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Unprecedented 39 petitions challenge 20th Amendment before Supreme Court

ECONOMYNEXT – The Supreme Court this morning September 29, will begin proceedings to hear Fundamental Rights applications filed by an unprecedented 39 individuals and organisations against the proposed 20th Amendment to the Constitution.

Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya, Justices Buveneka Aluwihare, Sisira de Abrew, Priyantha Jayawardana and Vijith Malalgoda are in the bench, the courts have announced.

The initial decision for the Apex Court will be to decide on Leave to Proceed, that is whether the petitions will be heard.

The 20A seeks to remove the Independent Commissions and other checks and balances to the power of the Presidency introduced by the 19th Amendment which was passed during the last government.

Concerns have been raised that the proposal will undermine judicial independence and the Audit Commission.

The 20A seeks to restore power to the Executive to the level that was present in the 1978 Constitution passed by the United National Party government headed by J R Jayewardene.

It proposes to take significant powers away from the Prime Minister and hand it over to the Presidency.

Over the years through the 17th Amendment and the 19th Amendment some of the powers of the Presidency have been whittled down, as successive electoral mandates have been interpreted as being against the powers vested in the Executive.

However, the current government which has won a historic majority in Parliament, as well as the preceding Presidential Elections which saw Gotabaya Rajapaksa garner a million votes plus more than his challenger believes the mandate they have received, calls for a strengthened Presidency.

The petitions have been filed by political parties, Human Rights activists and Watchdog Groups.

Opposition Members protest the 20A in Parliament

Leading the charge against the 20A is the main Opposition Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) which has filed several applications.

Among petitioners is the General Secretary of the SJB Ranjith Madduma Bandara, Member of Parliament Mayantha Dissanayake and youth leaders Attorney Lihini Fernando and Rasika Jayakody.

“We’re correctly aligned for our role in history,” Jayakody posted on Social Media.

The United National Party, a shadow of its former self, has filed two petitions, one by Deputy Leader Ruwan Wijewardene and another by General Secretary Akila Viraj Kariyawasam.

The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) will also make an intervention after the Bar Council, decided on Saturday to intervene, a legal official said amid concerns over judicial independence and absolute immunity for the president as a person, as well as his acts.

The proposed amendment aims to remove room now available to challenge the acts of the President through a fundamental rights application.

Yesterday the Chairman of the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) said the 20A is being introduced to ensure that a situation such as the security lapses that led to the Easter Sunday attacks does not recur.

Education Minister Prof G L Peiris told reporters that recent testimony led before the Presidential Commission probing the attacks make it clear that the information about the attacks which had been received by the authorities had not been directed to the right people at the right time.

“This was because of the power struggle between the Prime Minister and the President of that time which had been created by the 19th Amendment.”

The SJB Leader Sajith Premadasa has said that the 20A has been proposed by the President to resolve the power struggle between Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and President Rajapaksa.
(Colombo, September 29, 2020)
Reported by Arjuna Ranawana

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