President of Sri Lanka

The president of Sri Lanka (Sinhala: ශ්‍රී ලංකා ජනාධිපති Śrī Laṃkā Janādhipathi; Tamil: இலங்கை சனாதிபதி Ilankai janātipati) is the head of state and head of government of Sri Lanka. The president is the chief executive of the union government and the commander-in-chief of the Sri Lanka Armed Forces.

President of Sri Lanka
ශ්‍රී ලංකා ජනාධිපති
இலங்கை சனாதிபதி
Emblem of Sri Lanka
Flag of Sri Lanka
Incumbent
Gotabaya Rajapaksa

since 18 November 2019
Style
Member ofCabinet
National Security Council
ResidencePresident's House
SeatColombo
AppointerDirect election
Term lengthFive years, renewable once
Constituting instrumentConstitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka
PrecursorQueen of Ceylon
Inaugural holderWilliam Gopallawa
as the first President under
the 1972 Constitution

J. R. Jayewardene
as the first executive President under
the 1978 Constitution
Formation22 May 1972 (1972-05-22)
4 February 1978 (1978-02-04)
SalaryLKR 1,170,000 annually (2016) (≈ $ 7,640) [1]
WebsitePresident
Presidential Secretariat

The office was created in 1972 as a ceremonial head of state. Until 1972, Ceylon was a Commonwealth realm with Queen Elizabeth II as the head of state and Queen of Ceylon. It became an executive post in 1978, and since then has been the single most dominant political office in the country. The current president is Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Origin

J. R. Jayewardene, the first Executive President of Sri Lanka

Under the Soulbury Constitution which consisted of the Ceylon Independence Act, 1947 and The Ceylon (Constitution and Independence) Orders in Council 1947, Ceylon (as Sri Lanka was known then) became a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary form of government. The monarch of Ceylon, served as head of state, represented by the governor-general with the prime minister serving as the head of government. The governor-general replaced the position of the British governor of Ceylon who excised executive control over the entire island since 1815. In 1972, the new Republican Constitution, declared Sri Lanka a republic and the monarchy was abolished. Thereby the office of the governor-general was replaced by that of president as head of state and the prime minister continued to serve as the head of government.

In 1978, the second amendment to the Constitution moved from a westminster system into a presidential system with the president serving as both head of state and head of government. An elected presidency with a longer term and independence from Parliament was thus created. The President would be the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, head of the cabinet of ministers and could dissolve parliament (after one year has passed since the convening of parliament after a parliamentary election). The prime minister would serve as the deputy to the president and successor.

Sri Lankan presidents are involved with every aspect of the government and are able to hold cabinet portfolios, or can bypass the cabinet posts by delegating decisions to the Presidential Secretariat.

The seventeenth constitutional amendment of 2001 reduced certain powers of the president in particular in regard to the appointment of the upper judiciary and independent commissions such as the election commission or the bribery and corruption commission.

In 2010, the eighteenth amendment to the constitution removed the limited number of terms an incumbent president can stand for re-election. This removed the two-term limit that existed allowing the incumbent president to serve multiple terms as well as increasing his power by replacing the broader constitutional council with a limited parliamentary council.

The nineteenth constitutional amendment implemented restrictions on the powers of the presidency by removing much of the changes made by the eighteenth amendment. It limited the presidency to two five-year terms. The amendment mandates that the president has to consult the prime minister on ministerial appointments. It curtails any president’s immunity by making him liable to fundamental rights litigation on any official act.[2]

Selection process

Under the constitution a president would be selected in a Presidential election.

Eligibility

The Constitution sets the following qualifications for holding the presidency:

  • If he/she is a citizen having been nominated as a candidate for such office by a recognized political party or elected member of the legislature.
  • No person who has been twice elected to the office of President by the People, shall be qualified thereafter to be elected to such office by the People.

Election

The president is elected to office in a presidential election held nationwide for a term of maximum of five years. An elected president can serve a maximum of two terms, with each term taking effect from the date of taking a public oath of the office for the elected term.

