Certain clauses in the proposed 20th Amendment need a public referendum: Sri Lanka Supreme Court

WION Web Team
NEW DELHI Published: Oct 21, 2020, 11.47 PM(IST)

Sri Lanka's President Gotabaya Rajapaksa Photograph:( Reuters )

Story highlights

The Supreme Court’s orders came after opposition parties and civil society appealed. They filed 39 petitions in all to challenge the new amendment.

The Supreme Court of Sri Lanka has largely cleared the 20th Amendment of the constitution that aimed at enhancing the Sri Lankan President’s powers. 

But it has raised a red flag over four clauses that would require approval by the people at a referendum.

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The Supreme Court’s orders came after opposition parties and civil society appealed. They filed 39 petitions in all to challenge the new amendment.

The controversial 20th Amendment to the Constitution is being considered as contentious by these petitioners because: 

1: It would give President Rajapaksa unbridled powers.

2: The president will be able to dissolve the parliament after one year. 

3: He will have a say in the appointment of judges and other top officials.

4: The auditor general will not be able to inspect the offices of president and prime minister and others and people with dual citizenship will be allowed to become members of parliament.

So, the prime minister's office and the cabinet will be weakened. The president will be able to change ministers at will. In the case of the Rajapaksas, this may not matter because one brother is the president, the other is the prime minister.

The opposition is up in arms against these proposals. They believe that with these changes the legislature will be reduced to a rubber-stamp parliament. They also have strong objections to allowing those who have dual citizenship to enter the parliament.

The opposition claims that this provision will be used by president Rajapaksa to get his brother basil into the legislature. Basil Rajapaksa is the younger border of Mahinda and Gotabaya Rajapaksa. He has both American and Sri Lankan citizenship. 

Now, the proposals of the Rajapaksas has received opposition from the most unlikely of quarters.
A section of powerful Buddhist clergy is against the constitutional changes.

Two chapters of monks say the 20th amendment would "deal a death blow" to democracy in Sri Lanka.

They believe the new system will not have a balance of power between the legislature, the executive and the judiciary.
 
Since 1978, Sri Lanka has been ruled by powerful executive presidents. That changed in 2015 when an amendment strengthened the parliament and the prime minister.
 
Independent commissions were put in charge of judiciary appointments, the police, public services and the conduct of elections.
 
But the Rajapaksas want to change that and take Sri Lanka back to the past.

(With inputs from agencies)

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