Sri Lankan Cabinet has approved the 21st Amendment to the Constitution aimed at empowering Parliament over the executive President. The bill will now be tabled in the Parliament soon.


What are the proposed changes?

  • Reduction of Presidency to a ceremonial position
      • The amendment is likely to reduce the Presidency to a ceremonial position.
      • It will retain the powers of the President on all three-armed forces.
      • Almost all other key powers pertaining to governance and cabinet ministers will be handed over to the Prime Minister.
      • In essence, the bill seeks to abolish the presidential system of governance. The presidential system of governance is in existence in Sri Lanka since 1978.
  • No personal discretion of President — According to the proposal, the President has no personal discretion in appointing or dismissing the Prime Minister.
  • Seeks to annul the 20th Amendment
      • The 21st amendment, while seeking to annul the 20th Amendment, aims to restore the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. The 20th Amendment was adopted in 2020.
      • It had abolished the 19th Amendment and gave President Gotabaya Rajapaksa an unfettered power.
      • By doing so, the amendment wants to curb the powers of the President and empower Parliament.
  • Other reforms — This amendment aims at barring the dual citizens from contesting elections to hold public office.


What are the 19th and 20th amendments?

  • The 19th Amendment was brought in by the previous Yahapalanya (Good Governance) government of the United National Front of President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. It rolled back the 18th amendment that had been brought in by the preceding President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
  • The 18th amendment had removed the two-term bar on running for office, and centralised more powers in the hands of the President.
  • One of the first acts of United National Front was to bring in the 19th amendment, which restored the two-term bar on running for the presidency that was contained in the 1978 constitution; laid down the minimum age of 35 years for a presidential candidate; and also barred dual citizens from the office.
  • It reduced the term of the presidency to five years from the six years laid down in the 1978 constitution.
  • The President also lost his power to sack the Prime Minister. It also placed a ceiling on the number of ministers and deputy ministers.
  • The 20th amendment Bill reversed almost everything in the 19th Amendment. It only retained from it the two-term bar on the presidency, and the five-year term.