COLOMBO: The Sri Lankan main opposition party and five others have challenged the 20A draft bill, that aims to bolster the powers of the president, in the Supreme Court after it was presented in Parliament.
The proposed 20th Constitution Amendment Bill was tabled in Parliament on Tuesday, ending speculation that its 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 main opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) filed the petition on Tuesday, while five other individuals filed it on Wednesday.
The interested parties have a week from submitting the petition to file objections in the Supreme Court challenging its constitutionality.
The apex court has further 3 weeks to determine if the proposed amendment would be consistent or ultra virus of the Constitution.
The SJB petition has argued that the amendment could only become law if it would be passed with two thirds majority in Parliament and if approved in a referendum.
The party's lawyers said that the 20A violates the principles of fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution.
The SJB led a noisy demonstration inside the parliamentary chamber when it was presented.
They stressed that 20A would pave the way for autocracy.
The 20A aims to roll back the pro democracy 19A which watered down the powers of the executive presidency while empowering Parliament.
It also brought in independent commissions to depoliticise key areas of governance including the system of elections.
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.
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.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was elected with a mandate to abolish the 19A.
During the last November's presidential elections and last month's parliamentary elections, Rajapaksa said that the 19A had made governance difficult as it created a rift between the executive president and prime minister.
He was also critical of the 19A provision which barred dual citizens from contesting elections.
He 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 Sri Lanka People's Party (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.
Following discontent expressed by some within the ruling SLPP, a committee was appointed to review the 20A and present it anew.
However, the committee recommendations were ignored as the president insisted on his desire to have it approved in its original draft form.