Sri Lanka’s controversial 21st Amendment to Constitution fails to come up for Cabinet approval
Posted on May 23rd, 2022

Courtesy India Today

Sri Lanka’s contentious 21st Amendment to the Constitution was denied Cabinet approval after the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) objected to it.

In a major blow to Sri Lanka’s new Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, the proposal for the 21st Amendment to the Constitution to curb the unfettered powers of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, scheduled to be referred to the Cabinet on Monday, was not presented before it.

According to sources, the proposal was not presented in the Cabinet after parliamentarians of the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) objected to it in its present form. They demanded that the proposed legislation be approved by the Attorney General before referring it to the Cabinet.

The 21st Amendment is expected to annul the 20A which gave unlimited powers to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa after abolishing the 19th Amendment which had made Parliament powerful over the president.

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The constitutional reform was a major plank of the agreement between Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe when he took over the job of prime minister on May 12.

Rajapaksa had also pledged reforms in the Constitution in an address to the nation earlier this month.

The 21st Amendment would make it impossible for those with dual citizenship to hold a seat in Parliament. President Rajapaksa, who is facing growing demand for his resignation for mismanaging the country’s economy, had relinquished his US citizenship in April 2019 before contesting the presidential elections.

Justice Minister Wijayadasa Rajapaksa had earlier said that the 21st Amendment seeks to further strengthen the powers of the existing commissions and to make them independent as well.

In addition to the existing Independent Commissions, the National Audit Commission and the Procurement Commission will be amended as Independent Commissions under the proposed legislation.

The justice minister said the new amendment also proposes the appointment of the Governor of the Central Bank to come under the Constitutional Council.

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The powerful Rajapaksa family tightened their grip on power after their massive victory in the general elections in August 2020, which allowed them to amend the Constitution to restore presidential powers and install close family members in key positions.

In his 2019 presidential bid, Gotabaya Rajapaksa won a convincing mandate for the presidency during which he sought full presidential powers over Parliament.

Sri Lanka has been grappling with unprecedented economic turmoil since its independence from Britain in 1948.

A crippling shortage of foreign reserves has led to long queues for fuel, cooking gas and other essentials, while power cuts and soaring food prices have heaped misery on people.

The economic crisis has also triggered a political crisis in Sri Lanka and a demand for the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The crisis has already forced prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, the elder brother of the president, to resign on May 9.

An inflation rate spiralling towards 40 per cent, shortages of food, fuel and medicines and rolling power blackouts have led to nationwide protests and a plunging currency, with the government short of the foreign currency reserves it needed to pay for imports.

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