralised more powers in the hands of the President. Repealing it was an election promise made by Sirisena
  • Some of the prominent provisions of 19th Amendment were
    • It curbed the executive President’s vast powers by restoring a two-term limit
    • It reduced the term of the presidency to five years from the six years
    • It also placed a ceiling on the number of ministers and deputy ministers.
    • It made it difficult for the legislature to be dissolved at the President’s whim. The President also lost his power to sack the Prime Minister.
    • It also sought to protect the independence of oversight institutions by decentralising the appointments to the nine commissions including the Elections Commission, the National Police Commission,  the Public Service Commission, among others to a Constitutional Council.
    • In addition to having parliamentarians, the Council also had civil society representation. This was seen as one of the most progressive parts of the 19th amendment.
    • It also barred dual citizens from the office.
  • Due Process Followed: The amendment was based on a popular mandate for change in the 2015 presidential election, and received more than the required two-thirds support in the previous Parliament
  • Significance of 19th Amendment: It was hailed as restoring Democratic spirit into Constitution and freeing the country from the clutches of Rajapaksha family who had concentrated power.

What is 20th Amendment?

  • The 20th amendment Bill reverses almost everything in the 19th Amendment. 
  • It only retains from it the two-term bar on the presidency, and the five-year term.

Critical Analysis of the 20th Amendment Bill

  • Fundamental shift in the nature of the Sri Lanka state that signalled the return of the country to 1978 in a bizarre form of ‘forward to the past’. The 1978 Constitution introduced the office of the Executive President in Sri Lanka, making it one of the most powerful of similar systems in the world.
  • Erodes the Power of Parliament: Parliament is disempowered against the executive by the restoration of the President’s power to dissolve Parliament at will at any time after the first year of its term.
  • Removes Checks on Executive: The checks on presidential power within the executive are abolished by the removal of the requirement of the Prime Minister’s advice for the appointment and dismissal of Cabinet and other Ministers
  • Reversing Democratic Spirit: It abolishes the binding limitations on presidential powers in relation to key appointments to independent institutions that used to happen through the deliberative process of the Constitutional Council.
  • Leads to Politicisation of Institutions: It effectively provides sweeping powers to the President to appoint individuals to key institutions, and with it, politicising institutions that are meant to function independently of the political executive and for the benefit of citizens.
  • Rights of Citizens Curtailed: It has also removed the opportunity for citizens to challenge the executive actions of the President through fundamental rights applications, suggesting that the President is above the law.
  • Undermine the accountability of government: The weakening of checks and balances to the executive presidency would adversely impact the efficient, effective, and transparent use of public funds.
  • Neglecting Minorities: The President’s address was also notable for the absence of any reference to ethnic minorities.

Note: Its Impact on India (as well as brief background on Tamil issue) will be dealt in Part II of the article

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