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Sri Lanka
Coat of arms of Sri Lanka, showing a lion holding a sword in its right forepaw surrounded by a ring made from blue lotus petals which is placed on top of a grain vase sprouting rice grains to encircle it. A Dharmacakra is on the top while a sun and moon are at the bottom on each side of the vase.

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Politics of Sri Lanka takes place in a framework of a presidential representative democratic republic, whereby the President of Sri Lanka is both head of state and head of government, and of a multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in both the government and parliament. Since decennia the party system is dominated by the socialist Sri Lanka Freedom Party and the conservative United National Party. The Judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature. The Politics of Sri Lanka reflect the historical and political differences between the two main ethnic groups, the majority Sinhala and the minority Tamils, who are concentrated in the north and east of the island.


Constitutional development

At independence in 1948, Sri Lanka, then called Ceylon, was a Commonwealth realm, with the monarch represented by the Governor General. The Parliament was bicameral, consisting of a Senate and a House of Representatives. In 1971, the Senate was abolished, and the following year, Ceylon was renamed Sri Lanka, and became a republic within the Commonwealth of Nations, with the last Governor General becoming the first President of Sri Lanka. Under the first republican Constitution, the unicameral legislature was known as the National State Assembly.

In 1978, a new Constitution was adopted, which provided for an executive President, and the legislature was renamed Parliament.

Political conditions

Sri Lanka's two major political parties – the United National Party (UNP) and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) – embrace democratic values, international nonalignment, and encouragement of Sinhalese culture. Past differences between the two on foreign and economic policy have narrowed. Generally, the SLFP envisions a broader role for the state, and the UNP a broader role for capitalism.

Sri Lanka has a multi-party democracy that enjoys surprising stability given the high levels of political violence, especially that which occurred under the UNP regime of 1977–1993. Recent elections have seen decreasing election violence between the SLFP and the UNP, compared to the period 1977–1994. Elections have been cleaner, without the rampant impersonation and vote-rigging which characterised the 1982 Presidential Election, the notorious Referendum of the same year, the Presidential Election of 1988 and the General Election of 1989.

The president (Mrs C.B. Kumaratunaga, SLFP) dissolved the parliament in February 2004 after a two year term (though the parliament was elected for a six-year term.) The election was held on 2 April 2004. The SLFP in alliance with the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) secured the most seats by a single party but failed to achieve a majority. One of the ironies of the alliance was that the Presidents husband had in fact been assassinated by a member of the JVP.

As a result of the alliance they lost the very first vote in parliament; that of appointment of the speaker. As a result the parliament did not pass a single bill from February to May.

Executive branch

Main office holders
Office Name Party Since
President Mahinda Rajapaksa SLFP November 19, 2005
Prime minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake SLFP 21 November, 2005

The President, directly elected for a six-year term, is head of state, head of government, and commander in chief of the armed forces. The election occurs under the Sri Lankan form of the contingent vote. Responsible to Parliament for the exercise of duties under the constitution and laws, the president may be removed from office by a two-thirds vote of Parliament with the concurrence of the Supreme Court.

The President appoints and heads a cabinet of ministers responsible to Parliament. The President's deputy is the prime minister, who leads the ruling party in Parliament. A parliamentary no-confidence vote requires dissolution of the cabinet and the appointment of a new one by the President.

Legislative branch

The Parliament has 225 members, elected for a six year term, 196 members elected in multi-seat constituencies and 29 by proportional representation. The president may summon, suspend, or end a legislative session and dissolve Parliament. Parliament reserves the power to make all laws.

The primary modification is that the party that receives the largest number of valid votes in each constituency gains a unique "bonus seat" (see Hickman, 1999). The president may summon, suspend, or end a legislative session and dissolve Parliament any time after it has served for one year. Parliament reserves the power to make all laws. Since its independence in 1948, Sri Lanka has remained a member of the Commonwealth of Nations.

Parliament was dissolved on February 7, 2004 by President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. Elections were held on April 4 and the new Parliament convened on April 23 and elected Mahinda Rajapaksa as the Prime Minister. Mr. Mahinda Rajapakse was elected to the post of President on November 17 2005.

Political parties and elections

In August 2005, the Supreme Court ruled that Presidential Elections would be held in November 2005, resolving a long-running dispute on the length of President Kumaratunga's term. Mahinda Rajapaksa was nominated the SLFP candidate and former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe UNP candidate. The Election was held on November 17, 2005, and Mahinda Rajapaksa was elected the fifth Executive President of Sri Lanka with a 50.29% of valid votes, compared to Ranil Wickremesinghe's 48.43%. Mahinda Rajapaksa took oath as President on November 19, 2005. Ratnasiri Wickremanayake was appointed the 22nd Prime Minister on November 21, 2005, to fill the post vacated by Mahinda Rajapaksa. He was previously Prime Minister in 2000.

