President Sirisena has called for the repealing the 19th amendment of the Sri Lankan constitution to ensure political stability despite the amendments forming a central component of his 2015 manifesto.
Sirisena claims that the 19th amendment was introduced because the 18th amendment had overexpanded the powers of the presidency and become monarchical. However, he has since described the amendment as the biggest mistake the government has made. He has that if Sri Lanka repealed both the 18th and 19th amendment this would be a good thing.
On Sunday Sirisena blamed the 19th amendment for political instability stating that;
"The time has come for the post-mortem to be held...If this government was bad for the country in the past four and a half years, the main reason is the 19th Amendment. Otherwise this is a very good government."
He further blamed the division between the Prime Minister and the Presidency on this amendment stating;
“There is an allegation among the people in this country that the Prime Minister and I are pulling in different directions. It was the 19th Amendment that created that situation for both sides...The 19th Amendment introduced a system of drawing both sides apart. It caused a huge loss to the country. The government too suffered a great loss."
The People's Action For Free & Fair Elections (PAFREL) has spoken out against the move pointing out that what should be done is adding more amendments not abolishing the 19th.
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.
The Hindu reports that “with Presidential polls due by end of the year, it remains unclear if President Sirisena will run for office again. No other party has finalised its candidate for the race”.