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Asia

A controversial amendment

Sri Lankan parliament passed a constitutional amendment which gives the current President Mahinda Rajapakse more political power. Experts fear this will cause a stillstand for democratic progress in the country.

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa receives the good news

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa receives the good news

A Sri Lankan newspaper has cartooned Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse on their front page as a magician, turning an elephant into a little frog - the elephant representing the main oppositional party United National Party, or UNP.

By submitting a propasal as an urgent bill to the Sri Lankan parliament, President Rajapakse passed an amendment to the constitution with a two-third majority in parliament, providing him with a possible third legislative term and even greater power. "Under the 17th amendment the president had complete immunity - criminal as well as civil. Now this immunity will last forever. For this and future presidents. So this is a very bad move", says Shiral Lakthilaka from the UNP.

Family business

Lakthilaka fears that President Rajapakse is trying to establish a constitutional monarchy, because many powerful political positions within the Sri Lankan government have been assigned to one of his relatives - sons and in-laws. A modern feudal system or even dictatorship? Nihal Jayasinghe, Sri Lanka's High Commissioner to Great Britain, says that this is ridiculous.

"I cannot accept that. Why are we talking about a dictatorship? At the end of the second term of the presidency, he will go before the people. If the people want him to go on for another term, they will vote him in. Otherwise they will reject him. So why are we talking about a dictatorial arrangment here?", Jayasinghe points out.

"There is no point!"

Parliament in session in Colombo

Parliament in session in Colombo

The UNP has boycotted yesterday’s ballot in protest . On the other hand, six members of the UNP have voted for the constitutional amendment. Shiral Lakthilaka says that those UNP members were bought with money. He thinks that the democratic process within the country is in danger. "There is now space to discuss democracy in the parliament" ,he complains, "if you reduce the democratic space within the parliament, what is the point of going to parliament? There is no point!"

Many international observers in Sri Lanka are also concerned about the developments. Recently, they have been put under enormous pressure by anonymous groups, and they are afraid to give any public comment on the current political situation. They fear for their security.

Proper candidate

One western expert says that President Rajapakse is consolidating his power and at the same time the UNP is too powerless to take any action. He says that the UNP also lacks a charismatic and strong leader.

But President Rajapakse asserts that he will hand over power when there is a proper candidate - whether that candidate is from the opposition or from his own party. It remains to be seen whether "magician" President Rajapakse will give up his magic wand when put to the test.

Author: Chi Viet Giang
Editor: Arun Chowdhury

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