e • d  Summary of the 17 November 2005 Sri Lanka presidential election results
Candidate Party Votes %
Mahinda Rajapakse United People's Freedom Alliance 4,887,152 50.29
Ranil Wickremesinghe United National Party 4,706,366 48.43
Siritunga Jayasuriya United Socialist Party 35,425 0.36
Ashoka Suraweera Jathika Sangwardhena Peramuna 31,238 0.32
Victor Hettigoda Eksath Lanka Podujana Pakshaya 14,458 0.15
Chamil Jayaneththi New Left Front 9,296 0.10
Aruna de Soyza Ruhunu Janatha Party 7,685 0.08
Wimal Geeganage Sri Lanka National Front 6,639 0.07
Anura de Silva United Lalith Front 6,357 0.07
Ajith Arachchige Democratic Unity Alliance 5,082 0.05
Wije Dias Socialist Equality Party 3,500 0.04
Nelson Perera Sri Lanka Progressive Front 2,525 0.03
H. Dharmadwaja United National Alternative Front 1,316 0.01
Total 9,717,039  
Registered Voters 13,327,160
Total Votes cast 9,826,778
Invalid Votes 109,739
Valid Votes cast 9,717,039
e • d  Summary of the 2 April 2004 Parliament of Sri Lanka election results
Alliances and parties Votes % Change Seats Change
United People's Freedom Alliance 4,223,970 45.60 -0.01 105 +12
United National Front 3,504,200 37.83 -7.73 82 -27
Tamil National Alliance/Illankai Tamil Arasu Katchi 633,654 6.84 - 22 +22
Jathika Hela Urumaya 554,076 5.97 - 9 +9
Sri Lanka Muslim Congress 186,876 2.02 +0.87 5 -
Up-Country People's Front 49,728 0.54 1
Eelam People's Democratic Party 24,955 0.27 -0.54 1 -1
Jathika Sangwardhena Peramuna 14,956 0.16 +0.14 0
United Socialist Party 14,660 0.16 +0.06 0
Ceylon Democratic Unity Alliance 10,736 0.12 0
New Left Front 8,461 0.09 -0.42 0
Democratic People's Liberation Front 7,326 0.08 -0.10 0 -1
United Muslim People's Alliance 3,779 0.04 0
United Lalith Front 3,773 0.04 +0.00 0
National People's Party 1,540 0.02 0
Sinhalaye Mahasammatha Bhoomiputra Pakshaya 1,401 0.02 +0.00 0
Swarajya 1,136 0.01 0
Sri Lanka Progressive Front 814 0.01 +0.00 0
Ruhunu Janatha Party 590 0.01 +0.00 0
Sri Lanka National Front 493 0.01 +0.00 0
Liberal Party 413 0.00 -0.01 0
Sri Lanka Muslim Katchi 382 0.00 -0.01 0
Socialist Equality Party 159 0.00 +0.00 0
Democratic United National Front 141 0.00 -0.01 0
Independent lists * * * 0
Total 9,262,732 - - 225
Source: [1]

Administrative divisions

Local government is divided into two parallel structures, the civil service, which dates to colonial times, and the provincial councils, which were established in 1987.


Civil Service Structure

The country is divided into 25 districts, each of which has a district secretary (the GA, or Government Agent) who is appointed. Each district comprises 5–16 divisions, each with a DS, or divisional secretary, again, appointed. At a village level Grama Niladari (Village Officers), Samurdhi Niladari (Development Officers) and agriculture extension officers work for the DSs.

Provincial Council structure

Under the Indo-Sri Lankan Accord of July 1987—and the resulting 13th amendment to the constitution—the Government of Sri Lanka agreed to devolve some authority to the provinces. Provincial councils are directly elected for five5-year terms. The leader of the council majority serves as the province's Chief Minister with a board of ministers; a provincial governor is appointed by the president.

The Provincial Councils have full statute making power with respect to the Provincial Council List, and shared statute making power respect to the Concurrent List. While all matters set out in the Reserved List are under the central government.

