Civil society divided over 20 A: Chrishmal: Parliament cannot be empowered at the expense of Prez
Posted on June 13th, 2018

By Shamindra Ferdinando Courtesy The Island

Civil society activists who campaigned for Maithripala Sirisena at the January 2015 presidential election are sharply divided over the JVP proposed 20th Amendment intended to further dilute executive powers and do away with the next presidential election.

The 20 Amendment proposes that the parliament elects the next president.



Presidential poll is scheduled to be held in Nov-Dec 2019 according to Additional Commissioner, Elections (parliamentary) M.A.P.C. Perera. Parliamentary poll is scheduled for the following year.

An influential section of the civil society led by Purawesi Balaya and National Movement for Social Justice (NMSJ) recently threw their weight behind the JVP project. They believe the 20th Amendment would be necessary at the moment due to delay in finalizing the new constitution.

Civil society activist and attorney-at-law Chrishmal Warnasuriya, in an interview with Indeewari Amuwatte on Derana 24X7, strongly criticized the JVP move.

Warnasuriya, who had been on the JVP National List at 2015 parliamentary poll emphasized that the move to empower the parliament to elect president wouldn’t be acceptable under any circumstances. Alleging that transferring of ‘executive powers’ to the legislature was against the principle of separation of powers, Warnasuriya questioned the suitability of the parliament to elect the president against the backdrop of allegations pertaining to some lawmakers involvement with tainted primary dealer, Perpetual Treasuries Limited (PTL).

Warnasuriya asserted that the 20 Amendment couldn’t be a priority for the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration as there were many contentious issues. The vast majority of people were struggling to make ends meet and the rapidly rising dollar debt was having a destabilizing effect on the national economy.

The convenor of civil society group Rata Surakimu discussed their role in strengthening democracy and shaping the political landscape in the wake of post-2015 January presidential election.

Asked whether he was happy with the current situation, Warnasuriya said that he was not totally disillusioned but certainly not happy. Warnasuriya acknowledged that they hadn’t been able to achieve what they really wanted to. Referring to the impeachment and removal of then Chief Justice Dr. Shirani Bandaranayake in January 2013, Warnasuriya said that though the restoration of judicial independence to a certain extent had succeeded, yet the situation was certainly not satisfactory. “I think, we have changed from one era centered around a clan in the South to another powerful Royal clan in Colombo.”

The lawyer said as only a cabal of few people were running the administration, they couldn’t be happy with the situation.

Commenting on public expectations, Warnasuriya pointed out that the debilitating setback suffered by the UNP and the SLFP at Feb. 10, 2018 Local Government poll reflected the public anger at the government’s failure to fulfill its promises, obligations.

Commenting on fresh JVP bid to further dilute executive powers, Warnasuriya explained his role and that of the civil society in introducing the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. The executive presidency had been weakened to such an extent, the public recently realized President Maithripala Sirisena was powerless to remove Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. Warnasuriya was referring to failed bid to replace the PM over treasury bond scams exposure.

Warnasuriya strongly criticized the failure on the part of the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government to bring the constitutional making process to a successful conclusion. The lawyer pointed out how the government wasted over three years on much touted process finally leading to the JVP moving the 20th Amendment.

Referring to UNP-SLFP confrontation over the treasury bond scams, Warnasuriya asserted that in spite of the enactment of 19th Amendment in April 2015, there were provisions in the Constitution to remove the PM. Warnasuriya said that President Sirisena for some reason didn’t want to utilize those constitutional provisions.

Recollecting the circumstances under which the Supreme Court blocked the 19th Amendment in its original form, Warnasuriya said that executive powers enjoyed by a person (in this case Maithripala Sirisena) elected through direct vote couldn’t be bestowed on another (PM Wickremesinghe) with a different mandate.

The constitutional affairs expert denied claims that the enactment of the 19th Amendment had weakened security of the state.

The 20th Amendment was meant to pave the way for a person who couldn’t secure presidency at a national level contest to achieve the same through the legislature, Warnasuriya said.

Responding to another query, Warnasuriya said that it wouldn’t be feasible to adopt a foreign constitutional model though the US and French systems could be examined if the country was to remain in the presidential system.

Warnasuriya said that he still believed in the presidential form of government.

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