Here’s a look at changes made to 19A
April 29, 2015 01:17 pm
Sri Lanka’s parliament overwhelmingly passed reforms on Tuesday (April 28) reducing some of the president’s powers, in a move that did not go as far as President Maithripala Sirisena had promised but is nevertheless seen as a victory for the leader and his government.
The main constitutional proposals of the 19th Amendment include the transformation of the Presidential form of government to a Presidential-Parliamentary system of government and the restoration of the 17th Amendment to the Constitution.
Ahead of the January presidential election, Sirisena pledged to curb the power of the presidency, restoring a two-term limit and reviving independent bodies to manage key institutions such as the police and the judiciary.
However, he had to scale back his plans after the Supreme Court said the government needed a referendum if it wanted to transfer powers such as the make-up of the cabinet to the prime minister from the president.
The Supreme Court had determined that the 19th Amendment is consistent with the Constitution, but several sections of the Bill require the approval of the people at a referendum according to the Constitution.
The government amended the relevant clauses and removed the sections that need a referendum before presenting it to parliament again.
The reforms passed on Tuesday limit the president’s term to two five-year tenures instead of unlimited six-year terms, but keep the rest of the executive powers over the cabinet of ministers intact.
Sirisena also ran into opposition from within his own party and other members of parliament over a plan to appoint a majority of independent members to a constitutional council, which in turn will re-establish the independent commissions to oversee various areas of governance.
The 10-member constitutional council will now have seven members of parliament and three independent members, instead of three legislators and seven independent members.
Of the three independent members, two will be named as agreed by the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader while the other will be appointed by the President.
The opposition also wanted the President to keep powers pertaining to appoint a Cabinet of his choice.
The 19th Amendment to the Constitution will annul the 18th Amendment while replacing the now defunct 17th Amendment to establish the Independent Commissions.
It would also remove the Executive Presidential powers and limit the term of office of the President to five years. The President will continue to function as the Head of State and Head of Security Forces.
Curtailing the powers of the Executive Presidency and establishing independent commissions have been a strongly felt need by many parties including civil society, religious leaders, political activists, intellectual as well majority of people in Sri Lanka.
Abolishing executive presidency has been an election slogan since 1994, although none of those previous attempts was successful. The main arguments against it were that it leads to authoritarian rule and corruption.
Many politicians, activists and intellectuals including Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera and Ven. Athureliye Rathana Thera and many civil society representatives initiated the proposed 19th Amendment.
The movement culminated in the last presidential election and became a key promise in the campaign of Maithripala Sirisena.
Sirisena became president in January after he defected from the party of the former president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was responsible for amending the constitution to remove a two-term limit and abolish independent commissions for elections, the police, judiciary and public service.
While it is widely agreed that the passing of the bill is a victory for the democracy-loving people of Sri Lanka, some believe that the amendment is not in line with the original pledge by President Maithripala Sirisena.
The amendment was watered down, however, to ensure that the minority government secured the support of the opposition, whose votes were crucial to gain a mandatory two-thirds majority. Sirisena’s government does not enjoy a majority in parliament.