Mahinda Rajapaksa has said the 18th amendment (18-A) will only give him an opportunity to fight an election. Another one. The third one in a row. The supporters of the amendment said it gives the government an opportunity to develop Sri Lanka without having to think about political exigencies. C’mon, they said, this government needs a hands-free approach because it won a war. Plus, under the changed Constitution, the President will have to visit Parliament once in three months. Phew.
To be discussed and debated in Parliament for one really long day tomorrow (Wednesday), the coming-of-age Constitutional amendment does two things: one, it removes the two-term cap on Presidential careers; if you feel up to it please go ahead and put yourself up for election three, four…dozen times. You could be President indefinitely. Provided a victory, of course.
Rajapaksa, in fact, has said that he would continue to fight elections till the Opposition fielded a strong candidate.
The second thing 18-A does is that it does away with, well, the 17th amendment. Under 18-A, the “Constitutional Council” set up under the 17th amendment, will be replaced by a “consultative body” called the “Parliamentary Council”. The new council, comprising the PM, the Speaker, the Leader of Opposition and two MPs (nominated by the last two), will have the all-encompassing power to send the President its observations on his appointments. Err…the President of course, will reserve the right to decide on the appointments.
Alas, there are many opponents to the amendment. The opposition and civil society groups like the centre for policy alternatives (CPA) feel the amendment is against the Constitution. "As CPA and other petitioners in the public interest have submitted to the Supreme Court, the proposed changes…seriously affect the manner in which the sovereignty of people is exercised. There is no reason tenable in an open and democratic society that such momentous changes should be introduced without the broadest possible discussion and deliberation, or without the opportunity for the people directly to express their views in a referendum,’’ it said in a statement.
The government is likely to ease past the two-thirds Parliamentary majority required to pass the amendment, delivering Sri Lanka the most powerful executive presidency in the world.