Sri Lanka President ready to abolish 19th Amendment if given two-third majority in parliament

Dec 01, Colombo: Sri Lanka’s new President Gotabaya Rajapaksa says he will abolish the 19th Amendment to the Constitution enacted by the Unity Government in 2015, if the necessary majority in Parliament is obtained at the general election.

In an exclusive interview with the Suhasini Haidar of The Hindu during his visit to India, when asked if he planned to move to a more parliamentary system as envisaged by the 19th Amendment passed by his predecessor, he said the 19th Amendment, which curtailed powers of the executive presidency and introduced term limits, had proved to be a “failure”, and should be scrapped.

“The 19th amendment (passed in 2015) is a failure and if we get 2/3rds majority in parliament we will drop it from the constitution. The only way you can even make the 19th amendment work is with two brothers (laughs) [at the top].”

The President said the unity government of President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe did not have the stability to govern the country successfully.

“For a country to be governed successfully, you need stability. This was not the case during the Sirisena-Wickremsinghe government, where they were fighting all the time and there was no development. Without stability, investors won’t come.”

On the issue of rights for Tamil-majority areas, President Rajapaksa said he intends to focus on development of the region, not political issues as the previous push for devolution of powers has not changed the situation there and willing to discuss alternatives.

“Look, the 13th amendment is part of the constitution and is functional, except for some areas like control of police powers, which we can’t implement. I am willing to discuss alternatives to that.”

The President said it is more important to give the [Tamils] development, and a better living. In terms of freedoms, and political rights there are already provisions in the constitution.

“But I am clear that we have to find ways to directly benefit people there through jobs, and promoting fisheries and agriculture. We can discuss political issues, but for 70 odd years, successive leaders have promised one single thing: devolution, devolution, devolution. But ultimately nothing happened.”

He said full devolution of powers as promised by the 13th Amendment to the Constitution in 1987 could not be implemented “against the wishes and feeling of the majority [Sinhala] community.”

“Anyone who is promising something against the majority’s will is untrue. No Sinhala will say, don’t develop the area, or don’t give jobs, but political issues are different.”

In an interview with Padma Rao Sundarji, editor of Hindustan Times, the President reiterating his views said the 13th Amendment need certain changes since the amendment has certain areas which can’t be implement as they are and questioned why the Tamil politicians always insist on “devolution” instead of focusing on development.

“But why have we always been trying to approach the so-called “Tamil question” from only one angle? Our Tamil politicians have been speaking of devolution and other models since Sri Lanka’s independence. But even they must realize that they were not taking into consideration the development of those provinces, addressing the problems of the people there — and those are employment, education, issues with fisheries, agriculture, etc. One has to move forward. These are issues that I want to tackle while discussing the overall framework.”

The President stressed that the “certain things that are suspicious to the majority community” cannot be implemented

“If you come out with certain things that are suspicious to the majority community, they cannot be implemented. That is a reality. If you ask anyone in our government whether we must give our Tamil citizens the same opportunities, the right environment — whether in religious matters or otherwise — to live in dignity, nobody will disagree with you. That is no problem. But unfortunately, Tamil political leaders have been harping only on the one thing since independence and they are getting nowhere. So they have to be realistic.”

The President calling on the Tamil politicians to “go to the people of the area, look after their livelihoods, develop these areas, address their issues, work with them,” said he is willing to do so.

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