A new look 20A? | Daily News


A new look 20A?

The much debated 20th Amendment to the Constitution that was submitted for vetting by a Special Committee appointed by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa will be presented to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in its novel form, when the Cabinet meets today. The new version of the 20 A was submitted to the PM yesterday afternoon. President Rajapaksa, no doubt ,will come in for high praise for giving ear to all shades of opinion including views expressed by the Government representatives,themselves, and even among those who worked tirelessly to have him elected, on certain aspects of 20A.

Contrary to the grim picture painted of him as a dictator and one set to rule with an iron hand by his detractors, President Rajapaksa in true democratic fashion had opted to entertain alternative suggestions to do with 20 A and be amenable to any proposed changes suggested. One should here take into account the fact that the President commands a two thirds majority in Parliament and was elected to office with an overwhelming mandate virtually handing him a blank cheque to do as he pleases. He also has the full backing of the Maha Sangha whose support en masse facilitated his victory. Under these circumstances any other ruler would certainly have ridden rough shod over any form of opposition in having his/her word prevail.Therefore his critics ought to be humble enough to acknowledge this fact and give credit where it is due.

As to 20A itself, we have been arguing in this column, since the proposal was first made, that there were certain salutary features in the 19th Amendment and that the baby should not be thrown with the bathwater. Hopefully, these aspects would have been retained by the Committee headed by Minister Prof. G.L.Pieris who could be relied upon to have acted with circumspection. 20A, after all, is an interim measure and a forerunner to the proposed new Constitution and as such should ideally be the stepping stone for the big event. Hence, a careful study is demanded before deciding on the right options.The Committee, no doubt, would have taken a lesson from the manner in which the 19th Amendment was bulldozed through with patchwork arrangements and piecemeal options behind which were selfish motives for the concentration of power in a single individual and cutting the ground for the Rajapaksas to continue in politics.

Besides, a new constitution should be a well thought out one and carefully crafted for other reasons as well.We say this because it is very remote that there will be a future Parliament where the ruling party commands a two thirds majority under the present electoral system.Hence, the need to have an ironclad constitution that will not only take the country to the future but also meet future challenges and contingencies leaving no room for more amendments and other forms of tinkering as happened with the 1978 Constitution.

Hopefully, the Samagi Jana Balavegaya which has vowed to torpedo 20A in its present form, will act with responsibility and not be rushed into rash actions.The SJB has launched a campaign to promote its version of 19 plus - a so called improvement on the 19th Amendment as an alternative to 20A. Perhaps, it has taken cognisance of certain shortcomings in 19A pointed out by its own members. No doubt, the Committee which studied 20A would have dealt with the logjams in 19A that made Governance impossible and introduced alternative options. At the same time there is no doubt the positive features of 19A would have been retained and where possible, improved upon.

It is in this context that those who are quick to criticise the 20th Amendment ought to hold their horses until the final product in its refined form is made public.We say this because the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet had already fired a salvo raising concerns about specific features in the 20th Amendment, which according to her, impinge on human rights and impact on key independent institutions.

She, perhaps, fails to realise that 20A is only an interim measure to be refined and developed as the Government proceeds into knocking into shape a brand new constitution. Besides, its clauses can be challenged in courts by any citizen. In fact the Bar Association of Sri Lanka too had made certain objections which are bound to be canvassed at the appropriate forums. In fact, even during TV talk shows legal luminaries representing the Government and even members of the Viyath Maga has pointed to certain flaws which they want rectified.What is objectionable to most ,though, is the attempt to stymie actions and decisions of the President intended for the benefit of the people and the development of the country.

They rightly insist that the President,as the Commander-in-Chief, essentially has to retain the Defence portfolio which 19A has stripped him of.What they are against is the irrational provisions in 19A that prevent the country from moving forward.

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