Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Thursday vowed to abolish the 19th Amendment that curtailed the powers of the President and strengthened the role of Parliament. “Our first task will be to remove the 19th amendment to the Constitution,” he said while making the ceremonial address outlining his policies at the inaugural session of the new Parliament on Thursday.
This stands in contrast to the comments made by his ministers on Wednesday that 19A would only be subject to amendments while retaining its healthy provisions.
The 19A 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.
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. Rajapaksa stressed that while introducing a new Constitution, it is essential to make changes to the current electoral system.
While Gotabaya Rajapaksa was elected as the Sri Lankan President in November last year, his eldest brother Mahida Rajapaksa won the general election and assumed charge as Prime Minister on August 9. Rajapaksa was delighted that the public had given him two thirds majority – “for the first time in the history in an election held under the proportional representation system.
The 19A was the main election plank of the previous government. The 19A depoliticised the government administration by ensuring the independence of key pillars such as the judiciary, public service and elections.
The reformists in 2015 argued that the 19A was needed to correct the power imbalance created by the 18A which the government of Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2010 had introduced. The 18A lifted the two term bar for a president to run for office.
The 19A brought in the reversal bringing back the two terms bar and reducing the presidential term from 6 to 5 years. It pruned the powers of the presidency and empowered parliament. During his speech, President Rajapaksa also stressed that his governance will be based while giving foremost place to Buddhism – the religion of the 77 per cent of Sri Lankans.
“While ensuring priority for Buddhism it is now clear to the people that freedom of any citizen to practice the religion of his or her choice is better secured”, he said.
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