Succession or vacancy

Succession to or vacancies in the office of president may arise under several possible circumstances: death or incapacity, resignation and removal from office. In the case when the president is unable to perform his/her duties, his/her powers are temporarily transferred to the prime minister until confirmed by Parliament.

Powers and duties

Duties

Duties of the president as described in the constitution are;

  • Ensure that the Constitution is respected and upheld;
  • Promote national reconciliation and integration;
  • Ensure and facilitate the proper functioning of the Constitutional Council and other institutions;
  • On the advice of the Election Commission, ensure the creation of proper conditions for the conduct of free and fair elections and referenda.

Constitutional powers

Presidents have little constraints on their power. The president shall be responsible to Parliament, and can be impeached by a two-thirds majority in Parliament. The president may declare war and peace. He can place the country or any part under a state of emergency, under which they can override any law passed and promulgate any regulation without needing legislative approval. However, to prolong the state of emergency for more than a month parliamentary approval is needed.

Parliamentary powers

The president has the right to attend Parliament once in every three months with all the privileges, immunities and powers of a member of Parliament, other than the entitlement to vote, and shall not be liable for any breach of the privileges of Parliament or of its members. He/she has the right to address or send messages to Parliament. He/she has the power to make the Statement of Government Policy in Parliament at the commencement of each session of Parliament (Speech from the Throne), to preside at ceremonial sittings of Parliament, to summon, prorogue and dissolve Parliament.

Administrative powers

The president is the head of the executive, as such to keep the Public Seal of the Republic, and make and execute under the public seal numerous appointments which includes the prime minister, cabinet and non-cabinet ministers, provincial governors, public officers, ambassadors and commissioned officers of the armed forces. The president may also appoint secretaries, officers and staff to carry out the duties of the office of the president. Grants and dispositions of lands and other immovable property vested in the Republic.

Judicial powers

The president would have the power to appoint and remove, the chief justice, justices of the Supreme Court, justices of the Court of Appeal and judges of the High Court. The president may grant a pardon, respite or substitute a less severe form of punishment for any punishment imposed to any offender convicted of any offence in any court within the Republic of Sri Lanka. The president has immunity from both civil or criminal proceedings. The president has the power to commission public inquires by appointing a Presidential Commission of Inquiry to investigate any issue.

Diplomatic powers

The president would have the power to receive and recognize, and to appoint and accredit ambassadors, high commissioners, plenipotentiaries and other diplomatic agents.

Ceremonial duties

The president as an important ceremonial role in terms of state ceremonies, functions and in awarding state awards. Most notable would be the traditional throne speech delivered by the president to the parliament outlining the official policy statement of the new government to the parliament.[3] The president would lead the independence day celebrations as well as other national ceremonies such as remembrance day, Wap Magul (ceremonial ploughing) and receive the Perahera Sandeshaya. National honors would be awarded by the president on behalf the Government of Sri Lanka. The president would receive letter of credence from foreign ambassadors.

Appointments

The president may appoint provincial governors to head the provincial council and serve as his/her representative in the province. He/she may appoint any number of advisers as presidential advisers and coordinating secretaries to assist him/her.

The president has the power to appoint senior attorneys-at-laws to the position of President's Counsel. The president may appoint officers from the armed forces to serve as his aide-de-camp as well as extra-aide-de-camp. Additionally, the president may appoint medical officers of the armed forces as Honorary Physician to the President and Honorary Surgeon to the President.[4]

Privileges

Salary

The president would receive a monthly salary (as of 2016) of LKR 97,500 (≈ $ 636.7) paid from the consolidated fund.[5] It was increased from LKR 25,000 (≈ $ 163.25) to LKR 97,500 in 2006.

Tax benefits

By tradition the president and past presidents are not subjected to income tax. This practice dates back from pre-republic era when the crown was not subject to tax. In 2018, this practice was changed with the Inland Revenue Bill which removed the tax exception given to the President.[6]

The president has immunity from both civil or criminal proceedings, during the tenure of office and acts carried out during this period.

