In what basically amounts to a big Ctrl-Z on the Constitution, Sri Lanka has passed a 19th amendment. What we have here is actually amazing – a President willing to give up power (and a Parliament fighting this for some reason). The results aren’t perfect, but it’s still a step back from the brink that Mahinda’s 18th amendment took us too. Thanks to a humble President, we’re getting a more balanced democracy that can hopefully serve the people better.
Just for reference, a huge chunk of the SLFP were asshats, sleeping on the floor last week and generally resisting something which was actually good for the country, and them.
— Philip ? (@philgrit) April 28, 2015
The stuff that passed was:
- Presidential term limits (2 terms)
- President can only dissolve Parliament after 4.5 years
- 30 Ministers / 40 Deputy Ministers (except in National Government)
- Independent Commissions*
The original 19th Amendment was actually much more aggressive – reducing the power of the Presidency dramatically and moving towards a largely Prime Ministerial system. The Supreme Court, however, said those provisions would move power from an elected President to an unelected PM and would require a national referendum to pass. Which I think was an excellent judgement. So what you got was the version of the bill that passed yesterday with a 2/3rds majority.
I put an asterix by the Independent Commissions bit because that was also watered down. It was initially three politicians (the Speaker, PM and Opposition Leader) plus 7 independent, appointed people. Now it is 7 politicians and 3 independent directors, if you will. Thankfully, however, the Elections Commission and Judicial Commission are outside of the list, giving some separation between them and Parliament. Even that isn’t a bad compromise, as you could say that MPs (rogues such as they are) are still elected and perhaps should have some say over Police and other appointments (as many problems as that’s caused).
Another thing to note is that the cap on Ministers in a normal government gives a real incentive for National Governments going forward. For MPs, not being a Minister means that they often don’t have transport and feel bad about themselves in public without bodyguards – it’s a real motivation to join the government. You could end up with a lot of national governments.
Overall, I think it’s actually been a good show. Far messier than Mahinda steamrolling the 18th amendment through, but this is how democracy is supposed to work. It’s supposed to be messy. The PM proposed one bill, the Supreme Court took stuff out, the Parliament put stuff in. That’s actually a wonderful process.
This only worked because President Sirisena allowed it to. He’s the first Sri Lankan President that used his powers to give up power. It’s something everyone has promised to do, but which no one has. Really remarkable actually, he has the makings of a truly transitional leader.
As messy and chaotic as this government seems at times, I think that’s a good thing. It’s becoming our government now, not Mahinda’s.