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.
At a marathon sitting that lasted over 12 hours, the 225-strong Parliament cleared the Bill with 212 members voting in favour of the legislation. Ten members were absent. While one voted against the Bill, another member abstained from the voting. The 14-member Tamil National Alliance (TNA) also supported the Bill.
After announcing the results of the third reading at about 11 p.m., Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa adjourned the House.
President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe thanked all the parties that supported the Bill.
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.
Earlier in the day, two issues cropped up — objections to the composition of Constitutional Council and the provision regarding the appointment of Ministers.
Eventually, the government agreed to include seven MPs in the Constitutional Council as against the original proposal of having only non-political members.