A promise kept and the battle is on...
In a bid to ensure the rule of law in the country, the government as
pledged in its Hundred Day Program gazetted the 19th Amendment to the
Constitution early this week, scrapping certain powers vested with the
Executive President and empowering independent Commissions and the
However, the proposed legislation needs to win the support of all
major political parties representing Parliament to be enacted into a
Political parties representing Parliament hold divergent views on the
19th Amendment. The main Opposition United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA)
and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) have said they will further study
this piece of legislation before reaching a final conclusion, while the
Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC)
both hail the government's initiative to introduce this key
constitutional amendment, which was an integral part of President
Maithripala Sirisena's election manifesto.
The United National Party (UNP)- led government is fully confident of
the draft bill being passed within the stipulated time frame of hundred
However, the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), a coalition partner of the
government has warned they would oppose the draft bill being moved in
Parliament as an urgent bill, as the government has breached the
consensus reached upon at the Party Leaders meeting and the Cabinet
Justice and Labour Relations Minister Dr.Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe
commenting on the government’s decision to gazette the 19th Amendment
said, “We decided this after having prolonged discussions with various
stakeholders and finally it was fortunate that they agreed on several
main points. But still, we have not been able to resolve the electoral
reforms issue. For that too, we are having discussions and meetings with
political parties on daily basis,” he said, explaining that it was up to
the Parliament decide on adopting the legislation or not.
The Minister was however confidant of the draft bill being passed and
said the government will not only present it Parliament but also pass it
in Parliament within the hundred days.
The bill can be presented in Parliament within 10 days of the gazette
notification being published. “The draft bill was gazetted on March 16
so that we can present it in Parliament in any date after March 26,”
Rajapakshe said, pointing out the salient features of the 19th Amendment
would be the transfer of most of the powers of the Executive Presidency
to the Cabinet.
“Two terms period of the President will remain while the ceiling
which was removed by the 18th amendment will be abolished. The
President's term will be restricted only to five years and the
Parliament term will also be reduced to five years. In respect of
fundamental rights jurisdiction, the immunity against the President will
be removed. Nine independent commissions will be established. When
amnesty is to be given, it can only be given on the recommendation of
Justice Minister,” he explained.
JHU National Organiser and Western Provincial Councilor, Nishantha
Sri Warnasinghe, told the Sunday Observer the JHU would not support the
19th Amendment as the government has breached the consensus reached at
the Party Leaders meeting and the Cabinet meeting.
Therefore, a serious problem has arisen on the content of the 19th
Amendment due to the government's failure to act in a transparent
manner. He charged the proposed 19th Amendment lacks its bona fides-
that it has lost its true purpose.
Various contradictory facts are included into this draft document,
which were not agreed upon whatsoever at those two meetings, he pointed
Warnasinghe said if the draft bill is passed in Parliament, it would
pave the way to create a very complex situation in the country and it
was because of this the JHU could not agree on the draft bill.
The JHU is of the view the this draft should be discussed further and
hence would oppose it being moved in Parliament as an urgent bill, he
said, explaining that extensive discussions were held on the 19th
Amendment at the Party Leaders and Cabinet meetings held on March 15.
“Though various contradictory views were expressed and disputes
occurred at the meetings, a consensus was finally reached upon to print
the gazette of the 19th Amendment. However, after the gazette was
released, it became obvious the Government had breached the agreement
reached at the meetings. Because some of the contents in the gazette
were not discussed whatsoever at the Party Leaders meeting or Cabinet
meeting,” he said.
SLFP National Organiser, MP Susil Premajayantha, said they would be
meeting with a panel of constitutional lawyers and would further study
the gazette notification to see whether the Party could agree to pruning
the Executive Presidency and the sections that refers to the pruning.
“If the entire draft is in compliance with our position, then it would
be all right.
So we will go through it and see whether these sections are put in
order,” he said, adding, “We can't fully abolish the Executive
Presidency at this stage. In that case, we will have to go for a
If the entire Executive Presidential system is to be changed, we need
a mandate from the people for that. That is why the incumbent government
has proposed to prune the executive powers and also to introduce
independent commissions to restore good governance.”
JVP Parliamentarian Vijitha Herath said the JVP hasn’t altered its
stance on wanting the Executive Presidency fully abolished. “But the
19th Amendment does not refer to fully abolishing the Executive
Presidency and it has only recommended that the powers of the Executive
Presidency be pruned,” he said, pointing out however, the JVP was
pleased about the government succeeding to gazette the 19th Amendment to
the Constitution and at least taking measures to trim certain
dictatorial powers of the Executive Presidency.
It would be more appropriate if the Executive Presidency can be fully
abolished, he said claiming that under the prevailing political
atmosphere, the party was optimistic about the amendment introduced even
at this level.
TNA Parliamentarian Mavai Senathirajah said the 19th Amendment to the
Constitution had been approved by the Cabinet and gazetted.
