Sri Lanka presents reform bill to reduce presidential powers | Military

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lanka’s justice minister on Wednesday submitted a draft constitutional amendment to parliament that would curtail the president’s powers, a key demand from protesters calling for political reforms and solutions to the country’s worst economic crisis.

The action came as former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who fled violent anti-government protests last month, reportedly sought to enter Thailand from his temporary exile in Singapore. He fled Sri Lanka last month after thousands of angry protesters stormed his official residence, blaming him for the country’s economic woes.

A Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman said Rajapaksa would be allowed to enter but had not requested political asylum. However, Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said Rajapaksa was seeking asylum in a third country, which he did not identify.

Rajapaksa was unavailable for comment.

In the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, Justice Minister Wijayadasa Rajapakshe introduced a bill that would transfer some presidential powers – including those to appoint independent members of the electoral commission, police and civil servants public, and bribery and corruption investigators – to a constitutional council made up of lawmakers and respected figures. non-politicians. The board would then recommend candidates for the nominations from which the president could choose.

Under the proposed changes, presidents would only be able to appoint chief justices, other senior justices, attorneys general and central bank governors on the advice of the board. The Prime Minister would recommend Cabinet appointments and the President would not be allowed to hold any ministerial positions except for defence.

The bill, which will be debated, must be approved by two-thirds of the 225 members of Sri Lanka’s parliament to become law.

If passed, the amendments will restore democratic reforms made in 2015. Rajapaksa reversed those reforms and concentrated power within himself after being elected in 2019.

Current President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who succeeded Rajapaksa, has vowed to limit the powers of the presidency and strengthen parliament in response to protesters’ demands.

In the Thai capital, Bangkok, Foreign Ministry spokesman Tanee Sangrat said the Sri Lankan government had requested that Rajapaksa be allowed entry. After fleeing Sri Lanka last month, Rajapaksa flew first to neighboring Maldives on a Sri Lankan military plane and then to Singapore.

Protesters blame mismanagement and corruption by the Rajapaksa family as the root of the economic crisis which has led to severe shortages of essentials such as medicine, food and fuel. The island nation is negotiating with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout package.

Rajapaksa’s older brother, Mahinda Rajapaksa, resigned as prime minister in May. Three other close family members resigned from their cabinet posts before him.

Thai spokesman Tanee told reporters in a text message that under a 2013 bilateral agreement, Rajapaksa can enter Thailand without a visa for 90 days as he holds a Sri Lankan diplomatic passport.

“The stay is temporary in nature for the purpose of continuing the journey,” Tanee said. “No political asylum has been requested.”

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth, speaking to reporters, said he was aware of Rajapaksa’s planned visit and that it was allowed on humanitarian grounds as the former president was seeking asylum in a third country . He did not specify.

S. Khan, director general of public diplomacy at Sri Lanka’s foreign ministry, said he had no comment on the Thai statements.

Sri Lankans have staged massive street protests for four months demanding democratic reforms and solutions to the country’s economic collapse.

Last month, a human rights group filed a criminal complaint with Singapore’s attorney general seeking Rajapaksa’s arrest for alleged war crimes during Sri Lanka’s civil war. He was defense secretary during the conflict, which ended in 2009.

The International Truth and Justice Project – an evidence-gathering organization administered by a South Africa-based nonprofit foundation – said its lawyers had filed a lawsuit demanding Rajapaksa’s immediate arrest. The complaint alleges that Rajapaksa committed serious breaches of the Geneva Conventions during the civil war and that they are subject to domestic proceedings in Singapore under universal jurisdiction.

The civil war in Sri Lanka, in which the Tamil Tiger rebels fought to create an independent state for the Tamil ethnic minority, has resulted in the death of 100,000 people, according to conservative United Nations estimates. The actual number is believed to be much higher. A report by a UN panel of experts said at least 40,000 Tamil civilians have died in the last few months of fighting alone.

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Associated Press reporter Tassanee Vejpongsa in Bangkok contributed to this report.

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