Occasional PapersPublished on Jul 30, 2009 PDF Download
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Politics in Sri Lanka: Changing Trends

Sri Lanka today stands at a crossroads. Nearly two months after the downfall of the LTTE, Sri Lanka has transformed into a more nationalist and a centralized nation with a powerful military and a pliable judiciary. There is a trend towards a single party rule in a country which once boasted of its democratic credentials. In this backdrop, this Paper attempts to analyse the current trends in Sri Lanka's polity-how they represent a break from the past and what this may augur for the country's future.

In its 60 years as a sovereign nation, there was a time when Sri Lanka could afford to be somewhat proud of its image of being a model democracy. Today, the image stands demolished in the eyes of other South Asian countries that are themselves standing insecure on shaky, unpredictable political grounds with, perhaps, the sole exception of India. Since it unshackled itself from 130 years of the British yoke, Sri Lanka has enjoyed a healthy bi-party rule that allowed smaller political parties to flourish under a multi-party system. Estimates put the total number of registered political parties operating in Sri Lanka at 61 , with 20 others waiting in the wings to register with the Election Commission.

In Parliament, the trend has been a coalition headed by either of the two major parties, the United National Party (UNP) and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP). In the more recent Presidential elections the pendulum has swung in favour of the SLFP, while the UNP had held the reins of power for three consecutive presidential terms, from 1978-1994.

In the political framework of Sri Lanka, a democratic republic, the President is the ultimate representative of the people, heading both the State and the government. The executive power is vested in the President and legislative powers are shared between him and Parliament. The judiciary is independent of the legislature and the executive, at least theoretically.

This Paper highlights some of the political trends peculiar to Sri Lanka, which make it a unique island nation on the sub-continent.

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