Politics of Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is a semi-presidential representative democratic republic, whereby the President of Sri Lanka is both head of state and head of government, and it relies on a multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the President on the advice of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet of Ministers. Legislative power is vested in the Parliament. For decades, the party system was 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 Economist Intelligence Unit rated Sri Lanka a "flawed democracy" in 2019.[1]

Executive branch

Main office-holders
Office Name Party Since
President Ranil Wickremesinghe[note 1] United National Party 21 July 2022
Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena Mahajana Eksath Peramuna 22 July 2022

The president, directly elected for a five-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

The Parliament has 225 members, elected for a five-year term, 196 members elected in multi-seat constituencies and 29 by proportional representation.

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 can dissolve Parliament at any time after one year from the General Elections (except in a few limited circumstances). The President can also dissolve Parliament before the completion of one year, if requested to do so by resolution signed by at least half the MPs. Parliament reserves the power to make all laws. Since its independence in 1948, Sri Lanka has remained a member of the Commonwealth of Nations.

Political parties and elections

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. Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa was nominated the SLFP candidate and former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe as the UNP candidate. The election was held on 17 November 2005, and Mahinda Rajapaksa was elected the 5th Executive President of Sri Lanka winning 50.3% of valid votes, compared to Ranil Wickremesinghe's 48.4%. Mahinda Rajapaksa took oath as president on 19 November 2005. Ratnasiri Wickremanayake was appointed the 22nd Prime Minister on 21 November 2005, to fill the post vacated by Mahinda Rajapaksa. He was previously Prime Minister from 2000 until 2001.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa lost the 2015 presidential elections, ending his ten-year presidency. However, his successor, President Maithripala Sirisena, decided not to seek re-election in 2019.[3] This enabled the Rajapaksa family to regain power in the 2019 presidential elections. Mahinda Rajapaksa's younger brother and former wartime defence chief Gotabaya Rajapaksa won the election, and was sworn in as the 7th Executive President of Sri Lanka.[4][5] The Rajapaksa's firm grip of power consolidated in the parliamentary elections held in August 2020. The family's political party Sri Lanka People's Front (known by its Sinhala initials SLPP) won a landslide victory and a clear majority in the parliament, and five members of the Rajapaksa family won a seat in the parliament. Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa became the new prime minister.[6]

2019 presidential election

Gotabaya RajapaksaSri Lanka Podujana Peramuna6,924,25552.25
Sajith PremadasaNew Democratic Front5,564,23941.99
Anura Kumara DissanayakaNational Movement for People's Power418,5533.16
Mahesh SenanayakeNational People's Party49,6550.37
M. L. A. M. HizbullahIndependent38,8140.29
Ariyawansa DissanayakeDemocratic United National Front34,5370.26
Ajantha PereraSocialist Party of Sri Lanka27,5720.21
Rohan PallewatteNational Development Front25,1730.19
Siripala AmarasingheIndependent15,2850.12
Milroy FernandoIndependent13,6410.10
M. K. ShivajilingamIndependent12,2560.09
Battaramulle SeelarathanaJana Setha Peramuna11,8790.09
Ajantha de ZoysaRuhunu Janatha Peramuna11,7050.09
Anuruddha PolgampolaIndependent10,2190.08
Namal RajapaksaNational Unity Alliance9,4970.07
Jayantha KetagodaIndependent9,4670.07
Duminda NagamuwaFrontline Socialist Party8,2190.06
Aparekke PunnanandaIndependent7,6110.06
Subramanium GunaratnamOur National Front7,3330.06
A. S. P. LiyanageSri Lanka Labour Party6,4470.05
Piyasiri WijenayakeIndependent4,6360.03
Aruna de ZoysaDemocratic National Movement4,2180.03
Rajiva WijesinhaIndependent4,1460.03
Illiyas Idroos MohamedIndependent3,9870.03
Siritunga JayasuriyaUnited Socialist Party3,9440.03
Sarath KeerthirathnaIndependent3,5990.03
Sarath ManamendraNew Sinhala Heritage3,3800.03
Pani WijesiriwardeneSocialist Equality Party3,0140.02
Ashoka WadigamangawaIndependent2,9240.02
A. H. M. AlaviIndependent2,9030.02
Saman PereraOur Power of People Party2,3680.02
Priyantha EdirisingheOkkoma Wesiyo Okkoma Rajawaru Sanwidhanaya2,1390.02
Samaraweera WeerawanniIndependent2,0670.02
Bedde Gamage NandimithraNava Sama Samaja Party1,8410.01
Samansiri HerathIndependent9760.01
Valid votes13,252,49998.99
Invalid/blank votes135,4521.01
Total votes13,387,951100.00
Registered voters/turnout15,992,09683.72
Source: Election Commission

