A representative, democratic system of government has existed in Sri Lanka since the termination of British rule in 1948. Elections are regularly held, and citizens over 18 years of age may vote. Fairly contested elections have resulted in several orderly changes of government since independence.
As provided for by the constitution of 1978, the government is headed by an executive president elected directly by popular vote from a national electorate. The president selects a cabinet of ministers and other noncabinet ministers from the parliament. The president is also the commander in chief of the armed forces—army, navy, and air force.
The national parliament consists of more than 200 members. The system of proportional representation that operates at these elections ensures that the number of parliamentary seats secured by each party is roughly proportional to the number of votes received by the party at the polls.
Among the political parties in Sri Lanka, the conservative and the more liberal have dominated the political arena since independence. Successive governments have been led by one or the other of these two parties, which, at times, formed coalitions with the smaller parties.
Sri Lanka's constitution provides for certain functions of government to be devolved to provincial councils (palāth sabhā). In addition, the country has a system of local government comprising municipal councils and urban councils.
The independence of Sri Lanka's judiciary is protected by the constitution. The Supreme Court is the highest appellate court and the final arbiter in constitutional disputes. The Court of Appeal, High Court, district courts, magistrate's courts, and primary courts occupy, successively, the lower levels of the hierarchy. The common law of Sri Lanka is based largely on Roman-Dutch law. Principles drawn from indigenous legal traditions are applied to aspects of civil law concerning certain communities.
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For more travel and background information on Sri Lanka, read our Sri Lanka Guide and the travel tips, helping you to make the most out of your holiday in Sri Lanka.