1 December, 2022


20A Troubles: New Revolt In The Temple & New Catholic Action

By Rajan Philips

Rajan Philips

No one knows who the mice are and who the men are in the current government. But everyone knows that the best laid plans of both – for the 20th Amendment, are going astray. The amendment may still get passed, but the process which began with a bang is teetering to a whimper. The passage may well be a pathetic and pyrrhic victory. The Administration will have to show how the restored presidential powers (not that they needed any restoration) are going to dramatically change the government’s scrambling responses to the resurgence of Covid-19 and the economic crises. 

Basil Rajapaksa (BR) may still return to parliament as a dual citizen of Sri Lanka and the US, but many a face will be made behind MPs’ masks on the government side in parliament, while the opposition MPs will keep their masks and howl Basil greetings at any and every opportunity. Face making behind masks will extend to cabinet meetings. To be fair, the dual citizen will also be at liberty to make return faces at his patriotic detractors from behind his own mask. 

All in all, it will be a subdued and masked return by BR to parliament and not the triumphant one that he might have been looking for. Most people in the country will see the return of Basil Rajapaksa to parliament without relinquishing his US citizenship as the only outcome from the 20th Amendment. They will be hard pressed to see any other significant or nationally beneficial outcome. The most significant development so far on the 20th Amendment front is the opposition to it emanating from within the government’s own ranks in parliament and from within its support fortresses outside parliament. 

The government has virtually won the Supreme Court battle, even managing to allegedly leak the Court’s ruling to the media before it was presented to parliament. It is still confident of mobilizing a two-thirds majority in parliament. But outside those forums, the government is losing credibility. There are mini revolts in the temple, and a Catholic Action that is different from the 1960s. Severally and together, the two new developments will have interesting implications for the 21st century Rajapaksa yugaya in Sri Lankan politics. It is already into two decades, the common span for dominant family politics. Nascent signs of Rajapaksa fatigue in the body politic are not too inconspicuous. 

Daily Disenchantment

There have been daily waves of disenchantment over the 20th Amendment. The first to emerge was at the government parliamentary group meeting on Friday, October 9. After the weekend, on Monday October 12, came the salvo from the Amarapura-Ramanna Samagri Maha Sangha Sabha. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference came out on Tuesday, October 14, calling for the full withdrawal of the 20th Amendment and a new national endeavour towards yet another new constitution. The National Christian Council made its views known on  Wednesday, October 15, and on the same day the Women and Media Collective released a detailed statement on the flaws of the 20th Amendment. There may have been others after I finished writing this piece on Friday. 

While all these objections are quite substantial, the statement of the Amarapura-Ramanna Sabha included an excellent summary of the positive accomplishments of the 19th Amendment. The five 19A accomplishments listed by the Sabha are worth more than a few looks: (1) Re-introducing the Constitutional restriction for two terms for a President by Article 31(2), which had been removed under the 18th Amendment; (2) Restricting foreign citizens from becoming Members of Parliament or President by Article 91 (c) XIII; (3) Establishment of a Constitutional Council to oversee appointments to important positions in public service; (4) Establishment of Independent Commissions by Article 41 (b) VI; and (5) Subjecting the appointment of Judges to superior courts by President, to the approval of the Constitutional Council by Article 41 C. 

One omission in the list, from the standpoint of separation of powers, is 19A’s check on the President’s power of dissolution over parliament. There is as much innocence as there is ignorance on this matter, at every level and in all branches of the state. The 1972 Constitution gave the President, then only a Head of State, the flexibility to deny a Prime Minister’s request for dissolving parliament within a year after a general election. This provision was included solely based on the experience of the 1960 March and July parliamentary elections, and to avoid a repetition in the future. JR Jayewardene quite mistakenly borrowed the 1972 provision and turned into a presidential power to dissolve parliament any time after one year of a parliamentary election. This power of dissolution is utterly incompatible with the separation of powers which JRJ proudly enshrined in his 1978 Constitution. 

