09/09/2010, 00.00
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Parliament gives the president new powers

The president now will be able to run for office as often he likes. The constitutional change was approved yesterday despite protests of thousands of people. “This legislation is the last nail in the coffin of democracy,” Sarath Fonseka said.

Colombo (AsiaNews / Agencies) – Amid protests by the population, the Sri Lankan parliament adopted the 18th amendment to the constitution, giving President Rajapaksa greater powers and the right to run for office as often he likes.

The change, seen by many as undermining democracy, was approved by a vote of 161 in favour and 17 opposed. The outcome was strongly influenced by the decision of the main opposition party, the United National party, to boycott the debate, saying it did not want to be "contaminated”.

“The constitution was used to consolidate power, without rebuilding governance structures," said Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, executive director of a local think-tank, the Centre for Policy Alternatives. "It's a setback for democracy. Parliament is now a rubber-stamp institution, It's a dark period for us," he added.

Government members were quick to explain that the changes were necessary to give the president time to rebuild the country after the victory over the Tamil Tigers (LTTE) and revamp its US$ 42 billion economy.

From his prison, General Sarath Fonseka, President Rajapaksa’s challenger in the last presidential elections, said, "This legislation is the last nail in the coffin of democracy.”

“The president is trying to take the country towards dictatorship and we will fight against it," he added.

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