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Sri Lankan Govt to extend Rajapaksa's term of office?

world Updated: Jun 22, 2009 00:51 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis

Flush from a famous military victory over the LTTE, the Sri Lankan government is planning to extend President Mahinda Rajapaksa's term of office without holding a presidential election by amending the Constitution, a government minister has said.

JB Tennakoon, minister of provincial councils and local government, said the government was planning to bring the amendment and pass it with a two-thirds majority in Parliament with the support of MPs from the opposition.

The move has attracted stringent criticism from political quarters with many calling it undemocratic.

Tennakoon told the Sunday Times newspaper that as "a prelude to the introduction of constitutional changes, an island wide campaign on gathering public support for the move had been initiated.''

The newspaper reported that a two-thirds majority is required to repeal or replace any provision of the Constitution under clause 82 (5) of the Constitution. "However, any amendment to extend the term of office of the President or the duration of Parliament over six years should also be approved by the people at a referendum,'' it said.

The article added that at present, at least 133 MPs support the government but there is speculation that more TNA members and others might join for the government to get the two thirds majority of 150 in 225 member parliament.

Tennakoon said the main reason for the move to scrap the next presidential election was to 'save money' which could be eventually used for development activities-but he made no reference to the cost of holding a referendum raising questions as to what the real intention was. The cost of conducting a referendum will be similar to that of a presidential election, the newspaper said.

The main opposition UNP and the JVP, which is an ally of the ruling UPFA, have described it as a dangerous threat to democracy. UNP frontliner John Amaratunga said such a move undemocratic move and the government needed a public mandate for any such move at a referendum.

The JVP propaganda secretary Vijitha Herath told Sunday Times the party was opposed to any move to extend the term of office of the President without holding elections.