Sri Lankan Cabinet set to discuss 21st Amendment to the Constitution

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Colombo: Sri Lanka’s Cabinet is set to discuss on Monday the 21st Amendment to the Constitution to empower Parliament over the executive president.

The 21st Amendment is expected to annul the 20A to the Constitution which gives unfettered powers to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa after abolishing the 19th Amendment.

The draft of the proposed amendment will be presented at Monday’s Cabinet meeting, constitutional affairs minister Wijedasa Rajapaksha told reporters.

It will be discussed today (on Monday) and if approved could be sent to the legal draftsman within 2-3 days for finalisation,” he said.

He said most of the changes suggested by political parties in the draft during a meeting held on Friday have been included.

The government announced on Friday that most of the concerns raised by parties had been addressed and agreed upon.

However, the main Opposition party, Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB), expressed disagreement, saying the government needed to wait until the Supreme Court’s determination on their draft document on the amendment.

The SJB has accused the government of watering down the amendment to allow president Gotabaya Rajapaksa to continue enjoying full powers.

The SJB is pressing for the abolition of the presidential system.

The powerful Rajapaksa family tightened their grip on power after their massive victory in the general elections in August 2020, which allowed them to amend the Constitution to restore presidential powers and install close family members in key positions.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe last week batted for the 21st Amendment to the Constitution, saying it will curb the president’s unlimited powers while enhancing the role of Parliament in governing the debt-ridden country which is also facing an unprecedented political turmoil.

His proposal to introduce the 21st Amendment met with stiff resistance from some members of the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna party.

They charged that Wickremesinghe was looking to garner more power for himself while weakening President Rajapaksa who appointed him.

Wickremesinghe was the main sponsor of the 19th Amendment in 2015 which empowered Parliament over the executive president.

The constitutional reform was a major plank of the agreement between Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe when he took over the job of prime minister on May 12.

Sri Lanka has been grappling with unprecedented economic turmoil since its independence from Britain in 1948.

Sri Lanka’s economic crisis has created political unrest with protesters demanding the President’s resignation.

Under the 21A, the President will be held accountable to the Parliament.

The Cabinet of Ministers is also accountable to Parliament. The National Council is also accountable to Parliament. Fifteen Committees and Oversight Committees are accountable to Parliament.

Sri Lanka in mid-April declared that it was unable to meet its foreign debt payments and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) classified Sri Lanka’s debt as unsustainable. Therefore debt restructuring was key for an IMF programme.

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