Brief History of Amendments to 1978 Constitution

Following are the amendments:

First Amendment (20 November 1978): This amendment held that certain cases heard by the Court of Appeal could be transferred to the Supreme Court.

Second Amendment (26 February 1979): Amendments made to the procedure of  resignations and expulsion of Members of Parliament.

Third Amendment (27 August 1982): To enable the president seek re-election  four years from the first term. Accordingly, the president must declare his intention to appeal for a mandate for a further term, at any time after the expiration of his first term of office.

Fourth Amendment (23 December 1982): Extension of term of parliament. The amendment came into effect after a referendum held in December 1982.

Fifth Amendment (25 February 1983): To provide for a by-election when a vacancy in parliament is not fulfilled.

Sixth Amendment (8 August 1983): Prohibiting violation of territorial integrity: the amendment prohibited citizens from advocating for the establishment of a separate state within the country. The amendment was criticised at the time, as it followed the 1983 Black July riots.

Seventh Amendment (4 October 1983): Dealt with High Court Commissioners; the creation of Kilinochchi District which brought the number of administrative districts in the country to 25.

Eighth Amendment (6 March 1984): President’s powers increased to appoint President’s Counsels.

Ninth Amendment (24 August 24 1984): Amendment to adjust the salary scales of public officers who are not qualified to be elected as Members of Parliament.

Tenth Amendment (6 August 1986): To repeal the section requiring a two-thirds majority for Proclamation under the Public Security Ordinance.

Eleventh Amendment (6 May 1987): Reformed judicial powers of the High Court to address first time offences; to provide for Fiscals and Deputy Fiscals (prosecutors) for the whole island; also relating to sittings of the High Court, the number of minimum judges at a Court of Appeal case was amended.

Twelfth Amendment (25 September 1987): Even though it was proposed on 25 September 1987, it was not enacted due to technical errors.

Dr Asanga Welikala, an expert in constitutional law who is currently Director of the Edinburgh Centre for Constitutional Law, explained to Roar that the bill for the 12th Amendment was presented in Parliament by MP Dinesh Gunawardene, who was then a member of the Opposition.

“In terms of Standing Order 47(5) which then prevailed (now repealed), the procedure for a bill for the amendment of the constitution required a ‘Ministerial Report’ to Parliament. The then government did not provide such a report and the bill fell,” he said.

“However, due to a procedural anomaly, the unsuccessful bill was counted as an amendment for the purpose of numbering constitutional amendments. Therefore, even though there was in fact no Twelfth Amendment, when the next amendment to the constitution was enacted on 14 November 1987, it was numbered as the Thirteenth Amendment. That numbering has since been followed, enshrining the phantom Twelfth Amendment in the annals of constitutional history.”

Thirteenth Amendment (14 November 1987): To make Tamil an official language and English a link language; the establishment of Provincial Councils and the devolution of power to the provinces; reforms to Appeal Court powers; amendments to the Public Security Ordinance.

Fourteenth Amendment (24 May 1988): Extension of the president’s legal immunity; increase number of Members of Parliament to 225; the validity of referendum; appointment of Delimitation Commission for the division of electoral districts into electoral zones; proportional representation and the cut-off point to be 1/8 of the total polled; apportioning of the 29 National List members.

Fifteenth Amendment (17 December 1988): To repeal Article 96A in order to eliminate electoral zones.

Sixteenth Amendment (17 December 1988): To make provision for Sinhala and Tamil to be languages of administration and legislation.

Seventeenth Amendment (3 October 2001): To make provisions for the Constitutional Council and Independent Commissions, which includes the Election Commission, Judicial Services Commission and the Police Commission; amendments to the appointments made by the president.

Eighteenth Amendment (8 October 2010): To remove the limit to the re-election of the president and to propose the appointment of a Parliamentary Council that decides the appointment of independent posts like members of the election and human rights commissions and Supreme Court judges.

Nineteenth Amendment (28 April 2015): To annul the 18th Amendment and reintroduce the 17th Amendment that established independent commissions and limited the powers of the executive president; to limit the term of the president’s office to five years while the president continues to function as the Head of State, Head of Cabinet and Head of Security Forces.

The Proposed 20th Amendment
The proposed 20th Amendment to the Constitution has been in the pipeline for over two years since being introduced in 2018. The proposal was tabled in parliament by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) with the explicit aim to abolish the executive presidency, which was weakened by the 19th Amendment.

However, the drafted reforms proposed by the government, which was gazetted earlier this month, are completely different from those put forward by the JVP.

The new Rajapaksa government has claimed that it will effectively repeal the 19th Amendment but retain some of its “salient features”.

According to Cabinet co-spokesperson Minister Keheliya Rambukwella, these salient features include the two five-year term limits imposed on the president.

A five-member committee composed of Rambukwella and Ministers G. L. Peiris, Dinesh Gunawardena, Nimal Siripala de Silva and Ali Sabry has been tasked with reviewing all Cabinet papers, notes and drafts already presented on constitutional reform. The committee is also responsible for proposing a panel of eminent persons to formulate a new constitution.

“[Constitutional reform] was in our election manifesto, it was clearly stated with regard to the 19th amendment. The public has mandated it,” Rambukwella noted in August.

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Read more about the 20th Amendment and the reforms proposed here.

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