September 10, 2020 6:10:36 pm
The proposed 20th amendment to Sri Lanka’s Constitution is not perfect and will see further changes moved at the committee stage of the parliamentary debate, the government’s joint spokesman Udaya Gammanpila said on Thursday.
He was responding to a question about a letter written by the pro-government Federation of National Organisations (FNO) to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa last week, requesting a review of the draft amendment.
The 20th amendment will restore full executive powers to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa over his older brother and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.
The 19th amendment adopted in 2019 empowered Parliament and the prime minister by watering down the powers of the presidency.
Since its gazetting on September 3, various groups have been expressing opposition to some of the provisions in the amendment. Two weeks are being allowed from that date for interested parties to express an opinion on it or even go to the Supreme Court against it. The highest court will be allowed another week to make its ruling on the amendment’s constitutionality.
“Now since it has been gazetted we will not be able to make any changes to it. It is only at the parliament’s committee stage that we can make changes,” said Gammanpila, who is also the energy minister.
Even some of the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) allies are opposed to some of the provisions in the proposed 20A.
Under 19A, a citizen of Sri Lanka who is also a citizen of any other country (dual citizen) is disqualified from contesting the elections. The 20A seeks to remove this, enabling dual citizens to hold office.
Critics argue that this provision must be persisted with and extended to prevent dual citizens from holding other key positions too.
The introduction of urgent bills to Parliament, which was done away with by 19A, is to be brought back under 20A. Opponents argue that this provision must stay for greater adherence to democracy.
The Collective of National Organizations, an ally of the SLPP, has written to the president to amend the gazette and reprint it with the desired changes. They claim that at the committee stage of the parliamentary debate, the changes would not be incorporated.
The main opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) has vowed to petition the Supreme Court against the amendment along with other opposition groups.
The 19A, primarily to empower parliament and reduce powers of the presidency, was the main campaign theme of the pro-democracy movement during the presidential election of 2015.
After the defeat of Mahinda Rajapaksa, the then Opposition said the 19A was aimed only to target the Rajapaksa family and it will be abolished when they return to power.
The government sources said the 20A was likely to be debated in parliament during the second half of October and the government was confident of securing the mandatory two thirds or the 150-seat support in the 225-member Parliament.
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