South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

Sri Lanka’s President Sunday called for sweeping reforms to the country’s constitution that he introduced in 2015 to be rolled back, saying they are responsible for political instability. Maithripala Sirisena said the 19th amendment to the constitution – which notably transferred some of the president’s powers to the Prime Minister and depoliticised key institutions – should be scrapped because it has led to a power struggle.

It “has triggered instability. There is no single leader,” Sirisena told a meeting in Colombo. “People believe that the president and Prime Minister are pulling in different directions.” Sirisena came to power in 2015 promising constitutional reform carried out with the 19th amendment, including the reduction of the powers of the executive and giving greater authority to parliament.

The police, public service, election commission and the judiciary were depoliticised – and term limits of the presidency, which were removed by Sirisena’s predecessor, were restored. Human rights were strengthened and the president was made answerable to parliament and could be challenged in court. At the time, Sirisena was hailed internationally for the sweeping reforms.

However, in October, he sacked Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and tried to bring his former nemesis Rajapakse back to power. The Supreme Court held his actions were illegal and restored the status quo. Sirisena’s attempts to extend his presidential term by a further year was also shot down by the top court. The president does not have the two-thirds parliamentary majority in the current parliament that he needs to change the constitution.

The independent elections commission is due to conduct the next presidential poll between November 9 and December 9. Sirisena has an uneasy relationship with the premier who helped him come to power. The two have clashed openly as the prime minister has made it clear that he wants to contest the upcoming presidential polls.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2019