Sri Lanka President limits minority political power

COLOMBO, SRI LANKA (AP) — Sri Lanka’s new President yesterday endorsed amending the constitution to reduce the power of minority political parties, saying the country wasn’t suited to a system that creates unstable governments “constantly under the influence of extremism”.

In a policy speech after he presided over the opening of a new Parliament session, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said a majority of the voters who elected him in last November’s presidential election rejected “political agendas founded on race” and proved “it is no longer possible for anyone to manipulate and control the politics of this country by playing the role of kingmaker”.

“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.”

Rajapaksa in his speech pledged to respect the aspirations of the majority by protecting the unity of the country while ensuring people had the right to practice the religion of their choice.

Sri Lanka has a proportional representative electoral system where parties with a smaller support base could also return lawmakers with a minimum vote percentage. Minority politicians said the system had given them reasonable representation and help stem any anti-minority move in Parliament.

Sri Lanka’s new President Gotabaya Rajapaksa (C) arrives with Parliament Speaker Karu Jayasuriya (L) at the national parliament for his first policy address after his landslide electoral victory in November, in Colombo. PHOTO: AFP

Sinhala nationalists said minority politicians hold the governments to ransom to promote their racial agendas, undermining the status of the Sinhalese.

Sri Lanka’s ethnic polarisation led to a 26-year civil war between the government and Tamil rebels in which at least 100,000 people were killed, according to conservative United Nations’ estimates. Rajapaksa was a military officer during the war, which ended with the Tamils’ defeat in 2009.

Rajapaksa said in his speech that the constitution has many “ambiguities and confusions” and changes are needed to rectify them.

A 2015 amendment curbed presidential powers substantially and increased the powers of the prime minister and the Cabinet.

It also set up independent commissions to appoint officials to the police, bureaucracy and the judiciary.

Rajapaksa said a strong presidency, Parliament and judiciary needs to be created through constitutional changes.