Residence

The official residence of the president in Colombo is the President's House (formerly the Queen's House as the residences of the governor-general). The government pays for meals and staff. Other presidential residences include:

  • the President's Pavilion, is the president's second official residence in Kandy;
  • the Queen's Cottage is the official presidential vacationing residence in the holiday-town of Nuwara Eliya.

In recent years from time to time Prime Minister's House, commonly referred to as Temple Trees, which has been the traditional residence of the prime minister since 1948, has been used by some presidents such as Kumaratunga and Mahinda Rajapaksa. While other presidents such as Jayewardene and Sirisena have refuse to use the President's House, with the former preferring to stay at his personal residence Braemar and the latter at his former ministerial residence at Wijayarama Mawatha.

Travel

For ground travel, the president uses the presidential state car, which is an armored black Mercedes-Benz S-Class (S600) Pullman Guard. For domestic air travel, helicopters from the No. 4 (VVIP/VIP) Helicopter Squadron of the Sri Lanka Air Force are used while for long distance travel, regular flights of the Sri Lankan Airlines are used. During ceremonial occasions, ships and boats of the Sri Lanka Navy have been commissioned as the Presidential yacht.

Security

President's Security Division (PSD) is the main unit of the charged with the close protection of the President of Sri Lanka. During President Mahinda Rajapakse's time in office the specialized Army unit the 'President's Guard' was formed for Presidential Security. Prior to the formation of the President's Guard, army personnel served as a squadron under the President's Security Division since 1996 and focused on key tasks including the perimeter security of presidential residence, Temple Trees. 5th Regiment Sri Lanka Armoured Corps was the first army unit chosen to be in the dedicated security of the president of Sri Lanka during the presidency of Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. However, in April 2015, President Maithripala Sirisena dissolved the President's Guard.[7] Currently the president's security is provided by the elite Special Task Force (STF) of the Sri Lanka Police.

Insignia

After the oath of office has been taken by the elected president, a Presidential Standard is adopted by the president as the insignia his/her office. Each president has a unique standard, incorporating traditional symbols associated with the president or his or her home region. While there is no formal uniform for the president, traditionally male presidents would wear the national dress, while the only female president wore saris.

Presidential staff

Presidential Secretariat

The Presidential Secretariat, formerly Sri Lanka's Parliament building

The Presidential Secretariat is the government ministry that functions as the office and staff of the president, supporting the administrative functions of the presidency and other ministerial portfolios that are held by president. Initially located at President's House, the staff of the office of the president grew with the establishment of the executive presidency and moved into the former Parliament building in Colombo in the 1980s which now hosts the Presidential Secretariat. The Presidential Secretariat is headed by the secretary to the president (also known as the president's secretary), who is the most senior civil servant country.

Presidential advisers

The president has the ability to appoint any number of advisers as presidential advisers. The highest-ranking of which are known as senior advisers. President Mahinda Rajapaksa during his tenure had appointed 38 advisers.[8]

Coordinating secretaries

The president may appoint any number of coordinating secretaries to assist him/her.

The President's Fund

The president is the chair of the Board of Governors of the President's Fund which was established under the President’s Fund Act No. 7 of 1978 to provide funds for relief of poverty, access to special healthcare, advancement of education or knowledge, advancement of the religion and culture, providing awards to persons who have served the nation and for any other purposes beneficial or of interest to the public. It is administrated by the Presidential Secretariat.[9]

Post-presidency

Under the Constitutions of Sri Lanka, holders of the office of president are granted a pension equal to the last pay drawn while in office and privileges equivalent to a serving cabinet minister. This would include the order of precedence, an official residence, an office, staff, transport and security. The pension will be in addition to any other pension which he/she would be entitled to due to prior service. A widow of a former president would receive a pension of two thirds which would have been entitled to their spouse and the privileges entitled to their late spouse such as an official residence, transport and the order of precedence.[10]

See also

  • List of Presidents of Sri Lanka
  • Prime Minister of Sri Lanka
  • Presidential Secretariat
  • President's Security Division
  • President's Guard
  • Official state car of President of Sri Lanka
  • Air transports of Heads of Government of Sri Lanka

References

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