End of executive presidency?

Parliament of Sri Lanka

The parliamentary debate on the country’s most- awaited piece of legislation in decades, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, begins tomorrow morning with the nation holding its breath as to the outcome. If the voting goes in favour, Sri Lanka’s now much-derided presidential form of government will be drastically transformed removing the currently all-powerful office of the executive president. For the first time, since it was introduced in 1978 during the UNP regime of the time, the current system that enabled successive presidents to accumulate and abuse their executive power, will end.

However, political analysts warned that the passage of the Amendment Bill will not be smooth even after all the bargaining and negotiations between the various political interest groups. While it is the faction of the UPFA formerly governing party group in Parliament that has been hostile to the Bill, some of the ethnic minority groups also remain cautious over the Bill.

Despite the announcement by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party’s Central Committee on Thursday, the 23rd, that the party was now committed to supporting the 19A Bill, later statements by some senior party MPs indicated that the passage of the Bill was uncertain.

Voting on the 19A is scheduled for Tuesday evening. Since it is an amendment to the Constitution, a two-thirds of the vote in Parliament, amounting to 150 MPS, is required to pass the Bill.

Of the 225 MPs, the UPFA group has 144 MPs, UNP 60, Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK/TNA) 14, and the Democratic National Alliance 7. Of these, the previous line-up of declared supporters of the 19A comprised the MPs of the UNP, ITAK and DNA (which is largely the JVP).

After Thursday’s announcement by the SLFP, it is only those few MPs belonging to the other factions in the formerly governing UPFA, namely the National Freedom Front of Wimal Weerawansa (2 MPs), and Dinesh Gunawardena’s Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (3 MPs) remain to oppose the Bill if they wish to do so.

While none said that they will oppose it, several of the rebel UPFA and SLFP factions have been delaying the debate on the Bill with demands for amendments to the Bill.

The debate on the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was postponed for April 27, due to the objections raised by the main Opposition UPFA which wanted adequate time to study the proposed amendments.

The decision to postpone the debate was made following a Party Leaders emergency meeting with President Maithripala Sirisena at the Parliamentary complex on Tuesday (April 21).

This was the third consecutive time the debate was postponed as the Party Leaders failed to reach a consensus on the issue after several rounds of talks held in the past couple of days. Government legislators who maintain a completely different view on the subject alleged that the Opposition deliberately attempted to sabotage the passage of this important piece of legislation which is the climax of the Hundred Day program presented to the people by President Sirisena in his election manifesto at the last Presidential election.

(Sunday Observer)