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Protect 19th amendment, civil society activists urge voters

ECONOMYNEXT – A civil society collective yesterday called for an electoral defeat of attempts by Sri Lanka’s ruling party to repeal the 19th amendment to the constitution.

At an event held in Colombo yesterday afternoon, speakers for the Freedom People’s Collective stressed on the need to protect the 19th amendment which they said the government is seeking to abolish through a two-thirds majority in parliament.

Activist Gamini Viyangoda accused the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) of seeking a mandate to reverse the democratic gains made during the previous Yahapalana administration.

By abolishing the 19th amendment (19A), which he called one of the most progressive constitutional amendments in Sri Lanka’s history, along with the 17th amendment, Viyangoda claimed the government was aiming to concentrate power in the hands of a single person.

“Abolishing 19A will result in an imbalance of power between the three branches of government, and a trimming of powers vested in parliament. Powers that, in turn, will be transferred to one person,” he said, adding that this was a totally dictatorial move.

Recalling that both the executive presidency and the 18th amendment to the constitution, which removed the two-term limit on being elected to the office of the president, were passed via unprecedented parliamentary majorities, Viyangoda said both 17A and 19A were, in contrast, passed by governments without a two-thirds majority with the support of other parties.

There is a clear precedence of such majorities being sought by governments in order to pass regressive legislation, he added.

Prof Sarath Wijesuriya, who also spoke at the event, said the president has taken control of virtually every aspect of governance through presidential task forces.

“With no legal provisions that allow this, they’re now asking for a two-thirds majority to do as the president pleases,” he said.

“Abolishing 19A means no more constitutional council, no more independent commissions. By concentrating power around the president, people’s freedoms will be at stake,” he added.
However, although leaders with seemingly limitless power have historically seemed politically invincible, voters have always held the power to keep them in check, said Wijesuriya. (Colombo/Jul9/2020)

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