South Asia and Beyond

In The New Sri Lanka, President Gotabaya Will Be King!

 In The New Sri Lanka, President Gotabaya Will Be King!

Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to have unfettered powers under proposed constitutional amendment 20A.

NEW DELHI: The Rajapakasas have taken the expected step towards consolidation of power with the Sri Lankan government issuing the draft of amendment 20A to the Constitution, while at the same time repealing key provisions of the 19th amendment which it seeks to replace. Once the 20th amendment is in place, it’s expected to give more power to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa as opposed to Parliament.

Gotabaya had justified the jettisoning of the 19th amendment on grounds that it curtailed presidential powers and that the presidency needs to be strengthened. But this move is also causing concern. Sri Lanka appears to be moving towards authoritarianism with the ruling SLPP controlling both the executive and Parliament. The 19th amendment, in fact, was seen as ensuring checks in place to prevent the president from amassing too much power.

While there had been speculation that the 20th amendment will do away with the two-term limit on presidential tenures, this has not happened. But other changes proposed in the draft 20th amendment appear to give the Lankan President unfettered powers. For instance, the President can dissolve Parliament as early as a year after its election. It means the Prime Minister and his Cabinet can be sacked if they fall foul of the President. The President also enjoys legal immunity.

The Rajapaksa brothers Mahinda (left) and Gotabaya (right) soon after the former’s swearing-in as Prime Minister early last month.

The draft amendment also provides for the replacement of the Constitutional Council (CC) with the Parliamentary Council. The latter, as the name suggests, will only have members of Parliament on it unlike the CC which has civil society representatives too. Add to that, the president will appoint the Auditor General with the Audit Commission being abolished.

The appointment of the Chief Justice, Justices of the Supreme Court, Chairman and justices of the Court of Appeal, members of the Judicial services commission too will be made by the President as per the draft amendment. The Police Commission too will have members appointed by the President who in turn will appoint the police chief.

The draft amendment also proposes the lowering of the age to become president from 35 to 30, perhaps with an eye on GenNext of the Rajapaksas clan. The amendments are expected to easily win parliamentary approval given the two-thirds majority the SLPP enjoys. Welcome to the Rajapaksas Sri Lanka!

Parul Chandra

Professional newshound, have navigated through typewriters, computers and mobile phones during my over three-decade-long career working in some of India's finest newsrooms (The Times of India, Financial Express). Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan are my focus, also Sri Lanka (when boss permits). Age and arthritis (that's a joke) have not dimmed the thrill of chasing a story. Loves music, animals and pasta.

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