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Sri Lanka aims to trim presidential powers amid unrest over economic crisis

The South Asian Island of 22 million people is close to running out of fuel and has struggled for months to find enough U.S. dollars to pay for essential imports such as food, cooking gas and medicine

June 30, 2022 / 06:05 PM IST
The Gotabaya Rajapaksa government needs an outside investor also because the country is dealing with a dire economic crisis

The Gotabaya Rajapaksa government needs an outside investor also because the country is dealing with a dire economic crisis

Sri Lanka’s government on June 30 proposed amending the constitution to trim presidential powers and beef up anti-corruption powers to help shore up stability and defuse unrest provoked by the country’s worst financial crisis in decades.

The South Asian Island of 22 million people is close to running out of fuel and has struggled for months to find enough U.S. dollars to pay for essential imports such as food, cooking gas and medicine.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who critics blame for the financial crisis for having given key posts to relatives and being slow to seek an IMF bailout, has been under prolonged pressure to step down, though he has said he plans to stay on until his term ends in 2024.

Two of his brothers resigned earlier as prime minister and finance minister following weeks of street protests.

The proposed amendment will establish a constitutional council and nine independent commissions to improve governance.

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The commissions will work to promote human rights, increase audit oversight of government agencies and bolster anti-graft investigations.

The amendment will be presented to parliament in July, Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe said last week.

It might undergo further changes before it is eventually passed into law.

Critics, however, say the amendment did not go far enough to tackle the demands of protesters.

”The present attempt is tokenistic at best and fails to address the unprecedented crisis that confronts Sri Lanka and the clear demands of the people for a system change,” said Bhavani Fonseka, a senior researcher at the Centre for Policy Alternatives, a Colombo-based think tank.

Fonseka said the amendment will still allow the president to prorogue parliament at any time while other powers including the ability to remove cabinet ministers will be curtailed only in the next presidential term.

The economic situation, meanwhile, remains dire.

Inflation rose to 54.6 percent in June, the highest since 2015, from 39.1 percent in May. Food prices have shot up by 80.1 percent and transport costs by 128 percent as Sri Lanka as the currency has depreciated and inflation has soared globally.

But the International Monetary Fund reported constructive talks with Sri Lankan authorities on June 30, raising hopes it could soon grant preliminary approval for a credit facility.
Reuters
first published: Jun 30, 2022 06:02 pm
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