Sri Lanka president set to cement grip

September 7, 2010 (AFP) – Sri Lanka’s parliament will vote Wednesday on constitutional reforms enabling President Mahinda Rajapakse to seek a third term, in changes critics say point to the country’s slide into autocracy. Under the proposed amendments, the two-term limit will be scrapped, allowing the populist Rajapakse, who was resoundingly re-elected for the second time in January, to stand at the next polls, scheduled for 2016.

A draft bill was cleared on Tuesday by the Supreme Court, which informed parliament that the constitution could be changed by a two-thirds majority vote — something Rajapakse, 64, looks almost certain to secure.

The amendment also hands him greater control over nominally independent institutions, giving him powers to appoint officials to key posts in the judiciary, police, election commission and central bank.

Rajapakse, who oversaw the defeat of the Tamil Tiger rebels in May last year after decades of conflict, already stands accused of using the immense power of his office to stifle any opposition.

“The amendment is seen as marking the end of liberal democracy in Sri Lanka,” the Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission said, labelling the day “Black Wednesday.”

R