Photo Courtesy of The Bar Examiner 

The proposed 20th Amendment to the constitution seeks to repeal/amend all changes introduced by the 19th Amendment save three. They are the retention of five-year terms for the President and Parliament, the two-term limit on the office of the President, and the recognition of the right to information as a fundamental right.

Following Cabinet approval, this bill was gazetted on 3 September 2020, giving the public, the opposition, civil society and other interested parties a window of 14 days to challenge the draft amendment.

During this interim, the Government has faced significant resistance from the opposition and members of civil society, who warn against the reversal of democratic processes and the unchecked powers of the president granted through the proposed amendment. The National Peace Council, The Audit Inspector’s Association, The Centre for Policy Alternatives, The Federation of National Organisations, and The National Movement for Social Justice are some groups who have made appeals to reconsider the proposed amendment.

Taking note of the discourse surrounding the 20th amendment and in light of International Day of Democracy that falls on 15 September, Groundviews spoke to four law students from the University of Colombo to hear their perspective on the Sri Lankan constitution, key elements of the proposed 20th Amendment, and its impact on democracy in Sri Lanka.

All four agreed that the existing constitution of Sri Lanka needs amendment, while most noted the need to improve Article 16, the chapter on Fundamental Rights. The students believed that historically the constitution has been used and amended for the benefit of those in power, which has diminished the value of the constitution as a symbol of democracy and sovereignty of the people. Overall, their view was that the proposed 20th amendment intends to reduce checks and balances of the president and was most likely to stifle dissent and opposition by hastening the law making process, impacting democratic governance in Sri Lanka.

Below is the video with their responses.