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Sri Lankan government confident of support for passage of the 20th Amendment in Parliament

The Sri Lankan government is confident of securing a two-third majority for the passage of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution that aims to bolster the powers of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa when the vote on the bill will take place in Parliament on Thursday, according to official sources.

The government on September 2 gazetted 20A, a new proposed legislation that would replace the 19th Amendment introduced in 2015 that curtailed the powers of the president and strengthened the role of Parliament.

The bill was presented in Parliament on Wednesday for a two-day debate following which a vote will take place later on Thursday. The amendment would become a part of the country’s basic law after Assembly Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena signs it.

We have sorted out all issues and found answers for a positive outcome, Udaya Gammanpila, Minister of Energy said.

Mr. Gammanpila and his ministerial colleague Wimal Weerawansa had led a discussion with a group of members in the government who are opposed to the 20A even after they pledged to move amendments so that a referendum would not be needed to write it to the statute books.

The government insiders were confident of at least 6 Opposition defections, while the Opposition said that at least two government members would either abstain or would vote against the bill.

The government on Wednesday said it would move as many as five amendments to the bill during the parliamentary debate.

We will make three of the amendments asked for by the Supreme Court while adding two more of our own, Mr. Gammanpila had said.

The Supreme Court had ruled that the 20A as a whole was not unconstitutional except for the 4 clauses which needed a referendum. It said that Clauses 3,5,14 and 22 in the amendment in their present form are inconsistent with Article 3 read with Article 4 of the Constitution and requires a referendum.

The Attorney General, on behalf of the government, had pledged that amendments would be made at the committee stage so that no referendum would be required.

The thrust of the debate on Wednesday was that the 20A was only meant to restore the powers enjoyed by the president since the original 1978 constitution.

The pro-democracy, good governance 19A adopted in 2015 was an impediment on the smooth functioning of the state as two political power houses being built around both the president who heads the executive and the prime minister who heads the Parliament.

The 19A was also branded as one adopted to target the powerful Rajapaksa family — to subject them to politically whipped up charges of wrongdoing and to prevent some of the family members from staking a claim to high profile political offices.

The 20A was needed to preserve national security and to effect rapid economic development through an efficiency based state administration, it was debated.

The Opposition’s defence was that the 19A had depoliticised key areas of governance by preserving the rule of law. The 20A rolls back all that and makes one person — the president- all too powerful with no checks and balances.

The 20A is meant to annul the 19A which was seen as a pro-democracy, good governance amendment and called for checks and balances in the presidential system while making Parliament more powerful.

The 20th Amendment proposes to restore full legal immunity to the President, removing the provisions made in the 19A to take legal action against the President.

President Rajapaksa was elected with a mandate to abolish the 19A.

During the last November’s presidential elections and last month’s parliamentary elections, Gotabaya Rajapaksa said that the 19A had made governance difficult as it created a rift between the executive president and the prime minister.

Interestingly, the current prime minister is the president’s elder brother Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was earlier president of the country for two terms.

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Printable version | Dec 4, 2020 7:27:39 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/sri-lankan-government-confident-of-support-for-passage-of-20a-in-parliament/article32919182.ece

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