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Sri Lankan president looks to expand powers as cabinet endorses 20th Amendment 

Sri Lanka’s cabinet has approved a new constitutional amendment that will see the presidential office of Gotabaya Rajapaksa expand its role and the scaling back of constitutional checks and balances on executive power.

The proposed 20th Amendment to Sri Lanka’s constitution, which is to be debated by Sri Lanka’s parliament in the coming days, was gazetted on Wednesday evening. Attorney General Dappula de Livera remarked that in order to be enacted it will require a two-thirds majority in parliament - a requirement the Rajapaksa regime achieved in last month’s parliamentary polls.

Changes under the proposed amendment have drawn widespread criticism, as the Sri Lankan government looks to replace the current ‘Constitutional Council’ with a weakened ‘Parliamentary Council’, expand presidential powers and broadens presidential immunity from prosecution.

Amongst the other changes proposed are the removal of “promoting national reconciliation and integration” as a duty of the president, the president granted the power to “assign to himself any subject or function”, the power to be able to remove the prime minister and to dissolve parliament after one year.

“in the event of any inconsistency between the Sinhala and Tamil texts of this Act, the Sinhala text shall prevail,” it added.

See the full text of the proposed amendment here.

“The 20th amendment will revert back Executive Presidency to JR Jayawardena's original design of the institution in 1978,” commented Jaffna based attorney Kumaravadivel Guruparan.

“The principal changes proposed by the Twentieth Amendment Bill seek to remove the checks and balances on the executive presidency,” said the Centre for Policy Alternatives, calling the Parliamentary Council "a mere a rubber stamp of the executive, with no genuine deliberative role envisaged for its members”.

“Moreover, CPA notes that the opportunity for citizens to challenge the executive actions of the President through fundamental rights applications has been removed, suggesting that the President is above the law… These fundamental changes to the constitutional separation and balance of powers will seriously undermine the accountability of government, and pose a significant challenge to existing democratic norms embodied in the Constitution.” 

See more from the CPA here.

“Authoritarianism did not start with the Rajapaksas in Sri Lanka and will not end with the Rajapaksas either,” Guruparan concluded.

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