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Sri Lanka cabinet approves constitutional changes to remove presidential term limits

The Sri Lankan cabinet on Monday approved proposed constitutional reforms [press release] that would permit current President Mahinda Rajapaksa [official website] to seek an unlimited number of terms in office. The current number of terms for the executive, codified within Chapter VII of the Sri Lankan Constitution [materials], is limited to two. The proposed amendment now moves to the legislature, where two-thirds of Parliament [official website] will have to approve the change. The amendment is scheduled to be presented in Parliament [press release, text] on September 8, and it is widely believed that Rajapaksa enjoys enough support [Xinhua report] in that body to allow the amendment to easily pass. Critics of the president say he is abusing his power [Taiwan News report] and attempting to "create a family dynasty". The Sri Lankan Supreme Court [official website] must also review the amendment to make sure it is not inconsistent with any other portion of the constitution.

While the proposed amendment would allow Rajapaksa to make a bid for an unlimited number of terms in office, his second term has not yet begun, though he easily achieved victory [NYT report] in January elections. Rajapaksa is a consistently popular figure within Sri Lanka, primarily for his efforts in defeating the Tamil Tiger [JURIST news archive] rebels within Sri Lanka. That victory was not without cost, however, as numerous questions have been raised about the government's actions during the conflict, including the treatment of prisoners. Earlier this month, the Sri Lankan defense minister defended [JURIST report] the government's actions during the conflict. In July, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on the Sri Lankan Government [JURIST report] to improve conditions around UN offices in Colombo after a UN announcement [JURIST report] of the formation of an international panel to investigate human rights abuses during the war resulted in days of pro-government protests [JURIST report] near UN offices.

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