Bill passed, sweeping powers for Lanka President
Sri Lanka’s Parliament on Thursday passed the 20th Amendment to the Constitution with two-thirds majority, consolidating the power in the hands of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and undermining the authority of Parliament.
The second reading of the 20th Amendment was passed in Parliament, with 156 MPs voting in favour of the Bill and 65 against it in the 223-member Parliament. Only 213 members were present at the time of voting.
The interesting feature of the vote was six defections from the Opposition benches to government ranks.
With their dominant majority in the assembly, the Rajapaksas have made it clear that they would amend the Constitution to bolster the powers of the President, reversing the work of the previous government to introduce more checks and balances and enhance the role of Parliament.
Activists, already alarmed by the diminishing space for dissent in the island nation, fear that the latest amendment to the Constitution may lead to authoritarianism.
The Bill was presented in Parliament on Wednesday for a two-day debate following which the vote took place on Thursday. The amendment will become part of the country’s basic law after Assembly Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena signs it.
The government on September 2 gazetted 20A to replace the 19th Amendment introduced in 2015 that curtailed the powers of the President and strengthened the role of Parliament.
20A is meant to annul 19A, which was seen as a pro-democracy, good governance amendment and called for checks and balances in the presidential system while making Parliament more powerful. The 20A proposes to restore full legal immunity to the President.