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Sri Lanka Crisis: What is the 21st Amendment bill which seeks to end presidential system

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Colombo, May 17: Amid growing call for resignation of Sri Lankan President, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has said that the 21st Amendment to the Constitution will be discussed to curb the presidential powers.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa

The 21st Amendment is expected to nullify the 20th Amendment, that became a subject of political controversy as political activists, civil societies, international community expressed concerns over its bias towards Rajapaksa family.

What is the 21st Amendment?

The draft 21st constitution amendment bill seeks the abolition of the current executive presidential system and replace it with a system that reinforces constitutional democracy.

While the president will remain the head of state and the commander in chief, the president has no personal discretion in appointing or dismissing the prime minister.

The prime minister shall be the head of the Cabinet of ministers and the ministers are to be appointed by the president on the prime minister's advice.

The amendment, while seeking to annul the 20th Amendment adopted in 2020, aims to restore the 19th Amendment to the Constitution to curb the powers of the president and empower Parliament.

Why Sri Lanka wants to wrest power from the President?

The draft 21st constitution amendment bill comes at the time Sri Lanka is facing protest over failed economy. Sri Lanka is going through the worst economic crisis since independence in 1948.

A crippling shortage of foreign reserves has led to long queues for fuel, cooking gas and other essentials while power cuts and soaring food prices heaped misery on the people.

The economic crisis also triggered a political crisis in Sri Lanka and a demand for the resignation of the powerful Rajapaksas.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who has refused to quit, appointed Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister last week and said a young Cabinet under him would introduce key constitutional reforms to curb his powers. He ousted his elder brother Mahinda Rajapaksa who is under protection at a naval base following violent attacks on his aides.

What led to 21st Amendment?

The powerful Rajapaksa family tightened their grip on power after their massive victory in the general elections in August 2020, which allowed them to amend the Constitution to restore presidential powers and install close family members in key positions.

In his 2019 presidential bid, Gotabaya Rajapaksa won a convincing mandate for a presidency during which he sought full presidential powers over Parliament.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa is under pressure to quit along with his family as street protests have raged over the government's mishandling of the island nation's worst-ever economic crisis.

The demand is to set up an interim cabinet of all parties and restore the 19A which would deprive Gotabaya Rajapaksa of the full powers of the presidency.

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