Balance of power

Print edition : July 24, 2015

THE position of the Prime Minister under the present Sri Lankan Constitution, which was adopted in 1978, has largely been ceremonial with the balance of power heavily loaded in favour of the President. The abolition of the executive presidency, which had been in force since 1978, has been an electoral issue for over 20 years.

The August 17 parliamentary elections will be the first to be held after the passage of the Constitution 19th Amendment, which has taken away several powers assigned to the President. When the 19th Amendment was being drafted, lawmakers suggested giving more powers to the Prime Minister by making him/her the head of the Cabinet of Ministers. But, they were forced to change their plans following the Supreme Court’s verdict.

Under the present scheme of things, the President will not only be a member of the Cabinet of Ministers but also its head. He or she can hold the portfolios of Defence, Mahaweli Development and the Environment.

The President will appoint as Prime Minister a Member of Parliament who, in his/her opinion, is “most likely to command the confidence of Parliament”. The President can appoint Cabinet Ministers on the advice of the Prime Minister. But, be it the determination of the number of Cabinet Ministers (although the size is limited to 30) or the assignment of portfolios, the President has the option to consult the Prime Minister.

The power to reshuffle the Cabinet lies with the President, but the President can remove a Minister from the Council of Ministers only on the advice of the Prime Minister.

The amendment has reduced the term of Parliament from six years to five and has stipulated that the President can dissolve the House only after it has completed four and a half years and not one year as was the case earlier.

T. Ramakrishnan

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