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Sri Lanka: Small Political Parties Object to Proposed Constitutional Amendment

(June 24, 2015) A number of small political parties in Sri Lanka have stated that they are opposed to a constitutional amendment on the electoral system proposed by the Prime Minister. They are concerned that the amendment would pose a threat to democracy in the country, by providing for less representation of non-majority parties, and said they would vote against it in its present form. (Sri Lanka Minor Political Parties Express Their Concerns to PM on 20th Amendment, COLOMBO PAGE (June 21, 2015); Sri Lanka Cabinet Approves 20th Amendment with a New Electoral System of 237 Parliamentary Seats, COLOMBO PAGE (June 12, 2015).)

The proposed amendment, which would be the 20th for the Constitution originally adopted in 1978, is reportedly designed to make the political system more open to ordinary citizens. (Constance Johnson, Sri Lanka: President Campaigns for Amendment on Electoral Reform, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (June 12, 2015).) The Cabinet approved the proposal on June 12, 2015. (Sri Lanka Cabinet Approves 20th Amendment with a New Electoral System of 237 Parliamentary Seats, supra.)

The Proposed Changes

The draft amendment soon to be considered by the legislature would increase the size of the country’s unicameral parliament from 225 seats to 237. Of these seats, 145 would be filled by representatives elected under the “first past the post” system, 55 would be selected on a proportional representation basis, and 37 would come from a national list of candidates. For adoption, the amendment would have to be approved by a two-thirds majority in the Parliament and then pass review by the Supreme Court. (Sri Lanka Minor Political Parties Express Their Concerns to PM on 20th Amendment, supra.)

Criticism of the Proposal

Representatives of 22 parties, including the Marxist Party, the Tamil National Alliance, and the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, met on June 21 with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe to discuss their reservations about the draft amendment. Hasan Ali, the General Secretary of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, said that his organization is not totally opposed to the 20th amendment, but that it does want fair representation. (Id.; Minor Political Parties in Sri Lanka to Meet Today to Discuss 20th Amendment, COLOMBO PAGE (June 14, 2015).)

According to Mano Ganeshan of the Tamil Progressive Alliance, a coalition of three small Tamil parties, the meeting with the Wickremasinghe was “somewhat satisfactory” but the opposition to the amendment will continue. (Sri Lanka Minor Political Parties Express Their Concerns to PM on 20th Amendment, supra.)

Related Development

Although the amendment proposal has not yet been fully considered in Parliament, that body appears likely to be dissolved soon, following the introduction of several no-confidence motions. The majority party, the United National Party, is reportedly in favor of dissolution. (Dissolution Before No-Faith Motion?, DAILY MIRROR (June 22, 2013).)