Marking the beginning of a new chapter in the contemporary political history of Sri Lanka, the Parliament on Tuesday night adopted the 19th Constitutional Amendment with an overwhelming majority. The legislation envisages the dilution of many powers of Executive Presidency, which had been in force since 1978.
Among the important features of the Bill are: the reduction in the terms of President and Parliament from six years to five years; re-introduction of a two-term limit that a person can have as President; the power of President to dissolve Parliament only after four and a half years [unlike one year, as prevalent now]; the revival of Constitutional Council and the establishment of independent commissions.
Though the abolition of the Executive Presidency was the major electoral promise of Mr Sirisena, the Supreme Court, in its ruling early this month, held that certain provisions, such as those making Prime Minister the head of Cabinet and empowering PM to determine the size of Cabinet, would require a referendum. So, the President remains the head of Cabinet. However, he can appoint Ministers on the advice of Prime Minister.
Three Rajapaksa's shut out
1. Former president Mahinda Rajapaksa's dream of becoming the Executive President of Sri Lanka for a third time was permanently shut out as one of the clauses included in the 19th Amendment refers to limiting the tenure of Sri Lanka President to only two (02) terms. Rajapaksa has already completed his two terms and cannot come forward ever again as a contender;
2. Former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa too is ruled out as dual citizens are shut out from contesting a Parliamentary Elections under the 19th Amendment. Rajapaksa is a dual citizen of the United States of America and Sri Lanka;
3. Former president’s eldest son and the Rajapaksa clan’s heir apparent, MP Namal may voted himself out of the 2021 presidential election by supporting the 19th amendment to the constitution.
The latest amendment raised the minimum age of a presidential candidate to 35 years, up from the earlier 30 that would narrowly disqualify Namal Rajapaksa from entering the next presidential election due in January 2021.
Born on 10th April 1986, Namal will complete 35 years of age three months after the next presidential election. The five year term limit on the presidency kicks in only from 2021.
Prime Minister thanked the opposition for supporting the bill that will limit president's powers and ensure the independence of the judiciary and police restoring democracy.
"This is a historical moment. We thank the President, Speaker, Opposition Leader, every parliamentarian and everyone who supported this," the Prime Minister said at the conclusion of the voting. The legislation was a major component of the President's election manifesto.
Editor's Note – The adoption of the 19th Amendment is an unequivocal victory for the people of Sri Lanka. It also brings the Constitution of Sri Lanka on par with most other democratically run countries around the globe. President Maithripala Sirisena must be congratulated for stick handling the passage of this super important amendment with the help of PM Ranil Wickramasinghe and his team.