Politics of Sri Lanka

This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
Sri Lanka

Politics of Sri Lanka takes place in a framework of a semi-presidential representative democratic republic, whereby the President of Sri Lanka is both head of state and head of government, and of a multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in both the government and Parliament. For decades, the party system has been dominated by the socialist Sri Lanka Freedom Party and the conservative United National Party. The Judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature. The Politics of Sri Lanka reflect the historical and political differences between the three main ethnic groups, the majority Sinhala and the minorities Tamils and Muslims, who are concentrated in the north and east of the island.

The Economist Intelligence Unit has rated Sri Lanka as "flawed democracy" in 2016.[1]

Executive branch

Main office holders
Office Name Party Since
President Maithripala Sirisena Sri Lanka Freedom Party 9 January 2015
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe United National Party 17 August 2015

The President, directly elected for a six-year term, is head of state, head of government, and commander in chief of the armed forces. The election occurs under the Sri Lankan form of the contingent vote. Responsible to Parliament for the exercise of duties under the constitution and laws, the president may be removed from office by a two-thirds vote of Parliament with the concurrence of the Supreme Court.

The President appoints and heads a cabinet of ministers responsible to Parliament. The President's deputy is the prime minister, who leads the ruling party in Parliament. A parliamentary no-confidence vote requires dissolution of the cabinet and the appointment of a new one by the President.

Legislative branch

The Parliament has 225 members, elected for a five-year term, 196 members elected in multi-seat constituencies and 29 by proportional representation.

The primary modification is that the party that receives the largest number of valid votes in each constituency gains a unique "bonus seat" (see Hickman, 1999). The president may summon, suspend, or end a legislative session and dissolve Parliament any time after it has served for one year. Parliament reserves the power to make all laws. Since its independence in 1948, Sri Lanka has remained a member of the Commonwealth of Nations.

Political parties and elections

In August 2005, the Supreme Court ruled that Presidential Elections would be held in November 2005, resolving a long-running dispute on the length of President Kumaratunga's term. Mahinda Rajapaksa was nominated the SLFP candidate and former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe UNP candidate. The Election was held on November 17, 2005, and Mahinda Rajapaksa was elected the fifth Executive President of Sri Lanka with a 50.29% of valid votes, compared to Ranil Wickremesinghe's 48.43%. Mahinda Rajapaksa took oath as President on November 19, 2005. Ratnasiri Wickremanayake was appointed the 22nd Prime Minister on November 21, 2005, to fill the post vacated by Mahinda Rajapaksa. He was previously Prime Minister in 2000 might in 2001 .

 Summary of the 2015 Sri Lankan presidential election[2]
 Maithripala SirisenaNew Democratic Front6,217,16251.28%
 Mahinda RajapaksaUnited People's Freedom Alliance5,768,09047.58%
Ratnayake Arachchige SirisenaPatriotic National Front18,1740.15%
Namal Ajith RajapaksaOur National Front15,7260.13%
Maulawi Ibrahim Mohanmed MishlarUnited Peace Front14,3790.12%
A. S. P. LiyanageSri Lanka Labour Party14,3510.12%
Ruwanthileke PeduruUnited Lanka People's Party12,4360.10%
 Aithurus M. IlliasIndependent10,6180.09%
 Duminda NagamuwaFrontline Socialist Party9,9410.08%
 Siritunga JayasuriyaUnited Socialist Party8,8400.07%
Sarath ManamendraNew Sinhala Heritage6,8750.06%
 Pani WijesiriwardeneSocialist Equality Party4,2770.04%
 Anurudha PolgampolaIndependent4,2600.04%
 Sundaram MahendranNava Sama Samaja Party4,0470.03%
Muthu Bandara TheminimullaAll Are Citizens, All Are Kings Organisation3,8460.03%
Battaramulle SeelarathanaJana Setha Peramuna3,7500.03%
Prasanna PriyankaraDemocratic National Movement2,7930.02%
Jayantha KulathungaUnited Lanka Great Council2,0610.02%
Wimal GeeganageSri Lanka National Front1,8260.02%
Valid votes12,123,452100.00%
Rejected votes140,925
Total polled12,264,377
Registered electors15,044,490
 Summary of the 2015 Sri Lankan parliamentary election[3][4]
Alliances and partiesVotes%Seats
 United National Front for Good Governance[lower-alpha 1] 5,098,91645.66%9313106
 United People's Freedom Alliance 4,732,66442.38%831295
 Tamil National Alliance[lower-alpha 7] 515,9634.62%14216
 Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna543,9444.87%426
 Sri Lanka Muslim Congress[lower-alpha 3]44,1930.40%101
 Eelam People's Democratic Party33,4810.30%101
 All Ceylon Makkal Congress[lower-alpha 2]33,1020.30%000
 Democratic Party28,5870.26%000
Buddhist People's Front 20,3770.18%000
 Tamil National People's Front[lower-alpha 8] 18,6440.17%000
 Ceylon Workers' Congress[lower-alpha 4]17,1070.15%000
 Frontline Socialist Party7,3490.07%000
United People's Party5,3530.05%000
Valid Votes11,166,975100.00%19629225
Rejected Votes517,123
Total Polled11,684,098
Registered Electors15,044,490

Administrative divisions

Local government is divided into two parallel structures, the civil service, which dates to colonial times, and the provincial councils, which were established in 1987.