“We are going to further study its real position and contents.
However, we have noted that the TNA will support the government's
endeavor to introduce the 19th Amendment,” he said, explaining that
after studying the contents, they would appoint a subcommittee to
discuss and decide on the matter.
“The Parliamentary Select Committee may also further discuss this
matter. We will submit our points of view on this matter in Parliament
and see whether there is any need to further amend it. TNA's position is
to fully abolish the Executive Presidency,” he said.
SLMC Secretary General and State Minister of Health, M.T. Hassen Ali
said the SLMC would support the implementation of the 19th Amendment
because the party had committed a grave mistake by supporting the 18th
“There are some good features in the 19th amendment. So we have
already taken a decision to support it. According to the proposed 19th
amendment, some of the salient features of the executive powers of the
President will be pruned. That would pave the way to strengthen the
independent nature of democracy.
This is one of the essential components we need in this country, and
it will put the entire process of democracy back on the right track to a
He said the Amendment has to be introduced as an urgent bill, because
the government is going to face an election.
“After the election, we expect that democracy will be strengthened.
Under that norm, the elections can be held.
We would also be able to see a powerful Election Commissioner in
office,” he said, adding that the government will also retain all the
independent commissions in place.
“So it will be a different environment when the election comes. I
think this 19th amendment draft bill will be coming up within the next
two weeks. We are of the view that the Executive Presidency should not
be fully abolished and certain powers should be with the Executive
President. Parliament should also have more powers.
So it should be a balanced position where both must share equally.
But the Parliament should be given more weight-age.
Excerpts of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution
According to the proposed 19th amendment, eight key powers vested
with the Executive President have been be amended.
However, the President would remain as the Head of State, Head of the
Cabinet and the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces.
He would also retain the power to appoint the Prime Minister and the
Cabinet as well as the Heads of the Army, Navy and Air Force. The
President shall have the power to make the Statement of the Government
Policy in Parliament at the commencement of each session of Parliament,
to preside at ceremonial sittings of Parliament and to summon, prorogue
and dissolve Parliament.
Under the proposed constitutional reforms, the term of the Executive
President is due to be reduced from six to five years. Yet another
important constitutional amendment is that the maximum term of a
President to hold office has been limited to two terms.
The President will be responsible to Parliament for the due exercise,
performance and discharge of his or her powers, duties and functions
under the Constitution and any written law, including the law for the
time being relating to public security.
The Presidential immunity from being sued over matters conducted
during his period of office is to also be removed under the proposed
The main constitutional amendments of the 19th Amendment include the
transformation of the Presidential form of government to a
Presidential-Parliamentary system of government and the restoration of
the 17th Amendment to the Constitution.
The new reforms will result in the President losing the power to
dissolve Parliament after one year of its election. According to the
proposed reforms, the President cannot dissolve the parliament until 4
years of election.
Whenever the President by reason of any illness, absence from Sri
Lanka or any other cause is unable to exercise, perform or discharge the
powers, duties and functions of the office of President, Speaker shall
act in the office of the President during such period. If the office of
Speaker be then vacant or the Speaker is unable to act, the Deputy
Speaker shall act in the office of the President.
Cabinet will be vested with the power of appointing Secretaries of
Ministries while the Cabinet of Ministers will be appointed by the
President following consultations with the Prime Minister.
The number of Cabinet Ministers will be restricted to 30 while the
number of Deputy Ministers will be 40. There will be a Secretary to the
Cabinet of Ministers appointed by the President.
There shall be a Cabinet of Ministers charged, with the direction and
control of the Government of the Republic. The Cabinet of Ministers
shall be collectively responsible and answerable to Parliament. The
Prime Minister shall be the Head of the Cabinet of Ministers.
The President shall appoint as Prime Minister the Member of
Parliament, who , in the President's opinion, is most likely to command
and confidence of Parliament. Every Minister appointed shall be
responsible to the Cabinet of Ministers and to Parliament.
There will be a Constitutional Council which shall consist of Prime
Minister, Speaker, Opposition Leader, one person appointed by the
President, five persons appointed by the President on the nomination of
both Prime Minister and Opposition Leader and one person nominated by
agreement of the majority of the Members of Parliament belonging to
political parties or independent groups. Speaker shall be the Chairman
of the Council.
Apart from this it has also been decided to re-appoint the
independent commissions such as Election Commission, Public Service
Commission, National Police Commission, Audit Service Commission, Human
Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, Commission to Investigate Allegations of
Bribery or Corruption, Finance Commission, Delimitation Commission,
National Procurement Commission, University Grants Commission and the
Official Languages Commission.
No person shall be appointed by the President to any of the Offices
specified in these Commissions unless such appointment has been approved
by the Council upon a recommendation made to the Council by the
There will also be a Public Service Commission which will consist of
nine members appointed by the President on the recommendation of the
Constitutional Council, of whom not less than three members will be
persons who have had over 15 years experience as a public officer.