INTERNATIONAL

Sri Lanka revisiting draft 20th Amendment

Mahinda Rajapaksa  

The Sri Lankan government is revisiting the draft 20th Amendment to the Constitution, gazetted earlier this month, in the light of “public concerns”, according to government sources.

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa on Saturday appointed a nine-member committee chaired by G.L. Peiris, a Cabinet Minister and a former professor of law, to study the proposed Amendment. The newly drafted 20th Amendment envisages enhancing Presidential powers, along with immunity, while significantly reducing the Prime Minister’s role and powers.

According to a source familiar with discussions within the government, the committee has been tasked with reviewing the draft Amendment, “in the light of public concerns”. “Depending on the findings of this committee, the government may gazette a revised draft of the proposed amendment,” the source, who did not wish to be named, told The Hindu on Monday.

It follows the ruling Rajapaksa brothers’ election pledge to repeal the preceding 19th Amendment — introduced by the former government in 2015 — that imposed curbs on presidential powers, while empowering Parliament and independent commissions.

Both President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa promised to get rid of the amendment they blame for the power struggle between President Maithripala Sirsena and PM Ranil Wickremesinghe in the former government that led to serious lapses, including in intelligence sharing ahead of the Easter Sunday blasts. However, the proposed Bill has drawn criticism from the political opposition and civil society organisations, who have raised concern over the President wielding unbridled power, with few checks in the legislature or the judiciary.

Criticism and concern

While opposition parties are mulling going to court on the proposed amendment, the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) has appointed a special committee to study the 20th Amendment to the Constitution.

The Amendment also found mention in the statement made by Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights at the ongoing Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday.

Referring to Sri Lanka in her global human rights update, High Commissioner Bachelet said: “I am troubled that the new government is swiftly reneging on its commitments to the Human Rights Council since it withdrew its support for resolution 30/1. Among other developments, the proposed 20th Amendment to the Constitution may negatively impact on the independence of key institutions, including the National Human Rights Commission.”