Civil Service Structure

The country is divided into 25 districts, each of which has a district secretary (the GA, or Government Agent) who is appointed. Each district comprises 5–16 divisions, each with a DS, or divisional secretary, again, appointed. At a village level Grama Niladari (Village Officers), Samurdhi Niladari (Development Officers) and agriculture extension officers work for the DSs.

Provincial Council structure

Under the Indo-Sri Lankan Accord of July 1987and the resulting 13th amendment to the constitutionthe Government of Sri Lanka agreed to devolve some authority to the provinces. Provincial councils are directly elected for 5-year terms. The leader of the council majority serves as the province's Chief Minister with a board of ministers; a provincial governor is appointed by the president.

The Provincial Councils have full statute making power with respect to the Provincial Council List, and shared statute making power respect to the Concurrent List. While all matters set out in the Reserved List are under the central government.

Local government structure

Below the provincial level are elected Municipal Councils and Urban Councils, responsible for municipalities and cities respectively, and below this level Pradeshiya Sabhas (village councils), again elected. There are: 18 Municipal Councils: Sri Jayawardanapura Kotte, Kaduwela, Colombo, Kandy, Jaffna, Galle, Matara, Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia, Anuradhapura, Gampaha, Moratuwa, Ratnapura, Kurunegala, Nuwara Eliya, Badulla, Batticaloa, Kalmune, Negombo. 42 Urban Councils: 270 Pradeshiya Sabhas: (The above statistics include the new local government authorities established by the government in January 2006.)

Judicial branch

Sri Lanka's judiciary consists of a Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, High Court, and a number of subordinate courts. Sri Lanka's legal system reflects diverse cultural influences. Criminal law is fundamentally British. Basic civil law is Roman-Dutch, but laws pertaining to marriage, divorce, and inheritance are communal, known as respectively as Kandyan, Thesavalamai (Jaffna Tamil) and Muslim (Roman-Dutch law applies to Low-country Sinhalese, Estate Tamils and others).

Courts of law

Foreign relations of Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka generally follows a non-aligned foreign policy but has been seeking closer relations with the United States since December 1977. It participates in multilateral diplomacy, particularly at the United Nations, where it seeks to promote sovereignty, independence, and development in the developing world. Sri Lanka was a founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). It also is a member of the Commonwealth, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, Asian Development Bank, and the Colombo Plan. Sri Lanka continues its active participation in the NAM, while also stressing the importance it places on regionalism by playing a strong role in SAARC.

Sri Lanka is member of the IAEA, IBRD, ADB, C, CP, ESCAP, FAO, G-24, G-77, ICAO, ICRM, IDA, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, IHO, ILO, IMF, IMO, Inmarsat, Intelsat, Interpol, IOC, IOM, ISO, ITU, NAM, OAS (observer), OPCW, PCA, SAARC, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNIDO, UNU, UPU, WCL, WCO, WFTU, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WToO, WTrO. І

Political pressure groups

Civil society participation in decision-making and opinion-shaping is very poor in Sri Lanka. Professionals, civil society groups, media etc. do not play a significant role in Sri Lankan politics and, as a result, many aspects of the lives of ordinary citizens are politicized. In addition, the vacuum created by the silence and inactivity of civil society has let in radical groups such as the ethnic/religion-based groups, Trade Unions; and NGOs have taken lead roles as political pressure groups.

See also


  1. The UNFGG contested under the name and symbol of UNP.
  2. 1 2 The ACMC contested separately in one district (Ampara) and with the UNFGG in other districts.
  3. 1 2 The SLMC contested separately in two districts (Batticaloa and Vanni) and with the UNFGG in other districts.
  4. 1 2 The CWC contested separately in three districts (Badulla, Kandy and Kegalle) and with the UPFA in other districts.
  5. The CF contested separately in two districts (Nuwara Eliya and Vanni) and with the UPFA in other districts.
  6. The LP contested separately in four districts (Colombo, Galle, Kurunegala and Matara) and with the UPFA in other districts.
  7. The TNA contested under the name and symbol of ITAK.
  8. The TNPF contested under the name and symbol of ACTC.



  • Hickman, J. 1999. "Explaining the Two-Party System in Sri Lanka's National Assembly." Contemporary South Asia, Volume 8, Number 1 (March), pp. 29–40 (A detailed description of the effects of the bonus seat provision).
  • James Jupp, Sri Lanka: Third World Democracy, London: Frank Cass and Company, Limited, 1978.

Further reading

  • Robert C. Oberst. "Federalism and Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka", Publius, Vol. 18, No. 3, The State of American Federalism, 1987 (Summer, 1988), pp. 175–193
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