Category Archives: Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka – Presidential election

Mahinda Rajapaksa has been re-elected as President of Sri Lanka. The Sri Lanka Department of Elections announced the following result:

There is a report in Asia Times about the election. Apparently, the Tamils did not turn out to vote for Fonseka.

Immediately after the announcement of the result, President Rajapaksa sent troops to surround the hotel where his main opponent, Sarath Fonseka, was staying, claiming that there were fears of a coup and that the mobilisation was a precautionary measure.

Sri Lanka – Presidential poll

Sri Lanka’s presidential election is taking place today. The incumbent is Mahinda Rajapaksa, who represents the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, which is part of the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA). President Rajapaksa’s term was due to expire in 2001, but he called an early election in the wake of the defeat of the Tamil Tigers in May 2009.

President Rajapaksa’s main opponent is a former general, Sarath Fonseka, who is seen as being militarily responsible for the defeat of the Tamil Tigers. Originally, Rajapaksa and Fonseka were allies, but they fell out after the end of the conflict. In November General Fonseka resigned his commission and announced his candidacy. He is running under the guise of the New Democratic Front, which is a new party, or grouping, that brings together the two main parties opposed to the UPFA, namely the right-wing United National Party and the leftist Janathā Vimukthi Peramuṇa.

It is difficult to tell how reliable the polls are, but Asia Times, in a really excellent synopsis, says that the result is too close to call. However, the Sunday Leader newspaper in Sri Lanka reported the results of a poll, which was based on a sample of nearly 9,000 people and which showed that Sarath Fonseka would win 56.4% and that Mahinda Rajapaksa would win 41.1%. Part of the reason for Fonseka’s support, as reported by Asia Times, is that he has won the endorsement of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which was formerly the mouthpiece of the Tamil Tigers.

There has already been some violence in the run up to the election and the result, whichever way it goes, looks likely to be very divisive.

Sri Lanka – Local elections

Local elections were held in some areas of Sri Lanka on 8 August. There were two municipal council elections as well as an election for the provincial council in the Uva region.

Recall that President Mahinda Rajapakse, who was elected in 2005, is from the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), which is currently a part of the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA). Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake is also from the SLFP. The main opposition party is the United National Party (UNP), which is part of the United National Front (UNF).

These elections were the first since the effective defeat of the Tamil Tigers by government forces in May.

The results of the Uva provincial council elections are available here. The UPFA had a crushing victory, winning 72% of the vote. The UPFA also won a big victory in 2004, but its vote does seem to be up a lot this time. (For some 2004 details, see here).

The situation in the town council elections was slightly different. In the Vanuviya urban council election the Illankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi (Tamil National Alliance) was the largest party, while the Democratic People’s Liberation Front, which is the party of the Tamil Tigers, came second and the UPFA came third. So, this result was seen as surprising, given the Tigers defeat. Results are available here.

In the Jaffna municipal council election, the UPFA came first with over 50% of the vote. The Illankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi (Tamil National Alliance) also did quite well, winning over 38% of the vote. (Results are available here). However, the UPFA’s vote was largely a function of support for the Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP), a Tamil party, which is part of the ruling coalition, but which has distanced itself from President Rajapakse and the government’s actions against the Tigers.

The bottom line is that in Sinhalese areas support for the UPFA is very strong and the government is well placed to be re-elected. In Tamil areas, the government is trying to ensure that pro-government Tamil parties are successful, but these results show that parties associated with the Tamil Tigers still have some support.

There is a very good overview of the election in Asia Times.


Cohabitation – Sri Lanka

This is a series of posts that records the cases of cohabitation in countries with semi-presidential constitutions. Cohabitation is defined as the situation where the president and prime minister are from different parties and where the president’s party is not represented in the cabinet. Presidents classed as non-party cannot generate any periods of cohabitation.

