Sri Lanka Parliament Speaker says 20A could be adopted by two-thirds majority


PTI, Oct 20, 2020, 7:22 PM IST

Colombo: Sri Lankan Parliament Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena on Tuesday said that the government’s proposed 20th Amendment to the Constitution that aims to bolster the powers of the President could be passed in the 225-member assembly with a two-thirds majority.

The government on September 2 gazetted 20A, 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 Speaker said that the bill was consistent with the provisions of Article 82(1) of the Constitution and requires a special majority to be passed.

Abeywardena said that the Supreme Court had ruled that that the bill could be passed in the 225-member assembly with a two-thirds majority.

He said that the apex court had also ruled 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. However, the inconsistency of Clause 3 and 14 will cease by voting in amendment at the committee stage, he said.

The government, during the hearing, pledged in the Supreme Court that amendments would be moved at the committee stage so that there would be no need to hold a referendum. The clauses which need a referendum covers the restoration of full legal immunity for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his ability to dissolve a parliament elected for five years after just one year in office.

When the announcement was made in the assembly, the main Opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SBJ)’s request to postpone the debate on 20A was rejected. The SJB in a letter had cited the new COVID-19 prevention regulations gazetted this week by the government where strict social distancing needs to be maintained.

It said that parliamentary sessions with seating less than a meter apart would pose a health risk as the island was facing a new outbreak of the pandemic. Parliamentary officials said that the debate would start at 10 AM on Wednesday and will be concluded on Thursday evening with the vote on the second reading.

The amendment which aims to restore full executive power on president Rajapaksa above parliament has met with resistance within the government’s own quarters and from among the powerful Buddhist clergy supporters of the ruling party.

The government sources said that the amendment would be duly enacted in Parliament before November 17 when the 2021 budget is scheduled to be presented.

The 20A is meant to annul the 19A which was seen as a pro-democracy, good governance amendment which called for checks and balances in the presidential system while making Parliament more powerful. The 19A was seen as the most progressive pro-democracy reformist move since Sri Lanka came to be governed under the all-powerful executive presidency in 1978.

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, Rajapaksa said that the 19A had made governance difficult as it created a rift between the executive president and prime minister.

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