The 19th Amendment virtually eliminated the power of dissolution by precluding the President from dissolving parliament for four and half years (after an election) unless requested by a parliamentary resolution passed with two-thirds majority. The 20th Amendment first rescinded the 19A change, and is now offering a compromise under which the President cannot dissolve parliament for two and a half years (instead of four and half) unless requested by a parliamentary resolution passed with a simple majority (not two-thirds majority). 

For separation of powers to mean anything the executive should have no power of dissolution over the legislature. That is the system in the US, where there is a ‘non-dissolution’ Congress, that faces elections at prescribed intervals – two years for the House; and a staggered term of six years in the Senate, with elections held every two years for a third of the Senators. Every leap year, as it will be on November 3 this year, the Congress elections coincide with the presidential election which is held every four years. Imagine if Trump could have dissolved the Congress earlier! 

A practical approach in Sri Lanka would be to hold presidential and parliamentary elections at the same time every five years. The two elected institutions will have to learn to work together between elections regardless of who holds the majority in parliament. If they cannot, one of them will have to go. And it cannot be parliament unless the President’s spoken word becomes law, which would be transmitted orally, and the country is rendered legally illiterate. No more pettifogging for fees over written laws, and no more fussing over a written constitution.  

Pathetic Purposelessness

A common point of contention among all critical government supporters is the 20th Amendment’s removal of the 19A provision barring dual citizens from becoming MPs or Presidents. Vasudeva Nanayakkara momentarily found his long-lost young voice in picking apart the ad hominem Basil clause at the government parliamentary group meeting. The Minister of Health Pavithra Wanniarachchi reportedly contradicted Vasu and spoke out for BR, calling the 19A provision a mala fide insertion targeting the Rajapaksas. She is specially qualified to talk about mala fide constitutional clauses while (nominally) presiding over bona fide staffing maladies in the Ministry of Health and the Medical Research Institute. Per usual, Mahinda Rajapaksa had to step in to partially salvage the matter by offering to remove the dual-citizenship restriction only for MPs but retain it for future presidential candidates. 

But that does not seem to be satisfying anybody. The whole absurdity of the original Basil-clause is in the mockery it makes of the supreme sacrifice that Gotabaya Rajapaksa had to make in relinquishing his US citizenship to become president of Sri Lanka. As originally drafted, by the still unknown ghost drafter, the Basil-clause would render any dual citizen to be eligible to be a presidential contender in future. For now, the Basil-clause will primarily serve Basil Rajapaksa to become a nationally listed, but unelected, dual citizen MP. Should he decide to have a kick at the presidential can down the road, he may have to figure out a new scheme to score that future goal. He will have no problem finding a creatively pleading lawyer and a creatively receptive bench to make things happen as and when they are needed. There will be little purchase, however, among the people. The people are nervous about the virus, anxious over economic uncertainty, and are getting tired of amateurish constitutional games. 

It is fair to say that the discrediting of the 19th Amendment is entirely attributable to the joint failure of Maithripala Sirisena and Ranil Wickremesinghe. It should be equally fair to say that with the two men themselves discredited and out of the picture (albeit Sirisena is still loitering in the shadows of the SLPP), and the government rushing to repeal and replace 19A including many of its positive provisions, informed sections of the public are standing up to defend the threatened provisions. The contrasts between the two amendments cannot be greater.  

The government’s pathetic purposelessness behind the 20th Amendment was demonstrated fittingly by the principal Rajapaksa sidekick, GL Peiris, at the government parliamentary group meeting where he apparently argued that 20A is necessary because the IGP and the Attorney General cannot be removed from their posts under 19A. No one took the old law professor seriously; nor did anyone take Pieris’s politically aspiring understudy Ali Sabri seriously. According to multiple media reports, Pieris and Sabri co-anchored a power point presentation to the group to explain the nuts and bolts of the Twentieth Amendment. Those who had misgivings were not impressed. And they asked questions. 

