The Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka is a unitary semi‐presidential constitutional republic. The Head of the State is the President and is elected on a five‐year term for a maximum of two terms. The president heads the government and is also the commander‐in‐chief of the armed forces.
The President heads the cabinet and he/she appoints ministers from elected members of the parliament.
The current system of Presidential government came into being with the passage of the present Constitution in 1978. Under the previous Constitution, which had come into being in 1972, the President was appointed by the Prime Minister and the office of the President was a nominal one as she/he was, except under certain provisions in the Constitution, always required to act on the advice of the Prime Minister or of such other Minister to whom the Prime Minister may have given authority to advise the President on any particular function assigned to the Minister. The present Constitution provides for a President with executive power and who acts as the head of state, head of government and the commander‐in‐chief of the armed forces.
Sri Lanka has a unicameral legislative system. It has a 225‐member parliament with 196 elected in multi‐seat constituencies and 29 elected by proportional representation. The parliament is tasked to draft the laws of the land. The Prime Minister leads in the parliament and also shares a number of executive duties.
There are nine (9) provinces in Sri Lanka. However, initially, only eight (8) Provincial Councils established because the Northern and Eastern provinces were temporarily merged into one in terms of the IndoSri Lanka Agreement of 1987. These were originally established in 1988 for a period of five years and were dissolved in 1993. The North East Provincial Council however ceased to function in 1989 as its administration was taken over by the Government owing to the failure of the administrative machinery. Fresh elections were held in 1993 for seven Provincial Councils. After the Supreme Court decision on demerger of the temporarily merged Northern and Eastern Provincial Councils, the Eastern Provincial Council elections were held. The elections for the Northern Provincial Council were held in September 2013. All the nine Provincial Councils function now. A Provincial Council is an autonomous body and is not under any Ministry. It derives its authority and power from the Constitution and Acts of Parliament and undertakes activities which had earlier been undertaken by the Central Government Ministries, Departments, Corporations and Statutory Authorities.
The powers devolved to the provinces by the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution are Executive powers to Governor and legislative powers for the Provincial Council.
The Provincial Council has power to pass a “‘statute” on any subject that is assigned to it under the Constitution subject to the condition that it should not violate the Constitution. However, if any provision of a statute is inconsistent with the provisions of any law passed by Parliament, then the provisions of the law will prevail over the provisions of the statute. An exception is made in the case of laws that were in existence on the day the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution came into force. If any provision of a statute made by a Council is inconsistent with the provisions of a law that was in existence on that date, the operation of the provisions of such law will remain suspended so long as the statute is in force. Parliament can however subsequently make it inoperative by passing a new law or a resolution, as is provided for under the Constitution.