Sri Lanka’s newly elected government under President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has drafted constitutional changes that restore sweeping executive powers to his office.
Gazetted on Thursday, the amendment would restore the President’s powers to dissolve parliament one year after its election, which had been increased to four-and-half-years under a previous change.
The latest changes also include replacing the Constitutional Council with a weakened Parliamentary Council made up of only legislators and no civil society members, while the appointment of members to the Elections Commission, the Human Rights Commission and five other bodies will be made by the executive.
Restrictions on dual citizens sitting in Parliament and the number of cabinet and junior ministers will be removed, while the provisions introduced by the 19th amendment that made it mandatory for the President to seek the advice of the Prime Minister before appointing and removing ministers and junior ministers will also be abolished under the proposed changes. A two term limit on the president remains.
It also appears that the amendment on dual citizenship is to bring another Rajapaksa-like Basil Rajapaksa, into the political arena, said Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan, a distinguished fellow of New Delhi-based think-tank Observer Research Foundation. The youngest Rajapaksa brother also holds a US passport.
Injurious to democracy
Rajapaksa — who had run a minority government after winning a November presidential poll and appointed his brother and former strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa as the prime minister — won a landslide victory at the August 5 parliamentary election.
The brothers ruling Sri Lanka also have the support of minority parties and others to get the super majority needed to pass the constitutional amendments in parliament in the coming weeks.
Separately, Sri Lanka’s government also this week appointed a committee of senior lawyers to draft a new constitution.
When it comes to both — the interim measure and the broader proposal to bring in a new constitution — the common objective is to concentrate real authority in the hands of the presidency at the cost of prime minister and the parliament, said Rajiv Bhatia, distinguished fellow in foreign policy studies at the Mumbai-based think tank Gateway House and former head of the Sri Lanka division in India’ s foreign ministry.