Powerful clan stands in way of push to curb Sri Lanka presidency

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After Sri Lankan protesters booted out former leader Gotabaya Rajapaksa earlier this year, his allies are now looking to water down their demands to curb the powers of the island nation’s presidency.

Lawmakers on Thursday are set to kick off a debate on a constitutional amendment that would curb sweeping powers granted to the president to make the position more accountable to lawmakers. The move is at the heart of plans by current President Ranil Wickremesinghe to calm public anger against Rajapaksa, who led the South Asian island nation to its worst economic crisis since independence.

Still, some lawmakers allied to the Rajapaksa family have been clamoring to scale down the so-called 22nd amendment by wresting back power to the president, delaying the date on which the executive could dissolve Parliament and allowing dual citizens to hold positions in government. Some are even pushing to scrap the amendments altogether in favor of drafting a new constitution.

Both moves would help ease a political comeback for the family that dominated the nation’s politics for two decades. Rajapaksa allies are hoping the tactics will also delay national elections – another key demand of the opposition and protesters – buying the former president and his family more time to regroup.

comes as Wickremesinghe’s government is pushing for final approval of a US$2.9 billion (S$4.1 billion) International Monetary Fund program to help the island out of its economic malaise. The IMF and Colombo’s creditors, including India, will be watching for signs that democratic reforms are underway in the island nation.

“There is a clear need to address structural reforms, in the context of the IMF agreement,” said Bhavani Fonseka, senior researcher at the Colombo-based Centre for Policy Alternatives. “The political reforms don’t even go halfway in meeting the demand of the people for system change.”



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