The President's Power: Sri Lanka's Contentious Reforms

A constitutional amendment concentrating powers under President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and repealing changes a previous government had made to combat authoritarianism has been ratified by a significant majority by the Parliament of Sri Lanka, ending uncertainty that its presentation will be postponed in the midst of internal opposition from within the governing party headed by the influential Rajapaksa family.

Rajapaksa had said the reform would be the focus of his government after the August elections gave him the parliamentary votes to reform the charter because the limited presidential powers hampered his work.

On 2 September, the government gazetted 20A, the latest drought legislation that would replace the 19th amendment passed in 2015 that curtailed the President's powers and increased Parliament 's position. Since Sri Lanka came to be ruled under the all-powerful executive presidency in 1978, the 19A has been seen as the most radical pro-democracy reformist shift. Through protecting the integrity of main pillars such as the judiciary, the civil sector and elections, it depoliticised the government administration.

The 20th Amendment seeks to preserve the President 's total legal immunity (as mentioned earlier), repealing the clauses made in the 19A to take legal action against the President. With a 91-vote margin with 156 members in the 225-member Parliament voting in favour, it was passed to the Constitution late Thursday. 65 lawmakers voted against it.

Rajapaksa will be allowed to retain ministries with the move, as well as designate and sack ministers. It will also be the nominating body of the committees for the investigation of elections, civil service, police, human rights, fraud or corruption.

With a legislative council composed of representatives from numerous political parties and civil personalities making the appointments, these commissions were viewed as autonomous. Through the change, with a national council whose observations the president is not obliged to enforce, the Constitutional Council is removed.

Within two years and six months of being elected by the Legislature instead of the previous statute, which barred him from dissolving Parliament until six months before the expiration of his five-year tenure, the President could now dissolve Parliament.

Rajapaksa also overcame internal resistance to a law that lifted a ban on seeking elected office for dual nationals.

This will pave the way for Basil Rajapaksa, his younger brother, the founder of the SLPP and its national organiser, who holds dual US and Sri Lankan citizenship, to further enhance the Rajapaksa family's grip on the political power of Sri Lanka. Five out of the Rajapaksa family are now in the government.

The older brother of Rajapaksa, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, is currently prime minister. Although Gotabaya Rajapaksa was elected President of Sri Lanka last November, his eldest brother, Mahinda Rajapaksa, won the general election and, on 9 August, assumed office as Prime Minister.

Another older brother and three nephews, three of them ministers, are all politicians.

The SLPP requested two thirds of the legislative mandate or 150 seats in the 225-member assembly during the 5 August general election to make constitutional reforms, the most significant of which was the attempt to abolish 19A.

The SLPP and its allies have won 150 seats and have a two-thirds vote to influence their desired constitutional reform.

Last year, Rajapaksa waived his U.S. citizenship to run for president.

The amendment was introduced with other modifications after the Supreme Court had already ruled that some provisions were against the sovereignty of the citizens of the initial proposals and they required consent to become legislation in a national referendum.

The government then brought back provisions authorising people to contest the conduct of a president in court, subjecting the office of the president to financial scrutiny and rendering the president responsible to Parliament.

The new amendments, however, could pave the way for an autocratic rule in the country that could lead to the following problems:

Illegal practices-It could result in Government not taking strict action illegal and unethical practices such as Corruption, Nepotism, White collar crimes and so on because all the key positions in the Government organisations will be held by the representatives of the ruling party and they will be the key people behind all these practices

Absolute regulation of law and order management-An autocratic rule may also uplift the ruling party 's abuse of law and order. That would grant the president absolute authority to have full influence of the security and the police force could prosecute citizens who try to raise their voice against the Government.

Reversing the Democratic Spirit: lifts the binding limits on the presidential authority in relation to the primary appointments to autonomous institutions that have arisen since the Constitutional Council's deliberative period.

Leads to politicization of institutions: It essentially grants the President sweeping authority to nominate individuals to key institutions and, with it, to politicise institutions designed to operate independently of the federal executive branch and for the good of civilians.

Rights of People Curtailed: It has therefore abolished the ability for people to contest the President's unilateral decisions by applications for human rights, implying that the President is above the rules.

Undermine government accountability: The removal of executive presidential checks and balances will have a detrimental impact on the productive, reliable and open use of public funds.

Author: Rishabh Nambiar

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