President Rajapaksa was also not impressed by those who dared to ask questions. That seems to be the main takeaway from the meeting in the many reports about it. The President reportedly went on the attack as the best of form defense, with or without the portfolio, and was especially harsh on Gevindu Kumaratunga, the viyathmaga advocate of a brand, new constitution. “I want to deliver,” was a presidential refrain throughout the meeting, according to multiple reports. 

Somehow, the President has got it in his head that the 20th Amendment should also be one of his deliverables. He has also got in his head that a whole new constitution is an even larger deliverable that is expected of him. These self-inflicted burdens are quite unnecessary, even unfortunate. Nobody expects Gotabaya Rajapaksa to be a 21st century Colvin R de Silva, or JR Jayewardene. People elected him to run an efficient government and produce basic goods and services. He doesn’t need a new constitution to do any of that. 

Hopefully, it is not too late before President Gotabaya Rajapaksa realizes either on his own counsel, or others’ advice, that people will not hold it against him if he does not deliver either on 20A or a whole new constitution. What the people will not forget, or electorally forgive, would be the President’s failure to protect their health from the coronavirus and protect their households from economic destitution. Anything less will not pass muster with the public. The widespread criticisms against the 20th Amendment are not going to bring down the government. But they are strong warnings of future storms. 

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Latest comments

  • 49

    Not only you have to wear masks when you deal with the Rajapaksas, you should also hold your noses – especially in the case of Basil. His only concern in life is looting. Have you ever seen this guy waxing eloquent about the 2500 year old civilization? No, he leaves it to his brothers who are more desirable to the Hamuduruwos. His focus is on making deals with Tamil and Muslim politicians who also share his enthusiasm for looting, in order to line his pockets. That’s why this guy will never give up his US citizenship. You do need a safe place to sit back and enjoy the spoils once you have satisfied your Kleptomania.

    • 9

      Ajay: “You do need a safe place to sit back and enjoy the spoils…” The amazing wisdom regarding politicians was made by Marcus Cicero in 43 BC as:

      1. The poor .. work and work
      2, The rich .. exploit the poor
      3. The soldier. Protects both
      4. The Taxpayer .. pays for all three
      5. The Banker .. robs all four
      6. The Lawyer .. misleads all five.
      7. The Doctor .. Bills all six
      8. The goons ..scare all the seven
      9. The politician .. lives happily on account of all eight.


      • 4

        The story may well be apocryphal because, as many have pointed out, the language is modern. But no doubt it points to the reality of deep-rooted corruption in today’s societies. 20A will put Sri Lankans in a hellish predicament as it will remove all checks and balances and the separation of powers. That means the politician, the judge, the soldier, the goon will be all rolled into one. We may have to repeat what Cicero said when he was falsely accused as an “enemy of the state” and was about to be executed: “There is nothing proper about what you are doing, soldier, but do try to kill me properly.”

      • 0

        Punchinilame, I enjoyed reading your comment. Are you sure that this was. Said by Marcus Cicero in 43 BC

  • 8

    Dear Rajan

    As always an article with clarity and good analysis of the facts too..respect.

    I restate what you said

    “Somehow, the President has got it in his head that the 20th Amendment should also be one of his deliverables. He has also got in his head that a whole new constitution is an even larger deliverable that is expected of him. These self-inflicted burdens are quite unnecessary, even unfortunate”

    The concern for the voters is the how TNA spent its days after the war in the parliament….let alone allowed in the parliament wasting parliamentary time.

    Until we vacate this folly/blunder/fraud the FP/ITAK/TULF/TNA from our soil it will be hard for any “elected or want be elected” to be as sensible in all they do?

    Therefore any arguments we make can never hold until we replace this folly (now we have several versions of the same as elected in the North and East) and will never make sense to any GOSL as we are ungovernable?

    This is one of the reasons we should always ignore Buddhist clergy and support the elected GOSL in running the country as seem fit based on their Manifesto pledge to the people? & Is it not “we always argued” religious factions should not have a say??? now we site the same for our argument??

    • 6

      You always enjoy not missing an opportunity to praise your traitorous turncoat appa,
      running down the rest of the Thamizh other than your traitorous family .

