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Rajapaksa family tighten their grip on reins of Government

[Times Online UK, Friday, 11 June 2010 21:58 No Comment]

The Rajapaksa family tightened its grip on Sri Lanka yesterday when the Government approved lifting a two-term limit on the Presidency to allow the incumbent, Mahinda Rajapaksa, to run for office again in 2016.

Mr Rajapaksa, who came to power in 2005, has promised to rebuild Sri Lanka’s democratic institutions and war-torn economy following the defeat of the Tamil Tiger rebels in May last year.

But opponents say his family has accumulated alarming powers since he won a new term in a disputed presidential election in January, and then led his coalition to victory in parliamentary polls in April.

As well as being President, Mr Rajapaksa, 64, is Minister of Defence, Finance and Planning, Ports and Aviation, and Highways.

One brother is Defence Secretary. Another is Economic Development minister and a senior presidential adviser. A third is parliament speaker with the power to reject a motion to impeach the President.

The President’s son, Namal, also won his first seat in parliament in the April election, after graduating from City University in London, and is now widely thought to be being groomed as his successor.

Supporters say the Rajapaksas are no different from the Gandhis in India, the Kennedys and Bushes in the US, or any other political dynasty.

The fear, however, is that Mr Rajapaksa now has enough power to change the constitution in a way that will make it almost impossible to unseat his family from power.

Another planned change is to revise the 17th amendment to allow the President to appoint members of the elections and human rights commissions, as well the bodies that oversee the police and corruption investigations. A third is to allow the President to take part in parliamentary proceedings.

A government spokesman said the Cabinet’s decision on lifting the two-term limit will now be put to Parliament in an “urgent bill”. Few expect any serious opposition.

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