Written by Joshua Perera Edited by Tineeka De Silva Translated by Nishadi Gunatilake & Kesavan Selvarajah
What is the 22nd Amendment? How will it alter our present political landscape and its future?
At present, Sri Lanka’s socioeconomic and political landscape is composed of multiple anxieties. Among the many issues that have us questioning our next steps, the new Amendment to the Constitution looms large.
This piece will discuss the impending 22nd Amendment and the ripples it is making in the current political pond. If you're interested in a concise history of the Constitution, Roar Media does offer a fair one here.
The Amendment currently making waves registers as the 22nd Amendment. This is because there is no standing 21st Amendment to speak of.
The Opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) produced the 21st Amendment but made no leeway with it. The Supreme Court disputed its clauses. Consequently, Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe’s proposed draft, submitted as a private member’s bill, was itemized as the 22nd Amendment. The Cabinet received the proposed Amendment following the large-scale protests against the Executive Presidency in May 2022. Of the 225-member assembly, 179 voted for the bill. MP Sarath Weerasekera voted against the Bill.
As such, it will soon be affixed to the Constitution as the 21st Amendment, which can be read here.
The controversy at the heart of the 22nd Amendment stems from the questions it raises. How will it redefine the power dynamic of the Executive Presidency and the Parliament? How will these revisions shape future policies? And how will it affect the country in the years to come?
The Amendment aims to restrict the Executive President's powers, reinvigorating the Constitutional Council and easing the administration of the Independent Commissions in the process. The Opposition Leader will oversee the appointment of civil society members to the Council.
The Council will consist of the Prime Minister, the Speaker, the Opposition Leader, two Parliamentary nominees selected by the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader, and one other minister appointed by the President. In addition to this they will also be including the following people:
- a member of the Sri Lanka Organization of Professionals Association,
- a member of the Sri Lanka Chamber of Commerce,
- a state university professor nominated by the University Grants Commission.
Under the new Amendment, the President will be granted the authority to dissolve the Parliament in two and a half years of said Parliament’s appointment.
Additionally, the Constitutional Council's influence will determine the appointments of several Independent Commissions.
The President's endorsement of the Prime Minister's appointment and dismissal is a point of contention. The 22nd Amendment will rescript the dynamics of presidential power. It will revise the President’s ability to depose the Prime Minister if the latter is deemed unfit for service by the former. This is a revision of a point made under the 20th Amendment.
While some of the commissions have been functioning since the 20th Amendment, the President has been afforded the authority to appoint its members. Under the 22nd Amendment, the President, on the recommendation of the Constitutional Council, would be allowed to name chairpersons and members within these commissions.
As for the Cabinet, its composition is set to total 30 ministers and 40 non-cabinet ministers.
The legislation states that the President will heed Parliament when appointing ministers. However, such appointments will be made in consultation with the Prime Minister. Under the new Amendment, Parliament is set to hold sway over decisions regarding the forming of a national government. The Parliament will decide on the composition of Cabinet and non-Cabinet ministers, keeping in accordance with the new legislation.
Specific parliamentary roles including the Chief Justice, Supreme Court judges, members of the Judicial Service Commission, Attorney General, Auditor General, Inspector General of Police, Central Bank Governor, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration, and the Secretary-General of Parliament, would only be appointed by the President once voted by the Constitutional Council.
The President’s powers will not extend beyond the Ministry of Defense.
The Constitutional Council will play a pivotal role in the administration of nine commissions and their respective appointments. These include the Public Service Commission (PSC), the National Election Commission (NEC), the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL), the Audit Service Commission, the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) and the National Police Commission (NPC). The offices of the remaining three will oversee matters of finance, delimitation and national procurement.
Dual citizenship is no longer permitted to Members of Parliament under the Amendment. MPs with dual citizenship are to lose their seats. Future contesting elections will not consider dual citizens either.
In the wake of the worst socioeconomic and political upheaval seen in decades, the 22nd Amendment will set the board for the next political cycle. A matter whose gravity cannot be taken for granted, given how Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s abuse of the 20th Amendment yielded catastrophic fruit.
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