Sri Lankan Cabinet appoints panel to draft new Constitution

Move follows Rajapaksa brothers’ election pledge to abolish the 19th Amendment

September 03, 2020 10:15 pm | Updated 10:15 pm IST - COLOMBO

Tightening their hold: Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa greeting lawmakers in Colombo on August 20.

Tightening their hold: Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa greeting lawmakers in Colombo on August 20.

The Cabinet has set up an experts’ committee to draft Sri Lanka’s new Constitution, even as the government gazetted the draft of the 20th Amendment that would reverse the preceding 19th Amendment, a 2015 legislation that clipped certain executive powers of the President.

The move follows the ruling Rajapaksa brothers’ poll pledge to abolish the 19th Amendment, introduced by the former government. After a securing a comfortable two-thirds majority in the August general elections, the government took up the promise swiftly.

In his inaugural address to Parliament on August 20, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa announced that Sri Lanka would draft a new Constitution, jettisoning the 19th Amendment that sought to strengthen Parliament and independent institutions, besides curbing presidential powers.

Two-step process

The government’s amendments to the Constitution will be carried out in two-steps, Minister Udaya Gammanpila told the weekly Cabinet press briefing on Thursday. While the 20th Amendment would “correct anomalies” in the current Constitution, a completely new Constitution would replace it soon after, authorities said.

Earlier, on examination of the draft amendment, the Attorney General told the government that it could be passed with a two-thirds parliamentary majority, and did not require a national referendum.

Government sources said the public would have about two weeks to go through the draft and petition the Supreme Court if they have objections.

Once the Supreme Court gives its determination on the draft to Parliament, it would be taken up for debate in the House, a senior official told The Hindu, requesting anonymity. Asked what time frame the government was looking at to complete the process, the official said: “As soon as possible.”

The committee tasked with drafting the new Constitution will be led by senior lawyer Romesh de Silva.

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