Historic victory for democracy as Sri Lanka abolishes "absolute presidency
by Melani Manel Perera
Parliament passes the 19th amendment reintroducing term limits to presidential mandate and reduces the powers of office. Civil Society: "A blessing for the people and the nation." The previous constitutional amendment had transformed the country into a semi dictatorship.

Colombo (AsiaNews) - The regime of "absolute presidency" in Sri Lanka has come to an end. After a long debate yesterday evening, Parliament passed the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which reintroduces term limits to presidential mandate and reduces the powers of office.

A "historic achievement and a blessing" for the country, according to human rights activists, priests and members of civil society. Even President Maithripala Sirisena, who during the election campaign promised to introduce the change, said: "Gone are the days when the international community judges another country on the basis of skin color. Today the only they count is the level of democracy, good governance, human rights and the honest behavior of the politicians. Today we have become a nation that has no enemies”.

A total of 215 MPs out of 225 voted in favor of the amendment. In addition to re-introduce the limit of the dual mandate (5 + 5), the 19th amendment removes the president the power to dissolve Parliament before its completion of four and a half years of government.

On 8 September 2010, the Parliament of Sri Lanka passed a constitutional amendment (the 18th amendment) to strengthen the powers of the head of state and to remove the two-term limit for the exercise of the presidential office. The amendment also granted the president the exclusive right to appoint important positions, such as Chief Justice.

The move was pushed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa as "necessary" to resume control of the country after almost 30 years of civil war, which ended in May 2009. In reality, the 18th Amendment has transformed the Rajapaksa government into a semi dictatorship – something human rights activists often singled out- which committed many abuses, favoring a system of corruption and restriction of personal freedoms.

On April 27, the Purawesi Balaya movement ("Power to the people") organized a peaceful march in support of the 19th Amendment, which was attended by thousands of people of all religions, and civil society associations.

The venerable Maduluwawe Sobitha Nayaka Thera, President of the National Movement for Social Justice, said: "We have suffered the consequences of this executive presidency for 35 years. An entire country, regardless of religious and ethnic differences, is here to ask you to abolish this system and not to oppose democracy ".

Fr Sarath Iddamalgoda, a Catholic priest and human rights activist, described the approval of the 19th Amendment as "essential for democracy and for the salvation of the country and its people. With the 18th amendment, the former president acquired dictatorial powers and has committed many abuses. "