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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s parliament has approved a controversial constitutional amendment granting sweeping executive powers to the president, which the government says will ensure stability.
The 20th amendment to the constitution was passed on Thursday evening with 156 lawmakers in the 225-member legislature voting in favor of changes that would concentrate authority in the hands of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the cost of the prime minister and the parliament.
“As per the amendment, Sri Lanka has got a strong and stable executive, which can run the government consistently,” Justice Minister Ali Sabry told Arab News on Friday.
Rajapaksa will now be able to appoint and dismiss ministers and members of what had been independent commissions responsible for elections, public service, human rights and investigating corruption. He can also dissolve parliament two years and six months after a general election.
After 39 petitions were filed with the Supreme Court against the amendment, the judicial body ruled on Tuesday that several sections of the legislation — those that consolidate presidential power — should be changed or would need to be approved through a referendum.
Minister Sabry said that the changes had been made and no referendum was needed.
The constitutional amendment was one of the campaign promises of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), led by the president and his brother, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, ahead of the August elections.
While the ruling SLPP itself did not have the required two-thirds majority to change the constitution, the amendment was passed during Thursday’s sitting as eight parliament members from the opposition voted in favor of it.
Hafiz Nazeer Ahamed, a member of the opposition representing the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, said that he voted for the bill as he felt that a country such as Sri Lanka needed a strong hand to run it successfully.
“President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has proven himself as a good administrator and he successfully combated the pandemic without heavy casualties and limiting the deaths to 14 only in the country, and his services were also appreciated for annihilating terror in the country in 2009 when he was the defense secretary,” he told Arab News.
Other members of the opposition see the passage of the amendment as a development “opposite in direction to the rule of law and democratization,” Mathiaparanan Abraham Sumanthiran, senior lawyer and parliamentarian from the Tamil National Alliance, told Arab News.
“It is a damaging piece of legislation to the country,” he said, adding that it was regrettable that the amendment was passed with the help of some opposition members.
Dayan Jayathilake, the country’s former ambassador to Russia, France and the US, said that the new amendment would not benefit the country.
“I am disturbed over centralization of powers in the hands of a single person, which will change his character into dictatorship.”
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