Sri Lanka submits reform bill stripping president of powers

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka—Sri Lanka’s justice minister on Wednesday presented parliament with a constitutional amendment that would limit the president’s powers. This is the main demand of the protesters for political reform and a solution to the country’s worst economic crisis.

The move comes as ex-President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who fled protests last month, was reportedly trying to enter Thailand from Singapore, where he was in temporary exile. He fled Sri Lanka last month after thousands of angry protesters stormed his official residence, blaming him for the country’s economic woes.

A spokesman for Thailand’s foreign ministry said Rajapaksa was allowed to enter the country but was not seeking political asylum. However, Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha said Rajapaksa was seeking asylum in a third country, although he did not specify.

Rajapaksa was not available for comment.

In Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo, Justice Minister Wijayadasa Rajapakshe has made some of the president’s powers, including the power to appoint members of the Independent Electoral Commission, police, civil servants, and bribery and corruption investigators, to parliamentarians and parliamentarians. I submitted a bill to transfer to the Constitutional Council. A respected non-politician. The council then recommends candidates for appointment for the president to choose from.

Under the amendment, the president can only appoint the chief justice, other senior judges, the attorney general, and the central bank governor on the council’s recommendations. The prime minister recommends appointments to the cabinet, and the president is not allowed to hold ministerial posts other than defense.

The bill must be debated and approved by two-thirds of Sri Lanka’s 225 parliamentarians to become law.

If passed, the amendments would restore the democratic reforms of 2015. After his 2019 election, Rajapaksa reversed these reforms and centralized power in himself.

Rajapaksa’s successor, current President Ranil Wickremesinghe, has promised to limit the president’s powers and strengthen parliament in response to protesters’ demands.

In Bangkok, the Thai capital, foreign ministry spokeswoman Thani Sangrat said the Sri Lankan government had requested that Rajapaksa be allowed into the country. After fleeing Sri Lanka last month, Rajapaksa first flew on a Sri Lankan military plane to the neighboring Maldives and then to Singapore.

Protesters blame the poor management and corruption of the Rajapaksa family for an economic crisis that has led to severe shortages of essentials such as medicines, food and fuel. The island nation is negotiating with the International Monetary Fund for a relief program.

Rajapaksa’s brother, Mahinda Rajapaksa, resigned as prime minister in May. Three other close relatives of his resigned from their ministerial posts before him.

Thai spokesperson Thani said in a text message to journalists that under the 2013 bilateral agreement, Rajapaksa could enter Thailand visa-free for 90 days because he holds a Sri Lankan diplomatic passport. I was.

“This stay is temporary for future travel. Political asylum is not being sought,” Tunney said.

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth told reporters that he was aware of Rajapaksa’s intentions for the visit and that it was granted on humanitarian grounds as the former president had sought asylum in a third country. He didn’t elaborate.

S. Khan, director general of public diplomacy at Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said he had no comment on Thailand’s statement.

Sri Lankans have staged massive street protests for four months demanding democratic reforms and a solution to the country’s economic collapse.

Last month, a human rights group filed a criminal complaint with Singapore’s attorney general seeking the arrest of Rajapaksa on war crimes charges during the Sri Lankan civil war. rice field.

The International Truth and Justice Project, an evidence-gathering organization managed by a non-profit foundation based in South Africa, said its lawyers had filed a complaint seeking Rajapaksa’s immediate arrest. The complaint alleges that Rajapaksa committed grave violations of the Geneva Conventions during the civil war and is subject to domestic prosecution in Singapore under universal jurisdiction.

According to conservative United Nations estimates, the civil war in Sri Lanka, fought by Tamil Tiger rebels to create an independent state of the Tamil minority, has resulted in 100,000 deaths. The actual number is believed to be higher. At least 40,000 Tamil civilians have died in the last months of the lone fighting, according to reports from a UN panel of experts.

Christian Francis

Associated Press