Blog of the International Journal of Constitutional Law

Sri Lanka and Executive Self Dealing

The Sri Lankan parliament voted on Wednesday to approve the 18th amendment to their constitution, which strikes down the 2-term limit on presidential re-election. We’ve all seen this movie before. Critics responded by characterizing the amendment as a step towards authoritarianism, since its beneficiary is the sitting president, Mahinda Rajapakse. The President’s spokesman, right on cue, announced that the amendment would give the president time to continue his good work on economic development and ethnic reconciliation. The housing minister’s line was even more telling: “we’re not going in for dictatorship. If the president wanted to be a dictator, he already has enough powers to do so.”

Democrats (small d) will be conflicted over this move. On the one hand, the constitution was amended according to the stipulated procedure — nothing wrong with that. Think of the reasonably happy cases of Cardoso or Menem. On the other hand, the revision smacks of casuismo, as the Brazilians say, which I’ll translate roughly as self dealing. There is something unseemly about amending higher law to further the career of a single leader. Democracy, so the saying goes, should be about laws, not men.

Perhaps one’s views of this practice come down to one’s taste for casuismo, which for me is a decidedly bitter one.


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