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18th amendment to boost President’s power

[Express Buzz, Monday, 6 September 2010 08:39 No Comment]

The proposed 18th amendment of the Sri Lankan constitution is primarily meant to boost the power of the directly elected Executive President, although it is portrayed by the ruling party as a way of giving more power to Parliament, and thereby, to the people.

The amendment, which is now before the Supreme Court for its nod as regards its constitutionality, nullifies the provisions of the 17th amendment passed in 2001. The  17th amendment had sought to de-politicise state institutions by establishing “independent commissions” to make appointments and to oversee the working of these institutions from a neutral and public point of view, rather than a partisan one.

17TH  A DEAD LETTER: But the 17th amendment has been a dead letter in the last nine years.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa has openly said that the amendment impinges on his constitutional rights, and therefore, it has to go. Politicians have not been happy with attempts to devalue them and see them only as perpetrators of corruption and misrule. The 17th amendment was but a vote against the party-based, election-oriented political system. It was an endorsement of rule by non-political persons and an impersonal bureaucracy.

ASPECTS OF THE 18TH: Under the 18th amendment, the “Constitutional Council” set up under the 17th amendment, will be replaced by a “consultative body”  called the

“Parliamentary Council” comprising the Prime Minister, the Speaker, the Leader of the Opposition and two MPs nominated by the last two, to represent communities. This body can send the President its “observations” on “his” appointments.

All high appointments will be made by the cabinet, which, under the Lankan system, is headed by the President. The President will continue to have the right to take up ministerial portfolios.

The Police Commission will function only as an administrative complaints body. The Election Commissioner will not have the powers of the Election Commission under the 17th Amendment.

The bar on a person being President for more than two terms will go. It is to be removed on the grounds that the people should have the right to elect a person any number of times.

President Rajapaksa says that the measures will only strengthen the rights of the people, which will be exercised through their elected representatives. They will also strengthen the Executive Presidency, which is necessary for carrying out radical developmental plans.

[Full Coverage]

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