      • 5

        Dear PK is a very unfair accusation on me and my father too.

        Fully respect you may not know me but am concerned you have not established who my Father is a concern that you may not have the right sources.

        Kindly share your sources as not only we can establish facts but also fix them accordingly too. Time to confront all that is wrong in our world headon is my Fathers motto and we should do the same together…..this way we will identify other records too needs straightening such our children can also have factual information to use in the future too.

        Having lost few hundred thousand life’s/arms and limbs in our Nation and we do not know who is Mr Thiagarajah is a call for us all to arm ourself for mindful actions??fearless just as our children did does not matter Tamil and Sinhala speaking??

      • 1

        Well said Pandi Kuti
        He is an offspring of theTURNCOAT THIGARAJH.
        Always looking for opportunity to join the winning side and try to make killing as his father did’

        • 3

          Since CT has allowed you to troll I ask the following

          Thank you Umberto (I accept you can not disclose your name/location etc and is ok for me to continue with you so not to worry) and let me share more with the references in the following Wikipedia link


          Kindly read the following Ref 6 page and come back to me we will make progress.


          The reference 6 by Sachi SriSkanth and his own writings making references to his references about my Father too.

          Then please read one of his references – S. Sivanayagam: Sri Lanka: Witness to History – A Journalist’s Memoirs (1930-2004), Sivayogam, London. 2005.

          What you think about what is written here by this guy and his respective references he made for his summary and the entire content regards about my Father too.

          Let us establish your thoughts on this please a s a first step.

          (1)It is OUR responsibility to explain what has happened to our Language/History/Culture/Democracy etc…..a journey by you and me is very ideal can highlight this to the Nation/World through open exchanges/meetings be it small gathering or large…I did make a loving invitation earlier in other places and please accept.

  • 13

    Myyyyyyyy, these rajapuka’s think that they are born with the sun shining on their undesirable sordid arses and they have to own the 25,000 odd square miles.
    Thanks to the stupidity of the nearly 7 million Yakkos who by their shitting sitting on their brains have voted the uncouth’s into squatting not once but twice on the royal latrine.
    Now after bullying the supreme court to issue a judgement in their favour which they released to the media even before it was made official.
    Such was their desperation.
    As BR is the odd crooked fish left out of the equation as by his holding onto the dual citizenship with the USA and the sad sorry shittiest of them all Sri Lanka they by hook or by crook are determined to bulldoze the 20th amendment to accommodate Mr. 10% commission receiver who has his amude filled up with tons of illegal assets and cash.
    These undesirables if only Preethi the condom was available at the time of their conception the once successful peace-loving now polluted by the likes of these never saw richness now with wealth jutting out of all their pores.

    • 8

      At last certain sections of the maha sangha along
      with a fraternity of the catholic hierarchy have finally woken up from their deep slumber and are now cast a howl of a protest at the games that the stinky rajapuka’s are indulging in.
      The unhappy gods have reestablished the cursed coronavirus on an islandwide scale the peasant masses who voted for these hora boru infidels cheapest of the cheapest undesirables who have by ignoring their needs are only interested in filling up their amudes/panties.g.
      Hopefully, the tide changed and these better to be dead undesirables have begun digging their own GRAVES in preparation of their demise/death.

      The unhappy gods have reestablished the cursed coronavirus on an islandwide scale the peasant masses who voted for these hora boru infidels cheapest of the cheapest undesirables who have by ignoring their needs are only interested in filling up their amudes/panties.g.

      • 10

        The sangha is part of the Rajapaksa drama…..watch how it unfolds

  • 5

    The Doctrine of separation of powers, is it really separate in Britain? Unlike in US, the borders are loose. It is the same person commanding the confidence of the majority in Parliament really “controls” the legislation, executive and the appointments to the higher judiciary but not judicial decisions. In both those countries the general reputation is that the errant politician will have to pay a huge political price, even their party men would not agree to support, resulting in President Nixon’s resignation. The real issue here is for quite some time, politics here, is an avenue to earn for seven generations instead of developing and running the country properly. If we choose to be semi-parliamentary, like now, we should reform the presidency. If he/she, neutral to party politics, directly elected by the people to be an umpire of the politicians, to maintain and facilitate the state machinery to run according to the laws and policies of the majority of the parliament but not to allow politicians to tamper with the state machinery then the true separation of powers will start becoming visible. Under such circumstances, the need to have Constitutional Council and so many “Independent Commissions” does not arise.

