Repeal and reform
- Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, in his first address to the newly elected Parliament, has declared his intention to repeal the landmark 19th Amendment to the Constitution, and, thereafter, work towards a new constitution.
19th Amendment to the Constitution of Sri Lanka
- The 19th Amendment had put a two-term limit on the Presidency and curtailed the executive powers of the President and transferred it to parliament and independent commissions.
- It made it difficult for the legislature to be dissolved at the President’s whim, but also sought to protect the independence of oversight institutions.
- The legislation that introduced it was also 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.
- The Rajapaksa family had alleged that the amendment was brought specifically to target the family.
- Mahinda Rajapaksa could not contest the last November presidential elections because of the term limit and his younger brother Gotabaya became the candidate.
- The Rajapaksas secured a two-third majority in parliament during the recent general elections, thus the paving way for constitutional amendments.
- The President’s remarks on the proposed Constitution can be looked at in the predictive sense of moving away from the concept of devolution.
- It will be retrograde if the idea of sharing more power with the provinces is abandoned altogether.
Distortion of democratic principles:
- If the independence of institutions such as the Election Commission (EC) is now curbed in the name of undoing the 19th Amendment, it would be a distortion of democratic principles.
- It is now recognised that the largely peaceful and orderly polling was only because of the EC’s autonomy.
- The President’s address lacked any reference to ethnic minorities.
- For a long time, Sri Lankan leaders have maintained that they can give little by way of constitutional concessions to the minorities without the consent of the majority Sinhalese.
- There is an urgent need for a new inclusive constitution that would put the country on the path of equality and reconciliation.
- The plan to rewrite the Constitution under the pretext of a ‘one country, one law’ principle should not be at odds with this need.