Sri Lanka Cabinet approves constitutional reform to limit president's powers

Activists protest outside the Presidential Secretariat in Sri Lanka, calling for Mr Gotabaya Rajapaksa's resignation. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

COLOMBO (BLOOMBERG) - Sri Lanka's Cabinet has approved constitutional reforms aimed at clipping the powers of the presidency amid months of protests demanding the ouster of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa for dragging the nation's economy into an unprecedented crisis.

The endorsement is a step in what could be a protracted process to amend the sections of the constitution that gave sweeping powers to Mr Rajapaksa's office.

The amendment will be sent to the legal draftsman and the attorney general for observations about its compatibility with the constitution, Cabinet spokesman Bandula Gunawardena told reporters in Colombo Tuesday (June 21).

Sri Lanka fell into default for the first time in its history last month as the government has struggled to halt an economic meltdown that prompted mass protests and a political crisis.

While side-stepping calls for his resignation, Mr Rajapaksa has tried to contain anger toward him and his family by agreeing to the constitutional amendments.

The Sri Lanka Bar Association has questioned the extent to which the amendments will scale back the powers Mr Rajapaksa gave to his office shortly after he returned to power in 2019.

The latest amendment approved by Cabinet Monday, following discussions among lawmakers, will also need the votes of two-thirds of the Members of Parliament to become law.

Mr Gunawardena gave no details on Tuesday except to say the constitutional recast will give more powers to Parliament.

"The latest amendments will improve good governance, which is part of the International Monetary Fun (IMF), other lender requirements and the international view," Mr Gunawardena said.

"It will help with the IMF negotiations."

Sri Lankan authorities on Monday began talks with the IMF, working toward an agreement that could offer creditors enough comfort to lend fresh funds to the bankrupt nation that's seeking US$6 billion (S$8 billion) in coming months.

Sri Lanka's opposition leader Sajith Premadasa has said his party will boycott Parliament this week and hold street protests against the government.

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