Constitutional amendment in Sri Lanka to further strengthen president′s role | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 07.09.2010
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Constitutional amendment in Sri Lanka to further strengthen president's role

The proposed 18th Amendment to the Constitution intended to vest the President with enhanced executive powers is to be tabled in parliament on Wednesday.

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse

The proposed amendment to the constitution of Sri Lanka will be debated in parliament as an urgent legislation on September 8, 2010 and the vote taken thereafter.

The clause that "no person who has been twice elected to the office of President by the people shall be qualified thereafter to be elected to such office by the people" (Article 31 (2)) is to be repealed by the 18th Amendment. In addition, several main provisions of the 17th Amendment to the Constitution, passed in parliament in 2001, to establish several independent commissions such as to investigate allegations of bribery and corruption are to be abolished under the proposed 18th Amendment.

Commissions to be weakened

The constitutional council that exercised the power to select suitable persons to hold key offices of the independent commissions is to be abolished and replaced with a parliamentary council with powers only to express its observations on the appointments made by the president. However, it will not be imperative that the president should accept their observations.

In the last election, Sri Lankan voters have given the government a strong parliamentary majority

In the last election, Sri Lankan voters have given the government a strong parliamentary majority

The powers of the election commission will be reduced. The election commission will no longer have the power to issue directions preventing political parties to use state resources to advance their campaigns during the election period.

The powers exercised under the 17th amendment by the constitutional council to appoint the chief justice, the judges of the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal, the members of the Judicial Service Commission and the parliamentary ombudsman will be vested with the President.

President turns against own promises

The executive presidency established under the 1978 constitution has been strongly criticized as an institution with overriding powers. The political opinion that the powers of the executive presidency should be reduced or abolished has been gathering momentum for more than two decades. The ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) and all other political parties had agreed to this opinion.

In 2005, the then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse who contested the presidential election for his first term of office had promised the nation that he would abolish the executive presidency and promulgate a new constitution that would provid quick solutions to the burning problems of the people. His one main promise to the nation in his election manifesto of 2010 was to reduce the powers of the executive president.

The United National Party (UNP), the main opposition political party in Parliament, has pointed out that President Mahinda Rajapakse, realizing the rising unpopularity of the government has resorted to this urgent legislation even before the expiry of his first term of office.

The debate on the proposed 18th Amendment will coincide with the 32nd anniversary of the 1978 constitution which had been passed in Parliament on September 7, 1978.

Author: Sanath Balasooriya
Editor: Arun Chowdhury

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