  • Provincial Council List – basically deals with:
  1. Planning – Implementation of provincial economic plans.
  2. Education and Educational Services
  3. Local Government
  4. Provincial Housing and Construction
  5. Roads and bridges and ferries thereon within the Province
  6. Social Services and Rehabilitation
  7. Agriculture and Agrarian Services
  8. Rural Development
  9. Health
  10. Indigenous Medicine – Ayurveda, Siddha and Unani
  11. Food supply and distribution within the Province
  12. Land
  13. Irrigation
  14. Animal husbandry
  15. Provincial debt – The borrowing of money to the extent permitted by or under any law made by Parliament
  16. Protection of environment
  • Reserved List
  1. National Policy on all Subjects and Functions
  2. Foreign Affairs
  3. Posts and Telecommunications ; Broadcasting ; Television
  4. Justice insofar as it relates to the judiciary and the courts structure
  5. Finance in relation to national revenue, monetary policy and external resources ; customs
  6. Foreign Trade ; Inter-Province Trade and Commerce
  7. Ports and Harbours
  8. Aviation and Airports
  9. National Transport
  10. Rivers and Waterways ; Shipping and Navigation ; Maritime zones
  11. Minerals and Mines
  12. Immigration and Emigration and Citizenship
  13. Elections Including Presidential, Parliamentary, Provincial Councils and Local Authorities
  14. Census and Statistics
  15. Professional Occupations and Training
  16. National Archives ; Archaeological Activities and Sites and Antiquities
  17. All Subjects and Functions not Specified in List I or List III
  • Concurrent List – basically deals with:
  1. Planning
  2. Higher Education
  3. National Housing and Construction.
  4. Acquisition and requisitioning of Property.
  5. Social Services and Rehabilitation
  6. Agricultural and Agrarian Services
  7. Health
  8. Registration of births, marriages and deaths.
  9. Renaming of Towns and Villages.
  10. Private lotteries within the Province.
  11. Festivals and Exhibitions.
  12. Rationing of food and maintenance of food stocks.
  13. Co-operatives, – Co-operative Banks.
  14. Irrigation
  15. Social Forestry and protection of wild animals and birds.
  16. Fisheries. – Other than fishing beyond territorial waters.
  17. Animal Husbandry
  18. Employment
  19. Tourism. – Development and control of the Tourist Industry in the Province.
  20. Trade and commerce
  21. Newspapers, books and periodicals and printing presses.
  22. Offences against statutes with respect to any matters specified in this List.
  23. Fees in respect of any of the matters in this List, excluding fees taken in any Court.
  24. Charities and charitable institutions, charitable and religious endowments and religious institutions.
  25. Price control.
  26. Inquiries and statistics for the purpose of any of the matters in this List or in the Provincial Council List.
  27. Adulteration of foodstuffs and other goods.
  28. Drugs and Poisons.
  29. Protection of the environment.
  30. Archaeological sites and remains, other than those of national importance.
  31. Prevention of infectious or contagious diseases or pests.
  32. Pilgrimages.
    • These lists are neither complete or accurate, but are provided as guides to describe the extent to which the provincial councils power run.

Predating the accord are municipal, urban, and rural councils with limited local government powers.

Local government structure

Below the provincial level are elected Municipal Councils and Urban Councils, responsible for municialities and cities respectively, and below this level Pradeshiya Sabhas (village councils), again elected. There are: 18 Municipal Councils: Sri Jayawardanapura Kotte, Colombo, Kandy, Jaffna, Galle, Matara, Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia, Anuradhapura, Gampaha, Moratuwa, Ratnapura, Kurunegala, Nuwara Eliya, Badulla, Batticaloa, Kalmune, Negombo. 42 Urban Councils: 270 Pradeshiya Sabhas: (The above statistics include the new local government authorities established by the government in January 2006.)

Judicial branch

Sri Lanka's judiciary consists of a Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, High Court, and a number of subordinate courts. Sri Lanka's legal system reflects diverse cultural influences. Criminal law is fundamentally British. Basic civil law is Roman-Dutch, but laws pertaining to marriage, divorce, and inheritance are communal, known as respectively as Kandyan, Thesavalamai (Jaffna Tamil) and Muslim (Roman-Dutch law applies to Low-country Sinhalese, Estate Tamils and others).

Courts of law
  • Supreme Court of Sri Lanka
  • Court of Appeal of Sri Lanka
  • High Court of Sri Lanka
  • District Courts
  • Magistrate's Courts
  • Primary Courts

Foreign relations of Sri Lanka

Tracey Sri Lanka generally follows a non-aligned foreign policy but has been seeking closer relations with the United States since December 1977. It participates in multilateral diplomacy, particularly at the United Nations, where it seeks to promote sovereignty, independence, and development in the developing world. Sri Lanka was a founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). It also is a member of the Commonwealth, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, Asian Development Bank, and the Colombo Plan. Sri Lanka continues its active participation in the NAM, while also stressing the importance it places on regionalism by playing a strong role in SAARC.

Sri Lanka is member of the IAEA, IBRD, AsDB, C, CP, ESCAP, FAO, G-24, G-77, ICAO, ICC, ICFTU, ICRM, IDA, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, IHO, ILO, IMF, IMO, Inmarsat, Intelsat, Interpol, IOC, IOM, ISO, ITU, NAM, OAS (observer), OPCW, PCA, SAARC, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNIDO, UNU, UPU, WCL, WCO, WFTU, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WToO, WTrO. І

Political pressure groups

Other relevant groups are the Buddhist clergy; the Sri Lanka Trade Unions; the LTTE (rebel group fighting for a separate state/control over Sri Lanka) and Sinhalese groups such as the National Movement Against Terrorism as well as Sinhalese Buddhist and lay groups.

See also


  • Hickman, J. 1999. "Explaining the Two-Party System in Sri Lanka's National Assembly." Contemporary South Asia, Volume 8, Number 1 (March), pp. 29–40 (A detailed description of the effects of the bonus seat provision).
  • James Jupp, Sri Lanka: Third World Democracy, London: Frank Cass and Company, Limited, 1978.

External links


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