My dear Gota maamey, I thought I must write to you when I saw that you had proposed a 20th Amendment to the Constitution. The details of the amendment were revealed this week and the chances are that, given the two-thirds majority that your ‘pohottuwa’ party now enjoys in the new Parliament, it will see [...]

5th Column

Sealing in the power


My dear Gota maamey,

I thought I must write to you when I saw that you had proposed a 20th Amendment to the Constitution. The details of the amendment were revealed this week and the chances are that, given the two-thirds majority that your ‘pohottuwa’ party now enjoys in the new Parliament, it will see the light of day.

No one can blame you for that, of course. During the recent election campaign, you – and Mahinda maama - were upfront about wanting to do away with the 19th Amendment and asked for a mandate to do that. The people have now given you that mandate and you are only trying to fulfil your promise.

Pardon me, Gota maamey, but there is a sense of déjà vu about all this. The 20th Amendment is very similar to the 18th Amendment, except that the 18th Amendment allowed someone to run for President any number of times and the term of office of the President and Parliament was six years, not five.

Gota maamey, we remember how Basil maama worked hard for the 18th Amendment 10 years ago, engineering cross-overs from the Green camp to ensure that it was passed in Parliament. The 20th Amendment too has his signature all over it, though it was said that it was young Sabry who drafted it.

It is not that Basil maama has been forgotten in the 20th Amendment. It allows dual citizens to return to Parliament. So, there is no doubt Basil maama will be back before you could say ‘Daisy aachchi’ and what’s more, he will take over some ministries now entrusted to Mahinda mama, won’t he?

Whenever a government changes, they try to change the Constitution. Mahinda maama replaced the 17th Amendment with the 18th, replacing the Constitutional Council with a Parliamentary Council. Those changes were reversed with the 19th. Yet, with the 20th, the Parliamentary Council is back!

You have removed civil society representatives from this Parliamentary Council. Why would you need them when we all saw how responsibly our parliamentarians can behave – chairs, chillie powder and all – during that infamous constitutional crisis set off by Cheerio Sirisena nearly two years ago?

You have ensured that this Council has only five people with three being the PM, Speaker and the PM’s nominee. That way, the majority of the ruling party is assured. After all, what is the point is having a Council if it cannot do what you want done? Even a simple task such as sacking an IGP!

If you had such a Council in the previous Parliament where Mahinda maama was PM, Chamal maama was the Speaker, and Basil maama was a minister and could have been on that Council, meetings could have been held around the dinner table at Medamulana – and how easy would that be?

Unlike the Constitutional Council which made recommendations for appointments, this council can only send ‘observations’ to you which you can ignore if you wish to. If that is their role, why do you need such a council? You can get peoples’ ‘observations’ just by looking at a Facebook page!

We see that you have also decided to do away with the limit on the number of Cabinet ministers and non-Cabinet ministers which was capped at 30 and 40 ministers respectively – just when many people were praising you for appointing a trimmed down Cabinet limited to just 26 ministers.

It will be more the merrier now, and given your idea to identify ministries precisely with the subjects they deal with, we may soon have a ‘thora amathi’, ‘paraa amathi’ and ‘kelawalla amathi’ instead of the Minister of Fisheries and maybe a ‘gal amathi’ ‘pol amathi’ and a ‘Mendis Special amathi’ too!

You have also learnt lessons from Cheerio Sirisena’s attempted constitutional coup when he dissolved Parliament too soon and got slapped by the Supreme Court for doing so. Now you will be able to dissolve Parliament after one year and anyway, vacancies in the Supreme Court will be filled by you!

I was intrigued by another change that has been proposed, Gota maamey - reducing the age limit to run for President from 35 to 30. Surely, Namal baby is the chosen one. He will be 35 next April. You are not taking any chances even in the short period between now and then, are you?

You have also taken care to give yourself immunity from the law for anything that you do or may not do. Given the many cases you had before you ran for office, that is not surprising. This means young Sabry will lose out on some business – but then, you have compensated him with a Cabinet portfolio.

The 20th Amendment is perfect in making you all-powerful, Gota maamey, but I wonder whether you missed out on one tiny detail: something for Cheerio Sirisena. You have a two-thirds majority to get this approved but that is with fifteen votes from Sirisena’s party – and what is in it for him and them?

Our experiences in tinkering with our Constitution over the past 50 years tell us that governments make changes so that it suits them when they are in power, forgetting that they may be in the opposition one day. Can you think about that too before you make all these changes, Gota maamey?

Yours truly,

Punchi Putha

PS: There was a joke that our Constitution was amended so many times that, in libraries, it was in the ‘periodicals’ section. With the 19th Amendment, it may have been moved to the ‘fairy tales’ section. The 20th Amendment makes you so powerful that GR might become JR, only being unable to change a man into a woman. I hope our Constitution won’t be moved to the ‘horror stories’ section!

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