Sri Lanka passes constitutional amendment giving sweeping powers to president

Colombo, Oct 22 (efe-epa).- The Sri Lankan parliament on Thursday passed by a majority vote a controversial constitutional amendment proposed by the government that grants extraordinary powers to the president, rolling back an earlier amendment limiting these powers, brought during the last legislature.

The 20A (20th amendment) received 156 votes in favor and 65 against after two days of heated debates, with some lawmakers wearing supposedly blood-stained clothing on Thursday as a mark of protest.

After the results of the parliamentary vote were announced, supporters of the amendment came out on the streets in different parts of the country and burst firecrackers.

The controversial 20th constitutional amendment bill was published in an official gazette in September, after the cabinet approved it.

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.

A number of protests against the bill were held across the country.

Around 40 petitions were filed in the Supreme Court opposing the amendment, but the judicial body said that 20A could be approved in the parliament with a two-third majority and an referendum was no needed.

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 had claimed that the 19th amendment, which limited the powers of his office, restricted the nation’s development and therefore needed to be modified.

The SLPP registered a landslide victory in the polls with around 59 percent of the votes, while the opposition alliance Samagi Jana Balawegaya received just around 23.9 percent support, a result that reinforced the government’s intent to carry forward the bill.

However, the amendment approved by the government goes beyond the changes 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. EFE-EPA


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