THE SCOURGE OF THE 19TH AMENDMENT

The current constitutional and political crisis has highlighted a glaring deficit in terms of good governance and the people’s fundamental right to franchise.

The 19th Amendment of Sri Lanka’s constitution started life ostensibly to curtail come of the Executive Presidential powers which had in the past helped subvert in effect, democracy.

Not many looked into the nutty gritty as the general public had grown weary of the growing authoritarianism of the Rajapaksa rule especially after the war against terror ended. Most if not all in the country had voted in Sirisena to champion good governance.

The 19th Amendment has several good intentions but many intentions too of attempts made by the principal promoter Ranil Wickremesinghe to secure power for himself and by proxy for his party. We must look at this in the context of a failed leader that Wickremesinghe undoubtedly is – he has had far more electoral losses than successes and it is only impressive when one considers how on earth he has managed to keep the party mesmerised with his failed leadership. Wickremesinghe through various means has managed to perfect the art of survival.

The 19th Amendment sought to reduce Executive Presidential powers to be then transferred to parliament but in essence much of these powers has been transferred to the Prime Minister who has become a de-facto Executive Prime Minister. If this was the intention of the 19th Amendment then in keeping with the spirit of the intention, the first such revamped Prime Minister ought to have been MAithripala Sirisena since the people voted for him over Rajapaksa. The fact is that Wickremesinghe did not personally muster the number of direct votes Sirisena received.

Notwithstanding this element there was an attempt to stifle and control the media which the Capital Maharaja Group successfully warded off.

However in the words of the late Hemantha Warnakulasuriya the Executive President had been reduced to that of a virtual ‘eunuch’ when considering the full impact of the various nuances contained in the 19thAmendment. Or so it appeared to him and us at the time.

There is a a notion that the Constitution can be read in bit form. However experts opine that to read the Constitution in parts does not convey the full impact and intent of the 19th Amendment that was promised. As a legal man pointed out in his submission to the Supreme Court, the Constitution cannot be read in dismembered parts.

There is an overriding wish of the people granted to the Executive President that ultimate authority lies with the Executive President of the republic. It can therefore be argued that the Presidents’ plenary powers cannot be reduced or changed substantially without both a two thirds majority in parliament and a referendum of the people.

The question has now been raised as to how an element of critical import to the people like for instance the Presidential term of office can be reduced from six to five years without referring the matter to the people.

Another question mark is obviously how the franchise of the people has in effect been placed on hold for at least four and one half years – again without consulting the people in a national referendum.

Senior Attorney Gomin Dayasri intervened previously in the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice Sripavan on exactlythis point but found to his dismay that the Chief Justice and others were silent on his plea. Gamin Dayasri says that the entire country is paying the price for that decision today.

It has become clear that the 19th Amendment needs urgent tweaking and President Sirisena has promised that such change will be made to the Constitution. Although he did not mention a time frame one can expect such an occurrence in the fullness of time.

Amidst all of this legalese the people Sri Lanka have united once again – this time in their desire to flex their franchise and vote once again to elect a man or woman who, apart from being of sound mind, can provide leadership.

The time is nigh for the younger generation of leaders to take the bull by its horns, seize the moment and galvanize the national unity into a lasting solution to our governance ills.

 

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