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SL committed to abolishing executive presidency

Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe said the Government was committed to abolishing the executive presidency due to its profound powers that have often been exploited and abused by its incumbents – with impunity.

Wickramasinghe who is on an official visit to Maldives made this statement at the People’s Majlis of Maldives today(3).

The Premier said major strides have been taken to strengthen democracy and ensure freedom of society in Sri Lanka – during the last few years of the Unity Government.

“In Sri Lanka, it is the Cabinet of Ministers, which includes the President, that is in charge of the direction and control of the Government.

“The Cabinet of Ministers is also collectively responsible to the Parliament. The President is tasked with appointing as the Prime Minister, the person who is likely to command the most support in Parliament.

“Furthermore, this position was upheld by the Court of Appeal in 2018 when it issued an interim order restraining Mahinda Rajapaksa, the former President, from functioning as Prime Minister, despite being appointed by the President, since 122 of the 225 Members of Parliament were opposed to him.

“Earlier, the President also has the discretionary powers to appoint Ministers from among the Members of Parliament – contrary to the Westminster tradition of Parliament. The 19th Amendment to our Constitution, corrected this position by requiring the President to appoint Ministers on the advice of the Prime Minister.

“This reinforced the collective responsibility of the Cabinet of Ministers to Parliament. Today, the major features of the Westminster Parliamentary Government exist side by side with an Executive Presidency – which we are committed to abolish due to its profound powers that have often been exploited and abused by its incumbents – with impunity. The 19th Amendment further strengthened Parliament by restricting the President’s powers to dissolve Parliament.

“The President cannot dissolve Parliament for four and a half years unless Parliament requests a dissolution by a two-thirds majority.

“In October 2018, the President purported to dissolve Parliament without such a resolution but the Supreme Court held that this dissolution to be unconstitutional. Another important provision enacted under the 19th Amendment reduced the term of the President and Parliament to five years from the earlier term of six years.

“Prior to the 19th amendment the President had near-total immunity from suit. This was restricted by the Nineteenth Amendment which provided for official acts of the President to be reviewable by the Supreme Court under its fundamental rights jurisdiction.

“The dissolution of Parliament in 2018 was declared unconstitutional under this provision. The 19th amendment was deemed necessary, as I said, because of the flagrant violations of the constitution under the previous regime. For instance, the then Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake was removed in 2013 without a proper resolution of impeachment.

Similarly, there was a high level of politicization of the Public Service and the Police. The 19th Amendment addressed these issues by establishing,

(i) An Independent Judicial Service Commission

(ii) An Independent Police Commission

(iii) An Independent Public Service Commission

(iv) An Election Commission

(v) A Finance Commission and

(vi) A National Audit Commission

“The members of these Commissions are now appointed by the Constitutional Council, which also approves the appointments of the Chief Justice, the Judges of the Superior Courts, the Inspector General of the Police, and the Attorney General.

“Today, the Constitutional Council can refer back to the President, names recommended by him together with alternative recommendations. The Constitutional Council includes the Speaker, Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition, a representative of the President and three Civil Society members.” Wickramasinghe highlighted.