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Newly appointed cabinet to effectively repeal and replace 19th amendment

Sri Lanka’s newly appointed cabinet ministers are to appoint a five-member committee to effectively repeal the 19th amendment, which limits the powers of the presidency, and replace it with a proposed 20th amendment.

According to co-cabinet spokesman, Keheliya Rambukwella, despite the amendments, some of its “salient features” will be retained. This includes the two five-year term limit imposed on the president. The cabinet also claimed that the Right to Information (RTI) Act will also be protected.

Udaya Gammanpila, co-cabinet spokesman, announced that he along with Professor G.L Peiris, Dinesh Gunawardena, Nimal Siripala de Silva, and Ali Sabry, would head the committee. The committee is tasked with reviewing cabinet papers and presenting constitutional reforms however, no timeline has been specified.

Gammanpila has stated on the matter:

“Whatever the positive features of the 19th Amendment will remain, but what they have yet to be decided. Today the Justice Minister was empowered to look into it, and he will tell the Cabinet from his perspective what should be kept. Then we will decide what to repeal and what to keep”.

The 19th Amendment

The 19th amendment was passed on 28 April 2015 with 215 out of 225 members voting in favour of the amendment. The amendment sought to weaken the power of the presidency which the 18th amendment, passed in September 2010, had greatly expanded.

The 18th amendment was a controversial bill that leads political commentators such as Gulbin Sultana from India’s Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses to decry the decision as a move towards “nepotism and dictatorship which will certainly have disastrous consequences”.

Sultana notes that the 18th amendment allowed four basic changes:

- The President can seek re-election any number of times;

- The ten-member Constitutional Council has been replaced with a five-member Parliamentary Council;

- Independent commissions are brought under the authority of the President; and,

- It enables the President to attend Parliament once in three months and entitles him to all the privileges, immunities, and powers of a Member of Parliament other than the entitlement to vote.

The 19th amendment counterbalanced many of these decisions and restored components of the 17th amendment. Most notably, the 19th amendment caps the presidency at two terms and disallows dissolution of Parliament by the President before four-and-a-half years of its term.

Sabry claimed that the tenure of the Presidency would remain subject to five years and that it would still be capped at two terms. He also claims that operations of the independent commissions would not be impeded whatsoever with this proposal.         

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