Constitutional History was made in Sri Lanka when Parliament passed the 19th Constitutional Amendment with an overwhelming bi-partisan majority.
All political parties represented in the legislature cut across party lines to support the bill which reduces to some extent the powers of the executive president and restores greater democracy.
After two-days of debate the 225-member parliament on Tuesday April 28th passed the second reading of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution by a majority of 214 votes with 215 voting in favor of The Bill . The Vote was taken by naming MP’s individually.
Only United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) Amparai District Parliamentarian Sarath Weerasekara voted against the Bill while independent MP Ajith Kumara of the Frontline socialist Party abstained from voting . Seven MPs were absent from Parliament during voting after the second reading.
The third and final reading of the19th Amendment to the Constitution at the committee stage was also passed by parliament with a two-third majority thus completing the passage of the bill. The bill was passed at the third reading with 212 votes in favor and one against in the 225- member legislature. Sarath Weerasekra Voted against and Ajith Kumara abstained. Ten MP’s were absent from Parliament during the third reading vote
Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa presided over Parliament during both reading votes but did not cast his vote.
Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisen personally presented the proposed 19th Amendment to the Constitution in parliament for debate on Monday April 27th.
In the historic vote the chief opposition United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) voted with the United National Party dominated Government on the proposals which were finalized after two days of debate.
Parliament went into extra time after the opposition refused to agree to some clauses in the 19th Amendment to the Constitution.
The Government later agreed to some of the demands of the opposition which Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said was required to obtain Parliament majority for the proposals.
The third reading of the 19th Amendment to the constitution was passed after some changes were made to the bill which was earlier approved by Parliament.
President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe convened a meeting with the leaders of political parties representing parliament at the President’s office of the parliament premises for a special discussion before the vote was taken at the second reading.
The opposition made several recommendations to the 19th Amendment after initially voting for the bill during the second reading.
Once the changes were included into the final document the bill was taken for a third vote and it was adopted.
The third reading was passed with 212 votes for and one against.
The solitary Parliamentarian who voted against was UPFA MP of Aamparai District Sarath Weerasekara a former Deputy Minister of Labour and Labour Relations under the Rajapaksa Regime. A former Naval admiral Weerasekara is a staunch Rajapaksa supporter.He was the Director Genral of the Civil Defense Force during the latter years of the war. Interestingly Mahinda Rajapaksa’s son and Hambantota district MP Namal Rajapaksa voted in support of the 19th amendment.
Opposition support was finally obtained by the UNP agreeing to some compromises in the bill chief of which was in the composition of the Constitutional Council. The ratio envisaged earlier of Seven non – political experts and three MP’s was subsequently reversed to Seven MP’s and Three non – MP experts.
The essence of the 19th Amendment includes the transformation of the Presidential form of government to a Presidential-Parliamentary system of government and the restoration of the 17th Amendment to the Constitution.
Under the 19th Amendment, the maximum term of a President to hold office has been limited to two terms. Apart from this it has also been decided to re-appoint the independent commissions.
The previous Mahinda Rajapaksa government passed the 18th Amendment to the Constitution giving more executive powers to the president and eliminated term limits for presidency paving the way for a former president to contest for a third term. With the passage of the 18th Amendment, President had more powers over many independent institutions, seriously impacting the justice, free elections, and human rights.
The new reforms will result in the President losing the power to dissolve parliament after one year of its election. According, to the proposed reforms the President cannot dissolve the parliament until 4 years of election. However, the President would remain as the Head of State and Head of Security Forces.
After full passage of the bill, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe thanked the opposition for supporting the bill that will limit president’s powers and ensure the independence of the judiciary and police restoring democracy.