Gotabaya Rajapaksa seeks electoral, constitutional reforms in Sri Lanka

Srilankan President Gotabaya Rajapakse.   | Photo Credit: R.V Moorthy

In his first address to Parliament since becoming President, Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Friday sought constitutional and electoral reform, for “a strong executive and legislature” and sovereignty of the people.

While preserving the “positive characteristics” of the proportional representation system, electoral reforms were needed to ensure the “stability of the Parliament and to ensure the direct representation of the people”, he said.

The proportional representation electoral system, currently followed in Sri Lanka, allows smaller parties to be represented in the legislature with a minimum vote percentage. In a House that is numerically skewed towards the majority Sinhala-Buddhist community, politicians representing minorities have had reasonable say because of the PR-system.

However, Mr. Rajapaksa appeared to favour a shift. “Even though elections can be won through numbers, an unstable Parliament that cannot take clear decisions and remains constantly under the influence of extremism is not one that suits the country,” he said.

Further, he underscored enhanced national security and a neutral foreign policy as priorities for his government in his address that was silent on long-pending political demands of the Sri Lanka’s Tamils of the war-hit north and east. He, however, pledged to “always defend” the unitary status of the country, and “protect and nurture the Buddha Sasana whilst safeguarding the right of all citizens to practice a religion of their choice.”

Observing that a majority of Sri Lankans had rejected “political agendas founded on race”, President Rajapaksa said they had proved that “it is no longer possible for anyone to manipulate and control the politics of this country by playing the role of king maker,” in an apparent reference to minority parties representing Tamils and Muslims that have in the past proved tilted poll results.

The November 2019 presidential poll outcome pointed to a clear divide between Sri Lanka’s majority Buddhist Sinhalese – who substantially backed Mr. Rajapaksa -- and the minority Tamils and Muslims, who voted decisively for his main opponent Sajith Premadasa of the United National Party, who is now Leader of Opposition.

Mr. Rajapaksa’s party, the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP or People’s Party), is aiming for a clear parliamentary majority in the general elections scheduled this summer, to allow its legislators to push laws and amendments that the newly-elected President envisions.

Following his big win in the November presidential election, the former defence secretary-turned Head of State has repeatedly called the 19th Amendment, passed in 2015 during his predecessor government’s term to clip the President’s executive powers and empower parliament, “a failure” and emphasised that it must be scrapped.

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Printable version | Jan 29, 2022 6:14:15 AM |

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