Get all your news in one place.
100’s of premium titles.
One app.
Start reading

Crisis-hit Sri Lanka votes to curb presidential powers

Sri Lanka's President Ranil Wickremesinghe had pledged to curb the sweeping powers of his office. ©AFP

Colombo (AFP) - Sri Lanka's parliament voted Friday to curtail the powers of the president, a partial concession to the protest movement that forced the island nation's former head-of-state into exile.

An unprecedented economic downturn this year fuelled intense public anger, with the government accused of mismanagement and of precipitating drastic food and petrol shortages.

Months of protests culminated in July with a huge crowd storming the official residence of then-president Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who fled the country under military escort and issued his resignation from Singapore. 

His successor Ranil Wickremesinghe took charge pledging to curb the sweeping powers of his office, which had been expanded by Rajapaksa's administration.

Parliament voted overwhelmingly to endorse a constitutional amendment that limited presidential control of the police, judiciary and appointments to the civil service.

"From the people's point of view, this is a good bill and that is why we support it," said former president Maithripala Sirisena, who is currently an opposition legislator.

Opposition parties supported the measure but complained that it did not go far enough, after backing the protest movement's calls for reducing the presidency to a ceremonial role.

"What you are trying to do is pull the wool over the eyes of the people," lawmaker M.A.Sumanthiran said during the debate on the bill.

The amendment also restored a ban on dual citizens from contesting national elections after it was repealed by Rajapaksa two years ago.

Rajapaksa's younger brother Basil, a former finance minister, is a US citizen and widely believed to still have presidential aspirations despite public anger over his role in the economic crisis. 

Rajapaksa centralised power after taking office in 2019 by removing independent oversight from the police, judiciary and election authorities.

But his administration stumbled when a critical foreign currency shortage left Sri Lanka unable to import vital goods, leading to the country's worst downturn since independence from Britain in 1948.

The country eventually defaulted on its $51 billion foreign debt in April and is now finalising an International Monetary Fund bailout. 

Rajapaksa has since returned to Sri Lanka and is living under armed protection, despite calls for his arrest and prosecution on a raft of corruption charges. 

Sign up to read this article
Read news from 100’s of titles, curated specifically for you.
Already a member? Sign in here
Related Stories
Top stories on inkl right now
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Already a member? Sign in here
Our Picks
Fourteen days free
Download the app
One app. One membership.
100+ trusted global sources.