The Sri Lankan government has gazetted the 20th Constitution Amendment draft, the new proposed legislation that would replace the 19th Amendment introduced in 2015 that curtailed the powers of the President and strengthened the role of Parliament.
The 19A was seen as the most progressive pro-democracy reformist move since Sri Lanka came to be governed under the all-powerful executive presidency in 1978.
It depoliticised the government administration by ensuring the independence of key pillars such as the judiciary, public service and elections.
However, the 20th Amendment proposes to restore full legal immunity to the President, removing the provisions made in the 19A to take legal action against the President.
Udaya Gammanpila, the minister for energy and also the co-spokesman of the government, said that a minimum 3 weeks must be allowed from the date of gazetting the 20A before it could be placed on the order book of parliament for debate and adaptation.
“This can be six weeks if legal action is to be instituted at the Supreme Court by interested parties,” he said.
The 20A has proposed several changes which include the replacement of the vital Constitutional Council (CC) with a new body called the Parliamentary council.
“The PC will consist only of members of parliament with no place for civil society representatives,” according to local media reports.
Also, three Independent commissions, which include the Elections Commission, will be abolished.
According to 20A, the chairpersons and members of the commissions shall be appointed by the president.
In making such appointments, the president shall seek the observations of the Parliamentary Council (PC).
Earlier under the 19A, all these appointments were the responsibility of the CC.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa outlined his commitment to abolish the 19th Amendment during his ceremonial address to Parliament last month.
The 19A Amendment adopted in 2015 by the then reformist government was subject to much criticism by the Rajapaksa clan as it prevented dual citizens from contesting elections.
At the time, two of the Rajapaksa family members including the current president were dual citizens of the US and Sri Lanka.
President’s younger brother and SLPP founder and its National Organiser Basil Rajapaksa is a dual citizen of US and Sri Lanka.
There are 5 of them already in government.
During the August 5 election, the Sri Lanka People’s Party (SLPP) sought two thirds parliamentary mandate or 150 seats in the 225-member assembly to effect constitutional changes, the foremost of them was the move to abolish the 19A.
The SLPP and allies won 150 seats and have a two-third majority to effect the constitutional change they desire.
Significantly under the 20A draft, there is no provision on the Right to Information Commission, which was established by the 19A while two important commissions, established by the 19A have been abolished– Audit Service Commission and National Procurement Commission.
Under the 20A draft, the President will enjoy complete legal immunity.
No fundamental rights petition can be filed against the President.