Sri Lanka is a democratic republic with an executive presidency. Under the 1978 constitution the president is head of state and government. The president is elected by popular vote for a six-year term. The Eighteenth Amendment, enacted in September 2010, removed the limit on the number of terms a president may serve, previously set at two.
The president is responsible to parliament for the exercise of duties in accordance with the constitution and laws. The incumbent may be removed from office by a two-thirds majority vote in parliament and the agreement 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. The prime minister’s role is relatively ceremonial.
The Sri Lankan Parliament is a unicameral, 225-member legislature. Members are elected by universal suffrage based on proportional representation for a six-year term. Vacant seats during the life of a parliament go to nominees of the party holding the seat. Amendments to the constitution may be made, subject to a two-thirds majority in parliament. However, to amend certain entrenched articles of the constitution, approval in a national referendum is also required.
The judicial system comprises the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal, the High Court, and the district, magistrates’ and primary courts. Appeals from the High Court and lower courts come before the Court of Appeal. The Supreme Court is the final court of appeal.
The High Court has jurisdiction in criminal matters, the district court in civil matters.
Judges of the Supreme Court are appointed by the president, others by the Judicial Service Commission.
Popularly referred to as the Pearl of the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka appears to have been inhabited from as early as 125,000 BC. The first Sinhalese came to Sri Lanka late in the sixth century B.C. and Buddhism began to establish itself in Sri Lanka from about the mid-third century B.C.
The island became a British crown colony in 1802 and achieved independence in 1948. The first prime minister of independent Sri Lanka was D. S. Senanayake, one of the leaders of the independence movement and head of the United National Party (UNP). In 1956 the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) won a decisive electoral victory.
The island’s name was changed from Ceylon to Sri Lanka in 1972.
War broke out in Sri Lanka in 1983 between the Sinhalese majority and Tamil separatists. After about twenty years of conflict, the government and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) formalised a cease-fire in February 2002. By May 2009, the government declared that it had defeated the vestiges of the LTTE.