COLOMBO: The Sri Lankan government's proposed 20th Constitution Amendment Bill would be placed on Parliament's order book on September 22, a senior official said on Friday, ending speculation that 20A's presentation would be delayed amidst internal resistance from within the ruling party led by the powerful Rajapaksa family.
The government on September 2 gazetted 20A, the new proposed legislation that would replace the 19th Amendment introduced in 2015 that curtailed the powers of the President and strengthened the role of Parliament.
The 19A was seen as the most progressive pro-democracy reformist move since Sri Lanka came to be governed under the all-powerful executive presidency in 1978. It depoliticised the government administration by ensuring the independence of key pillars such as the judiciary, public service and elections.
The 20th Amendment proposes to restore full legal immunity to the President, removing the provisions made in the 19A to take legal action against the President. "The proposed 20A is to be placed on Parliament's order book on September 22," Parliament's Secretary-General Dhammika Dasanayake said.
The proposed legislation faced internal resistance from within a faction of the ruling Sri Lanka People's Party (SLPP) parliamentary group itself, following which Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa appointed a 9-member ministerial committee to review it.
"The bill will be submitted in Parliament soon. Anyone can challenge it in court thereafter and anyone wanting changes to it can do so at the committee stage (in parliament)," Keheliya Rambukwella, who is the minister of information and also the spokesperson for the government, said.
"Once the draft would be placed in the order book, interested parties are allowed a week from then to petition the Supreme Court. The court's determination would be sent to Parliament within a further 2 weeks," he said.
Ever since the government gazetted the 20A, some of the ruling SLPP's own parliamentarians and the party's allies have been publicly expressing unhappiness over its certain provisions, party members said.
If the 20A is implemented in its present form, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa will be the hardest-hit as his current powers as the premier would be diminished with his younger brother and the President, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, assuming full executive power, they said.
Moreover, Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is also a two-time president, will not be able to contest for the presidential election again as the two-term bar has been retained in the 20A draft, the party members said.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa outlined his commitment to abolish the 19th Amendment during his ceremonial address to Parliament last month. The 19A Amendment adopted in 2015 by the then reformist government was subject to much criticism by the powerful Rajapaksa clan as it prevented dual citizens from contesting elections.
At the time, two of the Rajapaksa family members, including the current president, were dual citizens of the US and Sri Lanka. Gotabaya Rajapaksa had to renounce his US citizenship to contest the presidential election in November last.
His younger brother and SLPP founder and its National Organiser, Basil Rajapaksa, is a dual citizen of the US and Sri Lanka. There are five from the Rajapaksa family already in the government.
During the August 5 general election, the SLPP sought two thirds parliamentary mandate or 150 seats in the 225-member assembly to effect constitutional changes, the foremost of them was the move to abolish the 19A.
The SLPP and allies won 150 seats and have a two-thirds majority to affect the constitutional change they desire.
While Gotabaya Rajapaksa was elected as the Sri Lankan President in November last year, his eldest brother Mahinda Rajapaksa won the general election and assumed charge as Prime Minister on August 9.