Amendment has done its job: what next?

What will happen to the structure and methodology of governance    in the post 19th Amendment period is the question asked by many these days. After a 12-hour debate on Tuesday, Parliament enacted the Constitutional Bill, but with a number  of amendments proposed by the Government and the Opposition alike.

All in all, the Bill, in essence, reversed the    18th Amendment to the Constitution enacted during the previous regime, to provide for the restoration of the independent commissions, more or less, on similar lines with the provisions that were available under the 17th Amendment in the past.  The new law would prune the powers of the executive president in some aspects. But, it fell far short of the pledges made to the people on the extent of the pruning.

The Supreme Court, in its pre-enactment determination on the constitutionality of the Bill, ruled that clauses seeking to transfer some executive powers should be approved by people at a referendum in addition to the two-thirds majority in the House. President still head of state, head of the executive and the commander- in- chief of armed forces The new amendment which will come into force soon stipulates that the president continues to be the head of state, the head of the executive and the commander- in-chief of armed forces.  Also, he has the power to be exercised in appointing cabinet ministers and assigning subjects to them in consultations with the prime minister if he considers it necessary.

Presidential term limited to five years More than that, the 19th Amendment, signed into law, reduces the term of the president to five years from the previous six years of tenure.  Likewise, it imposes a two- term limit on incumbents. The same provision existed under the present Constitution introduced in 1978 by late President J.R. Jayewardene. However, the restriction was lifted under the 18th Amendment incorporated into the Constitution on September 9, 2010. It enabled former President Mahinda Rajapaksa to make a bid, unsuccessfully, for his third term at the January 8th election.

However, with the enactment of the 19th Amendment, the two-term limit will come into force, making it impossible for any incumbent to contest for the third term.

President can dissolve Parliament only after 4 and half years Another notable curtailment is the presidential power to dissolve Parliament after one year.  In the past, there were instances in which the executive president exercised this power to dissolve Parliament at his discretion whenever the ground situation turned favourable to the political parties headed by him.

The 2004 dissolution of Parliament by former President Chandrika Bandaranaike was one such instance. The United National Party (UNP) was in power at that time. Yet, at the general election conducted after dissolution, the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) led by Mrs. Kumaratunga returned to power with a majority.

However, such dissolution is possible for the president only after four- and- half years now under the new constitutional law.  Constitutional Council to nominate members to independent commissions  Also, the president’s authority in the appointment of members to the independent commissions is taken away to be entrusted with the parliamentary body called ‘Constitutional Council’.

The Constitutional Council, once established, will consist of ten members; the Speaker, the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader are its ex-officio members. Four other MPs would be nominated to hold office in it. One of them will be recommended by the small parties , and the other three  by the President, the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader respectively.

The remaining three slots will be filled from outside.  It is said that these outsiders, probably experts in different fields, will be selected through the High Post Committee of Parliament.  The Constitutional Council will nominate members to the independent commissions such as public service, police, bribery, human rights and university grants commission.  Barring the Independent Election Commission and Judicial Services Commission, all other commissions are held answerable to Parliament, according to an amendment proposed during the committee stage of the debate.  This will minimise the political influence on the appointment of independent commissions, making way for the de-politicisation of vital sectors such as the public service, and police Cabinet Size reduced to 30 The previous governments came under fire for the appointment of jumbo Cabinets, an exercise done mainly to appease MPs despite the huge     economic cost involved. Yet, the Cabinet size has been reduced to 30 by a constitutional provision with the enactment of the 19th Amendment.

The  total number of deputy and state ministers should not also exceed 40. In fact, the Government initially intended to increase the Cabinet size to 45 and the number of state and deputy minsters to 55 in the event a national government was formed with the participation of the two main parties. However, that particular provision was dropped after rigorous objection by the Opposition. Appointment of Supreme Court judges The president is the appointing authority of Supreme Court judges in consultation with the Constitutional Council.

The government’s attempt to include a provision   that the Sri Lanka Bar Association, the Justice Minister and the Attorney General should be consulted formally in this respect was dropped.  Bar on dual citizens  Dual citizens have been barred from becoming MPs under the provision of the new law.

No more Urgent Bills  The new amendment to the Constitution has also done away with the procedure for presenting urgent bills in Parliament.  Earlier, the Cabinet can bring in bills to be enacted in Parliament within a short span of time on matters of national interests. However, the 19th Amendment has done away with this procedure, and therefore the bills can be presented only through the regular procedure, be it on a matter in the national interest or not.

President to appoint the prime minister The president can appoint an MP, whom he thinks  commands the majority support, as the prime minister.   The Cabinet of ministers stand dissolved in the event of a no-confidence motion passed in Parliament against it. Yet, the president cannot declare fresh elections unless four- and- half years have   passed for parliament after its formation.  – See more at:

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