Sri Lanka plans to reduce presidential powers amid economic crisis unrest

Members of the Sri Lankan Air Force distribute tokens to people queuing for fuel due to a fuel shortage, amid the country’s economic crisis, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on 27 June 2022. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte

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COLOMBO, June 30 (Reuters) – Sri Lanka’s government on Thursday proposed amending the Constitution to reduce presidential powers and boost anti-corruption powers to help bolster stability and defuse unrest sparked by the world’s worst crisis. financial situation that the country has known for decades.

The South Asian island of 22 million people is on the verge of running out of fuel and has struggled for months to find enough US dollars to pay for essential imports such as food, cooking gas and medicine.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, whom critics blame the financial crisis for handing key posts to relatives and delaying seeking an IMF bailout, has come under prolonged pressure to step down, despite saying he he planned to stay until the end of his term in 2024. read more

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Two of his brothers resigned earlier as prime minister and finance minister after weeks of street protests.

The proposed amendment, the draft of which was published on Thursday, would establish a constitutional council and nine independent commissions to improve governance. The commissions would work to promote human rights, increase oversight of government agency audits and strengthen anti-corruption investigations.

The amendment could be presented to parliament in July, Justice Minister Wijedasa Rajapakshe said last week. It could undergo other modifications before being finally promulgated.

Critics, however, say the amendment did not go far enough to meet protesters’ demands.

“The current attempt is symbolic at best and fails to address the unprecedented crisis facing Sri Lanka and the clear demands of the people for system change,” said Bhavani Fonseka, senior fellow at the Center for Policy. Alternatives, an organization based in Colombo. thinking group.

Fonseka said the amendment would still allow the president to prorogue parliament at any time, while other powers, including the ability to dismiss ministers, would only be curtailed during the next presidential term.

The economic situation, meanwhile, remains disastrous.

Inflation hit 54.6% in June, the highest since 2015, from 39.1% in May. Food prices soared 80.1% and transport costs 128% in Sri Lanka as the currency depreciated and inflation soared globally.

But the International Monetary Fund on Thursday reported constructive talks with Sri Lankan officials, raising hopes it could soon grant preliminary approval for a credit facility. Read more

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Reporting by Uditha Jayasinghe Editing by Mark Heinrich

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