    • 8

      What is more, the upper chamber, the House of Lords is un-elected. No less than 26 seats are reserved for Bishops of the Anglican Church. The others are appointed by the Queen on the advice of the PM, appointed by a commission, or inherit their seats from their fathers.
      I believe the process is called Democracy.

  • 12

    ‘People elected him to run an efficient government and produce basic goods and services. He doesn’t need a new constitution to do any of that. ‘
    Dear President
    Listen to the’REAL’ people’s wishes/Hopes/aspirations and do not waste your time and energy on passing the new 20 th Amendment in a haste. You already have the Supreme Court under you& hence carry on doing things Rightly for the betterment of OUR COUNTRY. No need to control the people/Officials who are working according to the rule(Laws) & Regulations.
    Please surround yourself with good advisors. You don’t need Basil R to guide you .
    Concentrate on bringing the good times for Mother Lanka

  • 10

    Abayarama Temple Chief who was a main supporter of Rajapakse, Wimal Weerawansa the other supporter and even “monkey politician” who jumps from party to party Wijedasa protesting against 20A clearly shows that Mahinda without opposing Gota’s 20A, is doing the same thing behind the scene using his proxies without publicly showing his opposition to Gota’s amendment.

    Its also clear that Amarapura and Ramayana Nikaya’s joint statement opposed by the Mahanayakes of these Nikayas and similarly the Catholic Bishops opposing 20A when the Cardinal Malcom being very quiet on 20A clarly shows that all the Chief Priest in both Buddhist Nikayas and the Catholic Sect who got “santhosams” from Rajapakse are now have a revolt within their own sects staged by the majority of other priests.

    What do these acts show? Its clear, although no one has given credit to the Yahapalana Government for creating “Democratic Awareness” in Sri Lanka, such an awareness has been built into the blood of Sri Lankans by the UNP Government.

    Overall so many forces are working in this cyclone. It also appears the Government is not taking very strong action now by declaring Island wide curfew to stop the spread of Corona as they are waiting for the 2nd reading and committee stage of 20A and at that point impose curfew to block any public protests.

  • 16

    Rajapaksas don’t care about Buddhism, Christianity or Hinduism once they grabbed the power to fulfill their family motives.

  • 5

    ……….Is it not “we always argued” religious factions should not have a say??? now we (site) cite the same for our argument??…………..

    Should not one be happy that those whom you considered your antagonists, now have turned a new leaf and endorse your point of view.

    Angulimana Jatakaya come to mind where reformation of others is mentioned and in Christianity :
    Jesus explained to Enos that because of his faith in Christ his sins had been forgiven. When Enos heard these words he no longer was concerned about himself. He knew the Lord loved him and would bless him. He began instead to feel concern for the welfare of his friends and relatives.

    Even the Devil, if he changes to your line of thinking, accept him – not necessarily to the bosom but as a fellow traveller in your cause.

    • 0

      This view expressed to sentiments of Th Venu. Wrongly posited.

      • 4

        Dear MV Point well made thank you.

        Any good change is a welcome change and applies to me too on our life journey respect.

        Given the current climate of Minority parties not coming on board as a “One Nation” should be a concern for all us all as our future generation should at least have something we could not have that is a Nation we can all call our Mother Lanka.

        Based on the historical fact how we have spent time electing someone and cursing them and not cooperating with them during the tenure and we elect someone else thereafter and do the same all over has become such a normalised act the elections themselves do not have any meaning anymore. This is how we ended up where we are…not because of the diversity in the politics that we always had but whoever we elect do not get a chance of delivering anything constructively anymore…this time this looks different to me & I want to support for all the right reasons as I think there is something in it for me in the new upcomming constitution that requires a consistent administration to deliver…lessons learned applied.

