The Parliament of Sri Lanka Thursday passed the Twentieth Amendment to the country’s constitution, repealing a past administration’s limitations on presidential powers and expansion of parliamentary powers. The amendment has raised concerns that authoritarian President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s power has become unbounded. The amendment was passed in the Sri Lankan House by a vote of 156-65.
The amendment allows the president to appoint and change the members of the Cabinet of Ministers, as well as control the authorities who oversee elections and human rights. It further expands the president’s power by allowing for the submission of a bill to the general population by referendum after the Parliament rejects it. In addition, Article 70 of the Sri Lankan Constitution was altered by the Twentieth Amendment to allow the president to:
[S]ummon, prorogue and dissolve Parliament . . . [p]rovided that . . . a General Election has been held consequent upon a dissolution of Parliament by the President, the President shall not thereafter dissolve Parliament until the expiration of a period of one year from the date of such General Election, unless Parliament by resolution requests the president to dissolve Parliament.
President Rajapaksa had already successfully dissolved the Sri Lankan Parliament earlier this year.
The president, a member of the Sri Lanka Podujana Party (SLPP), was elected in 2019 and has silenced dissenters and brought members of his family into the country’s government. He appointed his own brother, Mahinda Rajapaksa, as Prime Minister (PM). Since that appointment, the PM has been internationally condemned for similarly alarming actions, like withdrawing from a United Nations Resolution to investigate war crimes earlier this year.