Sri Lankan Prime Minister says President’s powers will be curtailed

COLOMBO – The prime minister of Sri Lanka on Tuesday said the constitution would be amended to trim the president’s powers and strengthen parliament, while protesters continued to call on the president and his powerful family to step down over the country’s economic crisis.

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa told parliament that the transfer of power will be one of the quick steps that can be taken to stabilize the country politically and support talks with the International Monetary Fund on a stimulus plan.

“While we are looking for solutions to the economic problems, it is important that we have political and social stability in the country,” Rajapaksa said, adding that the return to a constitutional status with more powers for parliament will be the start of reforms will.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the prime minister’s brother, focused more powers in the presidency on his election to office in 2019.

Thousands of demonstrators occupied the entrance to the President’s office on Tuesday 11 Tuesday, blaming him for the economic crisis.


President Rajapaksa on Monday acknowledged that he made mistakes such as delaying the IMF for assistance and banning agrochemicals in a bid to convert Sri Lanka’s agriculture to full organic farming, leading to the crisis.

However, both the President and Prime Minister have refused to step down, leading to a political impasse. Opposition parties have rejected the President’s offer to join a unity government, but they are unable to hold a majority in parliament and form a new government.

In a cabinet reshuffle on Monday, the president appointed many new faces and dropped four family members who held cabinet and non-cabinet ministries in what appears to have been an attempt to please protesters without relinquishing his family’s power.

The Rajapaksa brothers are likely to retain their power even if the constitution is changed, as they hold both offices.

Sri Lanka is on the brink of bankruptcy, with nearly $7 billion of its $25 billion total external debt due for repayment this year. A severe foreign exchange shortage means the country lacks the money to buy imported goods.


People have suffered months of shortages of basic necessities such as food, cooking gas, fuel and medicines, queuing for hours to buy the very limited supplies available.

Last week the government said it was suspending repayments of foreign loans pending talks with the IMF. Finance Minister Ali Sabry and officials set out for talks with the IMF on Sunday. The IMF and World Bank are holding annual meetings in Washington this week.

Sri Lanka has also turned to China and India for emergency loans to buy food and fuel.

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Jaclyn Diaz

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