2020 parliamentary election

Summary of the 2020 Sri Lankan parliamentary election[7][8][9]
Alliances and partiesVotes%Seats
National People's Power
Tamil National People's Front[lower-roman 9]
 Eelam People's Democratic Party61,4640.53%202
 United National Party (Ranil wing)249,4352.15%011
Our Power of People's Party
Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal67,6920.58%101
 Sri Lanka Freedom Party[lower-roman 5]66,5790.57%101
Muslim National Alliance55,9810.48%101
Tamil People's National Alliance
 All Ceylon Makkal Congress[lower-roman 6]43,3190.37%101
 National Congress[lower-roman 2]39,2720.34%101
 Sri Lanka Muslim Congress[lower-roman 7]34,4280.30%101
United Peace Alliance31,0540.27%000
All Lanka Tamil Mahasabha30,0310.26%000
National Development Front14,6860.13%000
 Frontline Socialist Party14,5220.13%000
Social Democratic Party of Tamils11,4640.10%000
 Tamil United Liberation Front9,8550.08%000
Socialist Party of Sri Lanka9,3680.08%000
People's Welfare Front7,3610.06%000
Sinhalese National Front5,0560.04%000
 New Democratic Front4,8830.04%000
United Left Front4,8790.04%000
Liberal Party of Sri Lanka4,3450.04%000
National People's Party3,8130.03%000
Democratic United National Front3,6110.03%000
National Democratic Front3,4880.03%000
Sri Lanka Labour Party3,1340.03%000
 Democratic Left Front2,9640.03%000
New Sinhala Heritage1,3970.01%000
 United Socialist Party1,1890.01%000
Motherland People's Party1,0870.01%000
 Eelavar Democratic Front1,0350.01%000
 Socialist Equality Party7800.01%000
 Lanka Sama Samaja Party[lower-roman 4]7370.01%000
All Are Citizens All Are Kings Organization6320.01%000
 Democratic Unity Alliance1450.00%000
Valid Votes11,598,929100.00%19629225
Rejected Votes744,3736.03%
Total Polled12,343,30275.89%
Registered Electors16,263,885
    1. The SLPFA contested under the name and symbol of SLPP.
    2. The NC contested separately in two districts (Ampara and Polonnaruwa) and with the SLPFA in other districts.
    3. The DLF contested separately in two districts (Jaffna and Vanni) and with the SLPFA in other districts.
    4. The LSSP contested separately in one district (Jaffna) and with the SLPFA in other districts.
    5. The SLFP contested separately in three districts (Jaffna, Kalutara and Nuwara Eliya) and with the SLPFA in other districts.
    6. The ACMC contested separately in one district (Ampara) and with the SJB in other districts.
    7. The SLMC contested separately in one district (Batticaloa) and with the SJB in other districts.
    8. The TNA contested under the name and symbol of ITAK.
    9. The TNPF contested under the name and symbol of ACTC.

Administrative divisions

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

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

Under the Indo-Sri Lankan Accord of July 1987and the resulting 13th amendment to the constitutionthe 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

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 24 Municipal Councils, 41 Urban Councils and 276 Pradeshiya Sabhas.

Judicial branch

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

Foreign relations of Sri Lanka

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, ADB, 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

The growing interest of other countries in making their claims to Sri Lanka's strategic assets has been generating heated discussion among national and international circles. Worth noting, China, India and Japan's involvement in Sri Lankan seaport developments is a direct consequence of the ongoing tussle among these three nations to get a firm foothold in this very strategically located island state of Sri Lanka.[10]

Political pressure groups

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, Sri Lanka trade unions; and NGOs have taken lead roles as political pressure groups.

See also


  1. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was appointed as the Acting President on 14 July 2022 following the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa[2]


  1. "Democracy Index 2021: the China challenge". Economist Intelligence Unit. Retrieved 2022-02-16.
  2. "PM Ranil Wickremesinghe sworn in as Sri Lanka's interim president". Al Jazeera. 15 July 2022. Retrieved 16 July 2022.
  3. "President Maithripala Sirisena to not contest Sri Lanka polls". www.aljazeera.com.
  4. "Sri Lanka's ruling party calls an election, hoping for a landslide". The Economist. 5 March 2020.
  5. Bastians, Dharisha; Schultz, Kai (17 November 2019). "Gotabaya Rajapaksa Wins Sri Lanka Presidential Election". The New York Times.
  6. "Mahinda Rajapaksa sworn in as Sri Lanka's PM".
  7. "2020 Sri Lankan Parliamentary Elections". Rajagiriya, Sri Lanka: Election Commission of Sri Lanka. Retrieved 7 August 2020.
  8. "Parliamentary Election 2020". The Daily Mirror. Colombo, Sri Lanka. Retrieved 7 August 2020.
  9. "Official Election Results Parliamentary Election - 2020 - Sri Lanka". news.lk. Colombo, Sri Lanka: Department of Government Information. Retrieved 7 August 2020.
  10. Weerakoon, Dushni (June 20, 2019). "Rivals Competing over Sri Lanka's Seaports". OpedColumn.News.Blog.


  • 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.

Further reading

  • Robert C. Oberst. "Federalism and Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka", Publius, Vol. 18, No. 3, The State of American Federalism, 1987 (Summer, 1988), pp. 175–193
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