Mahinda moots clipping presidential powers; one killed in police firing

Proposes restoring 19th Amendment that empowers PM, Parliament 

April 19, 2022 04:57 pm | Updated 09:41 pm IST - COLOMBO

Demonstrators from Leftist opposition party, the People’s Liberation Front, take part in a protest against Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on April 19, 2022 in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Demonstrators from Leftist opposition party, the People’s Liberation Front, take part in a protest against Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on April 19, 2022 in Colombo, Sri Lanka. | Photo Credit: Buddhika Weerasinghe

Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa on Tuesday proposed restoring a legislation that clips the President’s executive powers, and in turn empowers the Prime Minister and Parliament, as a “short-term” solution to the country’s gripping economic crisis.

The move comes at a time when President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and PM Mahinda face unprecedented public rage and criticism, seen in the incessant citizens’ protests in capital Colombo and across the country. The demonstrators want the ruling brothers to resign, taking responsibility for the meltdown that has resulted in in a severe shortage of essentials and steep price rise. While the pressure led to enmasse Cabinet resignations earlier this month, the President and PM remain in office.

Addressing the Parliament’s first session after the New Year break in Sri Lanka, Mr. Mahinda sought implementation of the 19th Amendment with “necessary and timely amendments”, as part of a solution based on a “solid economic, political, and social foundation.”

His proposal signals a potential shift in the power centre within the ruling camp, with Mr. Mahinda attempting to regain control by overturning the 20th Amendment. The 2020 legislation passed by the Gotabaya administration reduced the Prime Minister’s role to a ceremonial one, while granting sweeping powers and heightened immunity to the President’s office. It essentially rolled back the 19th Amendment passed in 2015, months after the Maithripala Sirisena-Ranil Wickreemesinghe coalition was elected to office.

The development also coincides with the Opposition’s call to abolish Executive Presidency. Government sources told The Hindu that Mr. Mahinda is expected to put forward a Cabinet paper on restoring the 19th Amendment early next week, when the newly appointed Cabinet meets for the first time. He would need a Cabinet nod to table the relevant Bill in Parliament.

Police shoot protester

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka police shot dead one man and wounded about a dozen protesters on Tuesday during in what police called a “clash”in Rambukkana, about 50 km northeast of Colombo. Kegalle district hospital authorities told media that one injured man had succumbed to the bullet injury, confirming the first fatality following police action against protesters.

For more than a month now, citizens across the country have been taking to the streets, protesting the government’s “failed” response to the economic crisis. The agitation intensified over the last 10 days, with thousands gathering near Colombo’s seafront every day, raising anti-government slogans outside the Presidential Secretariat.

Lawyer groups, human rights watchdogs, and Colombo-based diplomats condemned the use of force against protesters. “Deeply concerned by reports of harm to protestors in #Rambukkana. Violence by any party involved hinders the rights of all peaceful protestors. Restricting use of force to the minimum extent necessary is vital to protect citizens and their right to exercise fundamental freedoms,” UN resident coordinator Hanaa Singer said in a tweet.  

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