Struggling Sri Lanka limits president's powers
Colombo, Oct 22: Sri Lankan lawmakers on Friday voted overwhelmingly in favor of a constitutional amendment that would trim the president's powers. The vote came in response to protesters seeking political reforms and solutions to the country's severe economic difficulties which forced former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to flee the country in July.
In the 225-member house, 179 government and opposition members supported the motion and only one voted against it. As a constitutional amendment, it needed a two-thirds majority to pass.
The proposal transfers some of the president's powers, including the appointment of officials, to a constitutional council composed of lawmakers and respected non-politicians.
The council will recommend candidates for roles such as senior judges, attorneys general, central bank governors, police, election commissioners and bribery and corruption investigators. The prime minister will be tasked with recommending Cabinet appointments. The president will not be allowed to hold any Cabinet posts except the defense minister.
The amendment also reinstates a number of democratic reforms made in 2015 in Sri Lanka and then overturned by Rajapaksa in 2019.
The government of current President Ranil Wickremesinghe argues that this will help ensure the independence of the judiciary and civil service.
Last family administration toppled amid economic meltdown and protests
Inflation and soaring food and fuel prices, which the government briefly tried to subsidize only to quickly run out of funds, led to major protests across Sri Lanka earlier in the year. They continue to this day but on a smaller scale.
Shortages of medicine, food and fuel were widespread, while prices tended to be prohibitively high even if goods were available.
Protesters, many of them younger or from student groups, blamed the government for the economic hardships the country faced. They also objected to the perceived nepotism of the powerful Rajapaksa family dominating a series of the top government posts, starting with former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. One by one, the Rajapaksas resigned, but the president's bid to stay on as the last remaining family member in office ultimately failed as well.
Wickremesinghe was drafted in first as a prime minister, then an interim president, before lawmakers voted for him to complete Rajapaksa's term, which ends in 2024. Although he is not from the Rajapaksa's political party, some still see him as being too close to the family or accuse him of protecting them.
Dozens of protest leaders have also been arrested since Wickremesinghe took over, with one student group protesting such an arrest earlier this week.
Sri Lanka defaulted on its international debt in April. Repayments are currently suspended pending negotiations on a rescue package with the International Monetary Fund.