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 pluriform 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.
At independence in 1948, Sri Lanka, then called Ceylon, was a Commonwealth realm, with the British 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, 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.
Sri Lanka's two major political parties -- the United National Party and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party -- 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. During the civil war the LTTE has targeted politicians (Sinhalese and Tamil), economic targets, and Buddhist religious sites. 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 dissolved the parliament in Feb 2004 after a two year term (though the parliament was elected for a 6 year term.) The election was held on 2 April 2004. The SLFP in alliance with the JVP secured the most seats by a single party but failed to achieve a majority. As a result 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.
President - Mahinda Rajapakse (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.
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 04 and the new Parliament convened on April 23 and elected Mahinda Rajapaksa as the Prime Minister.
Political parties and elections
The following election results include names of political parties. See for additional information about parties the List of political parties in Sri Lanka. An overview on elections and election results is included in Elections in Sri Lanka.
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.
Foreign relations of Sri Lanka
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 AsDB, C, CP, ESCAP, FAO, G-24, G-77, IAEA, IBRD, 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.
Military of Sri Lanka
Sri Lankan Army Airborne CommandosThe Sri Lankan Military comprises of Sri Lankan Army, Sri Lankan Navy and Sri Lankan Air Force. They are under the control of the Ministry of Defence, which is currently controlled by President Mahinda Rajapaksa who also acts as Minster of Defence. The Sri Lankan Armed Forces are primarily focused on land warfare, with the Army being the oldest and largest of all the services. However, as the nation is surrounded by sea, the Navy is considered the most vital defence force. The Air Force is seen primarily as a support force for both land and naval services. The military has taken part in many wars throughout its history including the Boer War and both World Wars (under the command of the British at the time). Since independence, however, its primary missions have been counter-insurgency, targeting armed groups within the country, most notably the LTTE and at one point the Sinhalese insurgent group the JVP. The Sri Lankan military has apparently received training assistance from other nations such as Australia, the United Kingdom, Israel, United States, India, Pakistan and even South Africa. There have even been claims that soldiers from some of those countries have taken part in operations, but this has not been confirmed or proven. Recently, the Sri Lankan Army was chosen by the United Nations to take part in peacekeeping operations in Haiti.
Political pressure groups
Other relevant groups are the Buddhist clergy; the Sri Lanka Trade Unions; the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam or LTTE (rebel group fighting for a separate state) and radical chauvinist Sinhalese groups such as the National Movement Against Terrorism as well as Sinhalese Buddhist lay groups.