19th A before Parliament today

BY Daya Perera and J.T. De Silva

Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe will present the 19th Amendment, which seeks to curb certain powers of the Executive Presidency to Parliament today (24).

In addition to the establishment of independent Commissions, the 19th Amendment will also re-establish the Constitutional Council which would make key appointments including those to the apex, superior Courts of the Judiciary. A Council of State will also be set up under the 19th Amendment.

36797_1Proposals concerning various injustices meted out to Sri Lankan Trade Union activists put forward by Opposition Leader, Nimal Siripala De Silva will also be discussed at today’s sessions.

Joint Cabinet adopts 19A in toto

The Cabinet yesterday decided to adopt the 19th Amendment to the constitution without amendments.

With this new development, the President would be the Head of State and the head of the Security Forces.

There is no mention in the 19th Amendment about the head of the government and the constitutional amendment is silent about the matter.

However, a senior Cabinet Minister told the Daily News on Monday night that for all tactical purposes the interpretation would be that the Prime Minister would function as the head of the government.

The Cabinet also adopted the provisions of the 17th Amendment to the constitution which includes the setting up of independent commissions.

With this decision, the Elections Commission, the independent Police Commission, the Public Services Commission and the Constitutional Council will be set up as part of the process to reduce the powers of the Executive.

The Cabinet agreed that the Executive Presidency should come to an end with the end of President Sirisena’s first term. After the President’s first term, the Presidency will be more or less a ceremonial figurehead as in India and several other Western countries.

However, Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka who is also the General Secretary of the Jathika Hela Urumaya vehemently opposed the move saying the Common Opposition campaigned for the removal of the excessive powers of the Executive Presidency and not for the total abolition of the system.

At this point, Minister Laskhman Kiriella responded to Ranawaka stating the original idea was to fully abolish the Executive Presidency and the present President can retain his powers until the end of his term, in accordance with the provisions of the constitutional amendment.

Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera strongly responded to Minister Ranawaka saying the those who were involved with the opposition campaign from the beginning were pushing for the total abolition of the Executive Presidency. The Foreign Minister said the JHU joined the opposition campaign much later.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, while endorsing the Cabinet’s decision, said there should be a more comprehensive constitutional amendment under the new Parliament which will be convened after the next Parliamentary election. He said the 19th Amendment was only an amendment to the present constitution implying that it should not be considered as the end of the road.

President Sirisena, addressing the cabinet meeting, said the government was already late in terms of introducing much needed constitutional amendments.

He added that the national government should work fast and take every possible action to get the amendments passed in Parliament without any delay.

The President, speaking to the heads of media institutions last week at the Presidential Secretariat, said that he was willing to fully abolish the Executive Presidency. He has already stated that he will not contest for Presidency again and this will be his last term in office.