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SC ruling pushes Lanka towards polls

Colombo, Oct. 22 (Reuters): Sri Lanka could be headed for a snap election after the Supreme Court ruled today the government had to call a referendum if it wanted constitutional changes to limit the President’s power to dissolve parliament.

The government has already rejected the idea of a referendum and said it could go to the polls, which would delay a peace process that has brought about the first direct talks in seven years aimed at ending an ethnic war that has killed 64,000 people.

In a widely leaked ruling read out by Parliament Speaker Joseph Michael Perera, the court said changes to clip President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s powers had to be passed by two-thirds of parliament “and approved by the people at a referendum”.

Kumaratunga is elected separately from the government and has been critical of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s efforts to end two decades of war with the LTTE. There was no immediate comment from the government. Constitutional affairs minister G.L. Peiris said last week the government would consider an election if the Supreme Court ruled for a referendum.

The constitution gives Kumaratunga broad powers — to control the military and dissolve parliament — that cannot be overridden without a two-thirds majority of parliament, a total that even with coalition partners Wickremesinghe is far short of.

Kumaratunga is expected to make a televised speech to the nation on Thursday night.

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