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Rally demands cut in president's powers

Rajapaksa's wartime mandate is still in force

Buddhist monks took part in the call for reforms to the president's role Buddhist monks took part in the call for reforms to the president's role
  • ucanews.com reporter, Colombo
  • Sri Lanka
  • October 19, 2012
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A mass rally has been held in Colombo to pressure the government to reverse long-standing executive presidential powers which give Mahinda Rajapaksa near total control of the state.

A large contingent of Buddhist monks joined about 1,500 politicians and activists at the event yesterday, to voice opposition to the continuation of executive powers that were introduced in 1978, in a move the government said was necessary to fight the civil war.

“The government claimed that the LTTE [Tamil Tigers] could not have been defeated if not for the executive presidency, forgetting that even greater wars have been won by collective leadership rather than individual-centered leadership,” said human rights lawyer J.C. Weliamuna.

Sri Lanka’s presidency is modeled on that in France, in which a directly elected head of state serves a role independent of parliament.

The Sri Lankan president is even more powerful than the French version, however, with the right to bypass the cabinet and take decisions autonomously.

Former army commander and 2010 presidential candidate Sarath Fonseka said that, in practice, Rajapaksa’s role extends even further and therefore represents a corruption of power.

“The executive is able to interfere with the judiciary because of the powers vested in the executive and it has reached the extent of attacking judges,” he said, referring to this month’s bungled attack on a high ranking judicial official, Manjula Thilakaratne.

Rajapaksa has ordered an investigation into the attack in which Thilakaratne escaped with minor injuries.

Fonseka was imprisoned in February 2010 on corruption charges which critics say were politically motivated, after he ran against Rajapaksa in the presidential election the same year. He was released this May.

Mitiyagoda Gunarathana Thero, a leading Buddhist monk, said the campaign to reverse executive presidential powers was not a party political campaign “but an attempt to get rid of a curse that has led to a lot of disasters in the country.”

Rajapaksa said in his election campaigns of 2005 and 2010 that he would abolish executive powers. His current term is due to end in 2015.

Related reports

Judiciary complains of intimidation in Sri Lanka
Hundreds arrested at Rajpaksa protest
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