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Sri Lanka cabinet votes to remove presidential term limits

The Sri Lankan government announced Friday that the country's Cabinet has voted to remove presidential term limits [press release] that restricted presidents from serving more than two terms in office. The Cabinet also approved changes to the Sri Lankan Constitution [text] to give the president the power to appoint the members commissions that oversee elections and human rights violations and those that oversee police and corruption cases. The Sri Lankan Parliament [official website] must pass the changes by a two-thirds majority before they take effect. The changes are expected to be approved [TOI report] because the ruling coalition of President Mahinda Rajapaksa [official website; JURIST news archive], the United People's Freedom Alliance [party website], controls 144 seats of the 225 member body and has the support of opposition defectors. If approved by parliament, the changes will allow Rajapaksa to run for office again at the conclusion of his current term in 2016. Many members of Rajapaksa's family currently hold high-ranking positions within his government, causing opponents to contend that the true motivation for the change is to allow his family to consolidate power [Times Online report] over the government.

Rajapaksa was first elected president in 2005 and was re-elected in January after dissolving parliament [JURIST report] in February. Rajapaksa's opponent in January was former army chief Sarath Fonseka [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], who was arrested [JURIST report] by the military in February after losing the election. In April, Fonseka appeared before parliament to call for both his freedom and respect for the "rule of law" [JURIST report]. Fonseka argued for his release from what he characterized as an "illegal detention" and a byproduct of injustice. In March, the former chief justice of the Sri Lankan Supreme Court [official website] accused the government [JURIST report] of violating Fonseka's civil rights and the country's constitution.

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