SRI LANKA: Respect the People’s Mandate: Adopt the 19th Amendment

An article from the Friday Forum forwarded by the Asian Human Rights Commission

The 1978 Constitution of our country has a passage in its Preamble which refers to the obligations of parliamentarians elected by the People. It says that “WE THE FREELY ELECTED REPRESENTATIVES OF THE PEOPLE OF SRI LANKA, in pursuance of the mandate, humbly acknowledging our obligations to our People and gratefully remembering their heroic and unremitting struggle to regain and preserve their rights and privileges so that the Dignity and Freedom of the Individual may be assured,…do hereby adopt and enact this Constitution”. It is our duty as citizens today, and always, to ask whether and how far the actions and behaviour of the representatives of the People in Parliament fulfil those obligations.

The recent Presidential elections of 2015 gave President Sirisena a clear mandate to introduce Constitutional reforms that would dismantle or, at a minimum, dilute the powers of the Executive Presidency created by the current Constitution. The dismantling of the Executive Presidency had become an unfulfilled promise to the People given from 1994 by successive Presidents.

This mandate also clearly required an urgent response to corruption and abuse of power that had become rampant in an environment where the 18th Amendment had removed checks and balances to limit the wide presidential powers given by the Constitution.

The 19th Amendment that is before Parliament and the current procedures initiated in respect of grave allegations of corruption and abuse of power under the previous regime, represent the fulfilment of promises made to the People at the Presidential elections and cannot be delayed or set aside. It is therefore deeply disappointing that the interests of narrow party politics and what is seen as political advantages to particular political parties, now seem to obstruct the adoption of the 19th Amendment and the implementation of the anti-corruption drive.

The 19th Amendment may not be perfect. It has its limitations. Nevertheless it is a crucial step towards a system of governance that is democratic and respects the rights of the People. It has incorporated key provisions that have repealed the worst aspects of the 18th amendment. It has set limitations on the Presidential term of office, reintroduced the concept of independent Commissions such as the Human Rights, Public Service, Police and Elections Commissions and seeks to eliminate provisions that encourage the erosion of democracy and the rights of the People.

The 19th Amendment incorporates the right to information, an initiative that has been advocated for many years as essential to protect the public interest. We hope that this constitutional guarantee will be strengthened by the proposed Right to Information Act. Public responses and discussions held recently raised many concerns regarding an initial draft, and we hope they have been addressed in the Bill. It is unfortunate that the Bill is being presented as an urgent Bill as this has prevented further scrutiny before it is presented in Parliament. We understand that the Bill has been referred by the President to the Supreme Court and hope that this will provide an opportunity to address any limitations in the final Bill.

The 19th Amendment has already been subject to review by the Supreme Court, which has expressed its views on its constitutionality. Any limitations or problems created by the 19th Amendment can in this same spirit, be debated in Parliament, with a view to improving the Amendment. Parliamentarians should use this opportunity to debate the Amendment and produce a good consensus document that conforms to the decision of the Supreme Court.

It is for these reasons that the Friday Forum calls upon all parliamentarians to support the President in his efforts to have the 19th Amendment enacted into law without delay. The public interest demands that political parties should not bargain for various terms and conditions in return for their support for the Bill. It is unthinkable that a responsible opposition can set conditions for support of an Amendment that is seeking to do what the People of this country have been demanding ever since the 1978 Constitution was adopted.

The demand that the 19th Amendment should accompany the proposed 20th amendment on electoral reforms reflects the narrow concerns of political parties in regard to what is most helpful in increasing their vote banks. Electoral reforms must address the realities of the People’s concerns and cannot be rushed through in hasty legislation. President Sirisena has stated in public that he will ensure that the next elections will be held only after electoral reforms, and we urge all parties to engage in this participatory process of electoral reform after passing the 19th amendment.

The Friday Forum also urges Parliamentarians to rise above adversarial politics that obstruct our collective interest in eliminating the cancer of abuse of power and corruption. What democratic country in the world can tolerate the spectacle of members of Parliament engaging in a ‘sit in’ within the legislative assembly, demanding that senior politicians should not be summoned before the appropriate courts and tribunals investigating such allegations? Recent news reports referred to police prosecution of children for petty thefts. Can the average citizen avoid questioning or arrest by law enforcement authorities, or spend time in a national hospital when required to spend time in prison pending investigations? All citizens are equal before the law and are entitled to equal protection under the law. Those who are entrusted by the people to make laws and whose duty it is to ensure the upholding of the rule of law cannot demand that any or some should be treated differently. Situations where members of Parliament obstruct the process of the law and violate court orders with impunity are simply not acceptable. The Friday Forum expects all political party leaders to strictly refrain from nominating persons who have engaged in such illegal acts for the forthcoming general election and calls upon the people to reject such candidates in the event that the party leaders fail to do so. 

The Friday Forum calls upon all our parliamentarians to act in the public interest and support the passage of the 19th Amendment and the anti- corruption drive. We call on all our fellow citizens, irrespective of political differences, to remind our parliamentarians that the constitution-making process has to be solely for the public good and not for championing of narrow political goals. The people’s representatives must not, and cannot, support any subversive agenda that is seeking to undermine or derail these critically important initiatives to regain the peoples’ rights. If they do so, history will surely judge them as having betrayed the nation and the people.


Prof. Savitri Goonesekere                                  Bishop Duleep de Chickera

on behalf of the Friday Forum

Prof. Savitri Goonesekere, Bishop Duleep de Chickera, Dr. Deepika Udagama, Mr Saliya Peiris, Dr. Radhika Coomaraswamy, Dr. G. Usvatte-Aratchi, Dr. Upatissa Pethiyagoda, Prof. Camena GuneratneMs. Damaris Wickremesekera, Mr. Faiz-ur Rahman, Mr. Ahilan Kadirgamar, Mr. Danesh Casie Chetty,Mr. Tissa Jayatilaka, Mrs. Manouri Muttetuwegama, Ms. Suriya Wickremasinghe, Prof. Gameela Samarasinghe, Mr. Pulasthi Hewamanna, J. C. Weliamuna, Priyantha Gamage, Suresh de Mel, Ms. Shanthi Dias, Mr. Chandra Jayaratne, Mr. Anton Jeyanathan, Prof. Arjuna Aluwihare, Mr. Javid Yusuf, Ms. Selvy Thiruchandran, Dr. Ranjini Obeyesekere, Rev. Dr. Jayasiri Peiris, Mr. Ananda Galappatti, Dr. Devanesan Nesiah.

The Friday Forum is an informal group of concerned citizens pledged to uphold norms of democracy, good governance, the rule of law, human rights, media freedom and tolerance in our pluralist society.

Document Type : Forwarded Article
Document ID : AHRC-FAT-009-2015
Countries : Sri Lanka,
Issues : Administration of justice,