09/07/2010, 00.00
SRI LANKA
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Rajapaksa vying for more powers, re-election

by Melani Manel Perera
Under current rules, a president can be elected consecutively only twice. Rajapaksa wants to abolish term limits in order to run again.
Colombo (AsiaNews) – Tomorrow, Sri Lanka’s parliament will start discussing the 18th amendment to the constitution, which would increase the powers of President Mahinda Rajapaksa and allow him to run for re-election. The proposed constitutional change has generated strong opposition across Sri Lankan society and in many political groups. Even so, “I will continue to contest at elections till the opposition fields a stronger candidate,” Rajapaksa said yesterday in a speech to the press.

“The 18th amendment to the constitution has its roots in UNP (United National Party) proposals. Even though the SLFP (Sri Lanka Freedom Party) parliamentary group was initially supportive of a prime ministerial system, it too later opted for a more accountable executive presidency,” the president said. The UNP is the main opposition party whilst the SLFP is Rajapaksa’s ruling party.

Extending the possibility of running for office means greater presidential accountability in the second term because he or she will have to go before the people in the subsequent election.

“I entered national politics at the age of 23 and it took me 40 years to reach the helm. Even my son, parliamentarian Namal Rajapaksa, has to go through the same process and spend, more or less, a similar number of years in politics if he had the ambition to reach the top,” he said.

The president dismissed the opposition’s rejection of the amendment, saying that it is an urgent reform and that there has already been a lengthy debate on the matter.

For the president’s brother, Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa, the constitutional change would actually reduce the powers of the presidency in favour of parliament.

Another of the president’s brothers, Presidential spokesman Chamal Rajapaksa said that parliament is going to discuss the reform tomorrow.

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