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Updated: July 12, 2010 03:06 IST

Rajapaksa to hold talks with UNP on statute amendments today

B. Muralidhar Reddy
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File photo of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
The Hindu
File photo of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Cabinet clears a set of proposals for amendments to Constitution

Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa is to hold talks on Monday with a delegation of the main opposition party United National Party (UNP) on the proposed amendments to the 1978 Constitution.

Leader of the Opposition and chief of UNP Ranil Wickremesinghe on Saturday met Mr. Rajapaksa on his invitation and discussed the subject.

Last month, a Cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister D.M. Jayaratne had approved a set of proposals for amendments to the Constitution, including removal of the two-term bar on the office of the President.

The UNP had earlier shown its opposition to amending the provision in the current Constitution for one person to hold the office of executive presidency for more than two terms.

Some of the constituents of the ruling combine led by Mr. Rajapaksa are also opposed to the idea of removing the restriction on a person holding the office of the President for more than two terms.

There is consensus among all parties on the need for major amendments to the Constitution ever since they were made by the then President, J.R. Jayewardene.

However, when both the main parties led the governments there was no movement on amendments to the Constitution as they could not muster the necessary two-thirds majority.

According to local media reports, in the course of their meeting on Saturday, Mr. Rajapaksa agreed to look into the proposal for an executive Prime Minister. All parties agreed to the proposition that under the present Constitution the office of the President is not only too powerful but also is not accountable to Parliament.

It is immediately not clear if the amendments would be confined only to the office of the President and conferring more powers on the Prime Minister who would be accountable to Parliament. There is also a proposal for creation of an upper house.

After the April general election, the ruling combine led by Mr. Rajapaksa secured two-thirds majority and with the help of smaller groups should be in a position to push through amendments to the Constitution.

Consultations with TNA

In recent weeks, the Sri Lanka President has also been engaged in consultations with political parties representing minorities including the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) which bagged majority of the seats in the northern and eastern provinces.

Unlike the main parties in the island nation, the TNA and other parties representing the minorities would like the focus of the statute amendments to be on empowerment of provinces. Mr. Rajapaksa has been under pressure to fully and faithfully implement the 13th amendment to the Constitution, incorporated after the 1987 Indo-Lanka Accord that deals essentially with delegation of powers to the provinces and promotion of Tamil as a national language.

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