Colombo, Sep 8 (efe-epa).- Hundreds of dissidents on Tuesday protested in Colombo against a constitutional amendment proposed by the government of Sri Lanka granting extraordinary powers to the head of state, overturning an amendment approved during the last government limiting these capabilities.
The controversial 20th constitutional amendment bill was published in an official gazette on Thursday, after the cabinet approved it.
The protesters, who had gathered on a call by the opposition alliance Samagi Jana Balawegaya, demonstrated peacefully on Tuesday to oppose the reform, which seeks to grant “superpowers” to the president, they claimed.
Critics have said that the amendment could result in serious repercussions in the future, especially during possible attempts to hold the president accountable for his or her actions.
“We believe that the rights and freedoms of people will be seriously contained by the 20A (20th Amendment). We will take whatever action we may in protest against it,” SJB lawmaker Eran Wickramaratne told EFE.
The constitutional amendment was one of the key campaign promises of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna party, led by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his brother, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, ahead of parliamentary elections on Aug. 5.
Gotabaya has claimed that the 19th amendment, which limited the powers of his office, restricts the nation’s development and needs to be modified.
The SLPP registered a landslide victory in the polls with around 59 percent of the votes, while the SJB received just around 23.9 percent support, a result that reinforced the government’s intent to carry forward the bill.
“The public gave complete power to the government to resolve their issues. Now we have the power to amend the constitution as needed,” SLPP Chairperson GL Peiris had said in the first press conference after government formation.
However critics have said that the amendments approved by the government go beyond those promised by the party during its poll campaign.
Apart from restoring the executive powers of the president, the bill also reduces the number of ministers in the cabinet, allows citizens with double nationalities to occupy parliamentary posts and empowers the president to make crucial appointments.
The nonprofit Center for Alternative Politics said in a statement that through the bill, “the opportunity for citizens to challenge the executive actions of the president through fundamental rights applications has been removed, suggesting that the president is above the law.” EFE-EPA