COLOMBO: Former Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, trying hard to come back, suffered a major setback on Tuesday when Parliament passed the 19th Constitutional Amendment (19A), which prevents him from standing for the Presidency again.
“No person who has been twice elected to the office of President by the People, shall be qualified thereafter to be elected to such office by the People,” the 19A says.
To add to his woes, Rajapaksa’s own party, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), and his grand coalition, the United Peoples’ Freedom Alliance (UPFA), voted for the 19A.
However, the SLFP and UPFA MPs tried hard to scuttle the 19A, coming up with various objections. Their trump card was the majority they enjoyed in Parliament. Without their support President Maithripala Sirisena could not muster the required two-thirds majority.
But the MPs did go for a compromise finally. They sensed that voters were against vesting the President with draconian powers and enabling him or her to bid for the Presidency any number of times. Then, there was Sirisena’s argument that in the January 8 Presidential election, both he and Rajapaksa had sought a mandate to abolish the Executive Presidency.
And as Minister Eran Wickramaratne recalled, in 2001, the SLFP had proposed the setting up of independent and apolitical commissions to oversee the work of government institutions. The 19A aimed at doing the same thing, he pointed out.
Besides these arguments, there were political threats too, which the MPs could not ignore. Sirisena had threatened to dissolve parliament and seek a fresh mandate. In his capacity as SLFP chairman, he hinted that he would deny party tickets to dissidents.
The SLFP/UPFA MPs eventually fell in line, but not before wresting concessions from Sirisena. They fought hard to pack the proposed Constitutional Council with MPs, thereby scuttling Sirisena’s bid to make it a predominantly non-political body of eminent people.