Here is my list of cohabitations in Sri Lanka:

Aug 1994 – Nov 1994
President – Dingiri Banda Wijetunge (EJP); PM – Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga (SLMP/SLNP); Government – SLMP/SLNP

Dec 2001 – Apr 2004
President – Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga (SLMP/SLNP); PM – Ranil Wickremasinghe (EJP); Government – EJP

Party abbreviations:

EJP – Ekshat Jathika Pakshaya (United National Party)
SLMP – Sri Lanka Mahajana Pakshaya (Sri Lanka People’s Party)
SLNP – Sri Lanka Nidahas Pakshaya (Sri Lanka Freedom Party)

Source of affiliations:

Why is Sri Lanka sometimes not classed as semi-presidential?

When I was a student of comparative politics, I learnt that Sri Lanka was semi-presidential. Therefore, when I started studying semi-presidentialism systematically Sri Lanka was always one of the first on my list of semi-presidential countries. However, some people do not include Sri Lanka in their equivalent lists. For example, Siaroff (European Journal of Political Research, 2003) classes Sri Lanka alongside South Korea and Guyana in a category which he calls “Countries with a popularly elected head of state and a separate head of government (prime minister), with the latter not accountable to the legislature” (p. 297). Also, Hellwig and Samuels (British Journal of Political Science, 2007) class Sri Lanka as presidential, even though their definition of semi-presidentialism is very close to the one adopted in this blog: “both branches of government are directly elected, but the head of government (the prime minister) is accountable to the legislature” (p. 72). As a result, they class both Ireland and Russia as semi-presidential. (And how authors classify these two countries is always a good litmus test of whether their definition of semi-presidentialism is consistent with the one used here). So, why do some authors not classify Sri Lanka as semi-presidential?

Sri Lanka is governed by its 1978 constitution. This constitution was deliberately modeled on the French constitution. Indeed, there is an interesting book that looks at the French origins of the 1978 constitution – A. Jeyaratnam Wilson. 1980. The Gaullist System in Asia: The Constitution of Sri Lanka, 1978. London: Macmillian.

The constitution is very long and wordy. Also, the president enjoys considerable powers. (Both elements, by the way, showing that the French model was only an influence and that the wording of the French constitution was not copied in the same way that some African countries have copied it). All the same, to me, the country is clearly semi-presidential.

Art 30 (2) establishes the direct election of the president.
Art. 43 (1) establishes a Cabinet of Ministers that is collectively responsible and answerable to parliament. (Art. 44 (3) also mentions responsibility to the parliament).
Art 43 (3) refers to the position of prime minister, as do a number of other articles.
Art. 49 (2) states that if parliament passes a vote of no-confidence in the government, then the Cabinet of Ministers shall “stand dissolved” and the president shall appoint a new Prime Minister and Cabinet Ministers.

Together, these clauses make it clear that the prime minister, as part of the cabinet, is responsible to the legislature. So, Siaroff’s classification seems problematic. (In a previous post, I showed that this is true of Guyana as well).

One reason why Sri Lanka may be classed as presidential is Art. 43 (2), which states that the president is the head of the Cabinet of Ministers. This clause also notes that if the Cabinet is dissolved, then the president remains in power. In other words, even though the president is a member of the cabinet and the cabinet is responsible to the legislature, the president is not responsible to the legislature. (Hellwig and Samuels, like Siaroff, class Namibia as presidential. Namibia is another country where the president is head of government. However, Art. 41 of the 1990 constitution makes all members of the government individually and collectively responsible to the legislature. See a previous post. If this is the rationale, then at least Hellwig and Samuels are consistent).

The only other reason I can think of why Sri Lanka is not classed as semi-presidential concerns a proposal for constitutional reform in 2000. At that time, President Bandaranaike presented to parliament a bill with the text of a new constitution. The constitution would have established a presidential regime. The text is available here. However, the bill lapsed. A subsequent referendum was never held and Sri Lanka continues to be governed by the 1978 document, which, to my mind, is semi-presidential. That said, when Googling, it is quite easy to mix up the 1978 official constitution and the 2000 proposed constitution. This may account for some of the confusion.