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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Sri Lanka Constitutional Expert Says Largely Satisfied with Reforms

Jayampathy Wickramaratne, a constitutional lawyer who advises the Sri Lankan government, said he was largely satisfied with reforms approved by parliament this week which an opposition faction watered down at the last moment.

The 19th amendment to the constitution passed on Tuesday succeeded in prunning the powers of the executive president and shifting them to parliament, said Wickramaratne a member of the government’s constitution drafting team.

“The government lacks a majority in parliament and so was forced to compromise with the opposition and amend the proposed reforms,” he told a news conference.

“It’s true the government couldn’t go as far as promised but we laid an important foundation. We achieved a 60-65 pct reduction in the powers of the executive president.”

Wickramaratne said he was satisfied with what had been achieved as “a first step.”

One of the key features of the 19th amendment to the constitution was that “the Right to Information was recognized as a fundamental right, although what was promised was only an RTI bill,” said Wickramaratne. “We have gone further.”

The executive president continues to be head of government, head of state and head of the Cabinet of ministers and the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces but the reforms re-imposed a two-term limit, he said.

The changes also shortened the terms of the president and parliament to five years from six.

They made the president responsible to parliament while restricting his power to dissolve parliament unilaterally only after it had served four and a half years

“Presidential immunity has been restricted,” said Wickramaratne. “His official acts can be challenged by way of a fundamental rights application in the Supreme Court.”

The Cabinet of ministers is charged with the direction and control of government and is collectively responsible and answerable to parliament.

“A key difference is that the president’s power to remove the prime minister without any reason is to be deleted,” said Wickramaratne. “Parliament can remove the prime minister through a no confidence motion or by defeating the vote on the budget.”

The reforms also limit the size of the Cabinet to a maximum of 30 and state ministers and deputy ministers to a maximum of 40, except for the next parliament where numbers can be increased if the two largest parties join together and form national unity government, as planned.

Wickramaratne said the government was forced to compromise on the make up of the Consitutional Council, which will make appointments t key public institutions, because of demands from an opposition faction.

The 10-member council will now have a majority of parliamentarians – seven lawmakers of whom five will be jointly nominated by the prime minister and opposition leader, one representing small parties and one appointed by the president.

“The number of MPs is now raised to seven of the 10,” said Wickramaratne. “Previously, it was proposed to have seven members from outside parliament.”

“We went along with that in the bill. Unfortunately we had to compromise on that, reluctantly. There was pressure from certain parts of the opposition to increase the number of MPs to a majority. We reluctantly agreed to that.”


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