Sri Lanka makes further budget tightening ahead of talks with main creditors
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Colombo: The much-anticipated debate for the adoption of the 22nd Amendment to Sri Lanka’s Constitution aimed at empowering Parliament over the executive president was deferred on Thursday as Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena told the House that the government will have more discussions to seek views of the opposition to make it a “meaningful” exercise.

The parliamentary debate was fixed for October 6 and 7. However, it was speculated that due to disagreements in the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) party coalition the debate would not take place.

We have decided to have more discussions to seek views of the opposition as they raised some concerns, Prime Minister Gunawardena told Parliament.

We are willing to have talks to make sure that this amendment would be meaningful. At the moment it is a useless exercise, the main opposition leader Sajith Premadasa said in response. New dates are yet to be fixed.

The government sources said a section of the ruling coalition was in disagreement with the amendment. They do not want any pruning of presidential powers.

Some members of the SLPP went public with their opposition to 22A.

Analysts termed the postponement of the debate as a setback for President Ranil Wickremesinghe who had pledged constitutional reforms to appease the demand from the street protesters who ousted his predecessor Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Wickremesinghe relies on the support from the SLPP parliamentary group for his legislative capacity.

The 22A was to restore the powers of Parliament which were taken under the executive president by Gotabaya Rajapaksa through the 20th Amendment of 2020.

The opposition and the civil society groups remained sceptical of the 22A claiming that it does not curtail the powers of the president nor introduce checks and balances in any meaningful manner, contrary to the demands of the protest movement.

The draft bill on the 22nd Amendment was approved by the Cabinet and gazetted in August. The 22nd Amendment was originally named 21A and meant to replace the 20A.

The amendment was formulated amid the ongoing economic turmoil in the country which also caused a political crisis. It is meant to replace the 20A that had given unfettered powers to ex-President Gotabaya Rajapaksa after abolishing the 19th Amendment.

Rajapaksa had reversed through 20A the features of the 19A which had empowered Parliament over the presidency.

Rajapaksa was ousted in mid-July through the popular uprising against him for mishandling the country’s economy.

Under the 20A, the Constitutional Council was converted to a parliamentary council just to rubber stamp presidential powers. The 22A would also have anti-corruption features, a key demand of the protesters.

The bill must be approved by two-thirds of Sri Lanka’s 225-member Parliament to become law.

If passed into law, the amendments would reinstate reforms made in 2015. Rajapaksa reversed those reforms and concentrated power on himself after being elected to office in 2019.

Sri Lanka is facing the worst economic crisis since independence in 1948 which has led to an acute shortage of essential items like food, medicine, cooking gas and fuel across the country.

The street protests had been triggered across the country over the poor handling of the economic crisis and the lack of accountability to it.

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