A parliamentary debate on a major bill seeking the 22nd Amendment to Sri Lanka’s Constitution aimed at empowering Parliament over the executive president could be held up due to disagreements within the ruling SLPP party, sources said on Tuesday.
The debate was scheduled to be held on October 6 and October 7.
The draft bill on the 22nd Amendment was approved by the Cabinet and gazetted in August. The 22nd Amendment was originally named 21A and meant to replace the 20A.
The amendment was formulated amid the ongoing economic turmoil in the country which also caused a political crisis. It is meant to replace the 20A that had given unfettered powers to ex-President Gotabaya Rajapaksa after abolishing the 19th Amendment.
Now the debate on the bill can be stalled due to disagreements within the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) party, the sources said.
“There were concerns raised yesterday at the parliamentary group. Most felt that given the economic crisis and the security situation this is not the right time to move it,” a parliamentarian, who did not want to be named, told PTI.
However, Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Wijeyedasa Rajapakshe told PTI that the dissent was expressed by 3 or 4 individuals about certain provisions.
He has scheduled a meeting with the parliamentary group again on Wednesday to discuss the concerns.
“The two-day debate still stands,” Rajapakshe said.
The 22A is meant to undo the 20A adopted in 2020 which restored full executive powers to the then president Rajapaksa.
Rajapaksa had reversed through 20A the features of the 19A which had empowered Parliament over the presidency.
Rajapaksa was ousted in mid-July through the popular uprising against him for mishandling the country’s economy.
His successor Ranil Wickremesinghe pledged reforms to address the demands of the protesters.
However, civil society groups remain skeptical about the amendment, claiming that the 22A does not curtail the powers of the president nor introduces checks and balances in any meaningful manner.
Under the 20A, the Constitutional Council was converted to a parliamentary council just to rubber stamp presidential powers. The 22A would also have anti-corruption features, a key demand of the protesters.
The bill must be approved by two-thirds of Sri Lanka’s 225-member Parliament to become law.
If passed into law, the amendments would reinstate reforms made in 2015. Rajapaksa reversed those reforms and concentrated power on himself after being elected to office in 2019.
Sri Lanka is facing the worst economic crisis since independence in 1948 which has led to an acute shortage of essential items like food, medicine, cooking gas and fuel across the country.
The street protests had been triggered across the country over the poor handling of the economic crisis and the lack of accountability to it.