Thursday, January 14, 2010

Rajapaksa says govt. considering bicameral legislature

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa has offered to create a second chamber in the parliament as part of moves to give greater representation to provinces, especially the Tamil-dominated North and East.

Stepping up his bid to woo the minority Tamils, Rajapaksa said his government is considering bringing a constitutional amendment to create a bicameral legislature that will allow greater say to the provinces in the parliament.

Rajapaksa, who is seeking re-election in the January 26 polls, also gave an assurance that provincial election for the Northern province, the once LTTE stronghold, would be held soon after the parliamentary polls this year.

Rajapaksa and his main contender, former top General Sarath Fonseka, both Sinhalese, have launched strong bids to woo Tamil voters, whose support can turn out to be decisive.

The Parliament of Sri Lanka is a unicameral 225-member legislature elected by universal suffrage and proportional representation, elections for which are due in April.

Interacting with the foreign media yesterday, Rajapaksa said all political parties were not satisfied with proposals of the All Party Representative Committee on devolution of power for Tamils, and if re-elected he would infuse inputs at a personal level to make the proposals widely acceptable.

He also indicated that he was not in favour of large devolution of police powers, as suggested by the committee, to provinces due to security aspects.

The All Party Representative Committee (APRC), set up in 2006, is currently working to finalise its report recommending a power devolution formula. The interim report of the committee was submitted to Rajapaksa on January 23, 2008.

Among other things, it suggested recruitment of Tamil speaking police personnel, procurement of equipment to transact business in Tamil language and induction of interpreters in the North.

The recommendations stated that special arrangements are necessary to permit maximum devolution of powers to the Northern and Eastern provinces under the 13th amendment that calls for setting up of autonomous provincial councils. The Eastern Provincial elections were held in May, 2008.

The President said the creation of a second chamber in Parliament would necessitate an amendment to the constitution and that would also hinge on the new Parliament arithmetic after the elections in April.

Rajapaksa told reporters that he would hold discussions with various Tamil groups for conducting the Northern Provincial election. Tamils constitute over 12.5 per cent of the 20 million population.

He would also consult all parties for arriving at a consensus on a political solution to the ethnic conflict that is acceptable to all stakeholders.

Rajapaksa also defended the continuance of the army camps in North and East and said “military camps will have to be there as it is necessary”. He said the protracted war with LTTE might have ended but there were remnant groups trying to operate from abroad. – (The Indian Express)

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