Govt Reaches Agreement on Constitutional Reform Proposals but Disagreement Still on Electoral Reforms

By Jayashika Padmasiri

The Government yesterday managed to secure consensus on the Constitutional amendments but decided to meet again tomorrow to agree on electoral reforms amidst mixed views over whether the two must seek Parliamentary passage in one go or separately.

At yesterday’s special Cabinet meeting, the rainbow coalition Government agreed on far-reaching reforms to the Constitution and decided to dispatch the draft bill to the Attorney General to seek approval.

Minister of Education AkilaVirajKariyawasam told the Daily FT that the bill would be gazettedvia the Legal Draftsman.

“Nevertheless we were not able to arrive at a consensus regarding two matters concerning theamendments to the electoral system. Therefore, we decided to discuss this at the next Party Leaders’ meeting scheduled to be held on Tuesday,” Kariyawasam added.

Yesterday’s special Cabinet meeting was following the normal Cabinet meeting when Prime Minister and UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe presented the revised draft on the 19th Amendment on Thursday.

The UPFA also took up the new draft of the 19th Amendment separately at a meeting on Saturday, where it was decided to recommend both constitutional and electoral reforms must be presented for approval together.

At Saturday’s meeting, Ministers Patali Champika Ranawaka and Rajitha Senaratne had opposed some of the amendments recommended.

However, at yesterday’s special Cabinet meeting, consensus was finally reached regarding constitutional amendments excluding electoral reforms, sources said.

Key points of UNP’s proposed Constitutionalamendments

The United National Party’s (UNP) proposed Constitutional amendments presented by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe include the following key points:


President will be the Head of State, Head of the Executive and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. The President shall always, except in the case of the appointment of the Prime Minister or as otherwise required by the Constitution, act on the advice of the Prime Minister or such other Minister as has been authorised by the Prime Minister.

Presidential immunity does not extend to acts or omissions of the President in his official capacity.

The term of office of the President shall be five years. Mode of election of the President will not be changed. President may be removed by passing a no-confidence motion with a 2/3 majority.

Prime Minister and Cabinet of Ministers:

The Prime Minister will be the Head of the Cabinet of Ministers which is charged with the direction and control of the Government. The President shall appoint Prime Minister and may also appoint a Deputy Prime Minister on the advice of PM.

The number of Ministers shall not exceed 30. Total number of Ministers of State and Deputy Ministers shall not exceed 40. Where parties with highest and second highest number of seats agree to take part in a Government of National Unity, Parliament may by resolution increase numbers to not more than 45 and 55 for the duration of the Government of National Unity.

Special provisions relating to the present President:

During the term of office of the present President, the subjects of Defence, Mahaweli development and environment shall be assigned to him.


The term of Parliament shall be five years. Parliament may be dissolved during the first four years and six months only upon a resolution to that effect being passed by a two thirds majority.

Constitutional Council and Independent Commissions:

Provisions relating to the Constitutional Council (CC) and independent institutions, repealed by the 18th Amendment, will be reinstated subject to certain changes.

The Audit Service Commission and the National Procurement Commission are added to the list of independent institutions.

Parliamentary elections:

The new electoral system will be a mix of the First-Past-the-Post system (FPP), which ensures that every electorate has its own Member of Parliament, and Proportional Representation (PR).

Preferential voting will be abolished.

A dual citizen will be disqualified from being elected as President or a Member of Parliament.

An MP who crosses over from his party or independent group will lose his seat in Parliament.


Bills shall be published in the Gazette 14 days before the first reading. Upon enactment, Bills will be certified by the President. There will be no urgent Bills.

Right to Information:

The Right to Information will be included as a fundamental right.

Date/s of operation:

Provisions relating to the President and Cabinet of Ministers will come into force on 22 April 2015. All other provisions come into force on the date on which the 19th Amendment becomes law.

Transitional provisions:

The members of the Public Service Commission, National Police Commission, Human Rights Commission, Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption and Finance Commission, shall cease to hold office on the date on which the 19th Amendment becomes law.

Special provisions relating to the period 22 April 2015 to the conclusion of the next general election:

The President shall preside over meetings of the Cabinet of Ministers. The President may, with the concurrence of the Prime Minister, assign to himself any subject or function and may, with like concurrence, determine the Ministries to be in his or her charge.

The President shall, on the advice of the Election Commission, ensure the creation of proper conditions for the conduct of a free and fair general election of Members of Parliament.

Passing the amendment: The proposed amendment would need to be passed by a 2/3 majority in Parliament only. It will not require approval of the people at a referendum.