        • 4

          I also very much hope the new constitution will consists of

          (1) Separating the religions altogether from the politics
          (2) Compulsory military service for all
          (3) Indian embassy out of Jaffna and removal of the 13+++++.
          (4) Very stream lined PM and the Cabinet (very few ministries/departments).
          (5) Basic qualification/technocrats training for all those whoever want to be MP’s and serve their constituents/Local Governments too…most of the 9000+ we elect in the LG should find something else to do in the private sector.
          (6) National Security Act that makes one disappear the moment they open their mouth to talk about religions/language/caste etc..these have no place in any progressive Nation.
          (7) Compulsory reporting of the deliverables/action list/mile stones/progress reporting weekly/monthly published in the GOSL website by all the elected.
          (8) Ban on any discussion on party politics until the next election does not matter where..work places/town-hall meetings etc – the elected run the show and the rest deliver/civic responsibilities etc.
          (9) No language/religious parties in our Nation period.

          • 4

            (10) the best and strongest coast guard who can uphold international maritime law and order/sea pollution etc. All the Northern Islands have to be fully protected from any intrusion to the land from the foreign thief’s such we can start building fisheries/tourism/National security etc. India should be responsible for their citizens illegal acts and not SL Navy running around this breeding program.

          • 3

            (10) Hope we will set up a Task Force to bring all the children together through social media adds/other education material on real heritage and culture of our Nation and explaining the mistakes(by us all) mindfully.
            (11) A very comprehensive IC/FINGER printing system cradle to grave where without this no access to anything in the Nation period.

  • 9

    The refrain of the President is……..
    He sees the 20th A.as the Baby which he wants to deliver,by performing a Caesarean operation on the womb of Time.

    JRJ also rushed to amend the 1978 constitution to take on board FP MP Rajadurai now famously referred to as the Rajadurai amendment. An MP can cross-over from the opposition to the Govt: but not vice versa! Howazat!
    20th A. is essentially the Basil amendment: A dual citizen can sit or stand in Parliament!

    All this goes to show that Constitutions and Amendments thereto are to suit individuals.
    Perhaps,this is also one other reason why Srilanka is referred to as A LAND LIKE NO OTHER!

  • 8

    ‘There are mini revolts in the temple, and a Catholic Action that is different from the 1960s.’

    How very accurate, but is there an equivalent of the Bauddha Jathika Balavegaya? Is there a Mettananda?

  • 9

    It is fortunate that they have not specifically said that only American dual citizens should be allowed to become President or Prime Minister or Minister in Srilanka. Even it would have been narrowed down only Rajapakse family should be allowed to become ——–.
    Why Basil is important to the country(Rajapakse family)? Basil is a very good deal maker. His deals are significant impact on finances. 15% deals with ordinary deals are famous and he made a good deal before October 2018 in Canada with Viyalenthiran. He is now a double minister. If he is not there, no two third? Now they need Basil to do another deal in Srilanka.
    Some people question?
    What is the guarantee that what happened to Tamils in 2009 will not happen to Sinhalese in 2021? Remember 1989/90 60000 Sinhalese were buried (somebody said Gota was a commander).

  • 1

    Good analysis about what went on behind closed doors with the government parliamentary group. I feel that Gota could be sincere in a raw and unsophisticated manner. For example, he could believe that he could transform the country to glory if given a free hand. He therefore gets angry with people who oppose this power grab. On the other side, the sycophantic flunkies who always brown-nose powerful leaders in SL want to continue the “system” which rewards crooks, and keeps open, the system of exploitation of public funds to enrich their generations. So, they bleat about separation of powers, keeping parliament and the judiciary on even keel etc on pretexts of being in the public interest. These factors have NEVER been in the public interest because the poor people are still very poor, prices of everyday items keep getting more expensive every year, the value of the currency falls every time, and justice is only for the rich and powerful. So, under the rubric of “good governance” the rascals could very well want to keep things as they are. Who knows?

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