Politics of Sri Lanka

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Coat of arms of Sri Lanka, showing a lion holding a sword in its right forepaw surrounded by a ring made from blue lotus petals which is placed on top of a grain vase sprouting rice grains to encircle it. A Dharmacakra is on the top while a sun and moon are at the bottom on each side of the vase.
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 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.

Executive branch[edit]

Main office holders
Office Name Party Since
President Mahinda Rajapaksa Freedom Party 19 November 2005
Prime Minister Disanayaka Mudiyanselage Jayaratne Freedom Party 21 April 2010

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[edit]

The Parliament has 225 members, elected for a six year term, 196 members elected in multi-seat constituencies and 29 by proportional representation. The president may summon, suspend, or end a legislative session and dissolve Parliament. Parliament reserves the power to make all laws.

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.

Parliament was dissolved on February 7, 2004 by President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. Elections were held on April 4 and the new Parliament convened on April 23 and elected Mahinda Rajapaksa as the Prime Minister. Mr. Mahinda Rajapakse was elected to the post of President on November 17, 2005.

Political parties and elections[edit]

For other political parties see List of political parties in Sri Lanka. An overview on elections and election results is included in Elections in Sri Lanka.

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.

e • d Summary of the 2010 Sri Lankan presidential election
Candidate Party Votes  %
  Mahinda Rajapaksa United People's Freedom Alliance 6,015,934 57.88%
  Sarath Fonseka New Democratic Front 4,173,185 40.15%
Mohomad Cassim Mohomad Ismail Democratic United National Front 39,226 0.38%
Achala Ashoka Suraweera National Development Front 26,266 0.25%
Channa Janaka Sugathsiri Gamage United Democratic Front 23,290 0.22%
W. V. Mahiman Ranjith Independent 18,747 0.18%
A. S. P Liyanage Sri Lanka Labour Party 14,220 0.14%
Sarath Manamendra New Sinhala Heritage 9,684 0.09%
  M. K. Shivajilingam Independent 9,662 0.09%
Ukkubanda Wijekoon Independent 9,381 0.09%
Lal Perera Our National Front 9,353 0.09%
  Siritunga Jayasuriya United Socialist Party 8,352 0.08%
  Vikramabahu Karunaratne Left Front 7,055 0.07%
Aithurus M. Illias Independent 6,131 0.06%
  Wije Dias Socialist Equality Party 4,195 0.04%
Sanath Pinnaduwa National Alliance 3,523 0.03%
M. Mohamed Musthaffa Independent 3,134 0.03%
Battaramulle Seelarathana Thero Jana Setha Peramuna 2,770 0.03%
Senaratna de Silva Patriotic National Front 2,620 0.03%
Aruna de Zoyza Ruhuna People's Party 2,618 0.03%
Upali Sarath Kongahage United National Alternative Front 2,260 0.02%
Muthu Bandara Theminimulla All Are Citizens, All Are Kings Organisation 2,007 0.02%
Valid Votes 10,393,613 100.00%
Rejected Votes 101,838
Total Polled 10,495,451
Registered Electors 14,088,500
Turnout 74.50%
Source: Department of Elections, Sri Lanka
e • d Summary of the 2010 Sri Lankan parliamentary election
Alliances and parties Votes % Seats
District National Total
  United People's Freedom Alliance 4,846,388 60.33% 127 17 144
  United National Front3 2,357,057 29.34% 51 9 60
  Tamil National Alliance4 233,190 2.90% 13 1 14
  Democratic National Alliance 441,251 5.49% 5 2 7
Independent lists 38,947 0.48% 0 0 0
  Up-Country People's Front2 24,670 0.31% 0 0 0
Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal 20,284 0.25% 0 0 0
  Sinhalaye Mahasammatha Bhoomiputra Pakshaya 12,170 0.15% 0 0 0
  Tamil United Liberation Front 9,223 0.11% 0 0 0
  Tamil National People's Front5 7,544 0.09% 0 0 0
  Democratic People's Liberation Front 6,036 0.08% 0 0 0
Sri Lanka National Front 5,313 0.07% 0 0 0
Others 31,644 0.39% 0 0 0
Valid Votes 8,033,717 100.00% 196 29 225
Rejected Votes 596,972
Total Polled 8,630,689
Registered Electors 14,088,500
Turnout 61.26%
Source: Department of Elections, Sri Lanka
1. The EPDP contested separately in Vanni and with the United People's Freedom Alliance in all other districts.
2. The UCPF contested separately in Badulla and Nuwara Eliya, and with the United People's Freedom Alliance in all other districts.
3. The UNF contested under the name and symbol of United National Party.
4. The TNA contested under the name and symbol of Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi.
5. The TNPF contested under the name and symbol of All Ceylon Tamil Congress.

Administrative divisions[edit]

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[edit]

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[edit]

Under the Indo-Sri Lankan Accord of July 1987—and the resulting 13th amendment to the constitution—the 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[edit]

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[edit]

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
  • Supreme Court of Sri Lanka
  • Court of Appeal of Sri Lanka
  • High Court of Sri Lanka
  • District Courts
  • Magistrate's Courts
  • Primary Courts

Foreign relations of Sri Lanka[edit]

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, AsDB, 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[edit]

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[edit]


  • 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.

External links[edit]