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21st Amendment: Sri Lanka To Debate Bill Which May Abolish Presidential System

Newly chosen prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe will discuss the 21st Amendment to the Constitution on Monday, which if passed will see the Sri Lankan president's role reduced to a ceremonial position (Image: AP Photo)

Newly chosen prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe will discuss the 21st Amendment to the Constitution on Monday, which if passed will see the Sri Lankan president's role reduced to a ceremonial position (Image: AP Photo)

The discussions will strike fear in the heart of Gotabaya Rajapaksa whose resignation Sri Lankans have sought since the beginning of the economic crisis.

Sri Lanka’s new prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Monday will address the parliament regarding the economic crisis the island-nation is currently facing. But the focus will lie on the 21st Amendment to the Sri Lankan constitution.

On Monday, new ministers were also inducted to the Sri Lankan cabinet while the nation was put under a curfew which will last until Tuesday morning.

What Changes Does The Amendment Bring?

Parliamentarians in Sri Lanka will discuss the draft 21st constitution amendment bill on Monday. The bill seeks to ‘abolish the executive presidential system and replace it with a system that reinforces constitutional democracy’. This means that if this bill is passed then it will remove several key powers of the Sri Lankan president, essentially reducing the role of the presidency to a ceremonial one.

The bill will also ensure that the Sri Lankan president will have no personal discretion in appointing or dismissing the Sri Lankan prime minister. The Sri Lankan prime minister will be the head of the cabinet of ministers and the ministers will be appointed by the Sri Lankan president on the prime minister’s recommendation or advice.

The amendment to the bill will allow the powers of the Sri Lankan president on all three armed forces.

The timing of the bill is important as president Gotabaya Rajapaksa faces protests and Sri Lankans continue to demand his resignation.

What Led To The ‘21st Amendment’?

A 19th amendment was introduced to the Sri Lankan constitution in 2015 which removed the powers of the Sri Lankan president to remove the prime minister as per the president’s discretion. That year the articles 46 (2) and 48 of the Sri Lankan constitution were amended allowing dismissal of cabinet ministers if the Sri Lankan prime minister ceased to hold office by death, resignation or otherwise. It also allowed for the disbanding of the government if the parliament rejects a statement of government policy or the budget presented by the government or if the Sri Lankan parliament passes a vote of no confidence against the ruling government.

However, the 19th amendment was scrapped when former prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s younger brother Gotabaya Rajapaksa won the November 2019 presidential election. In 2020, when the Rajapaksas cemented their positions following the massive victory in the general elections in August 2020, they passed the  20th amendment (20A) which reinstated and increased the executive powers of the Sri Lankan president.

Critics pointed out that the change could derail the balance between the legislature, executive and judiciary as it rested most powers in the hands of one individual. It also removed the limitations on presidential powers with respect to key appointments to independent institutions.

(with inputs from PTI and DailyMirror.lk)

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first published:May 16, 2022, 10:22 IST