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  Sri Lanka::  

7 00 N, 81 00 E
4 February (1948)
65,610 sq km


Government and politics

The President of the Republic is directly elected for a six-year term and serves as Head of State, Head of Government and Commander in Chief of the armed forces. 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 vote of Parliament, with the agreement by 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.

In post-independence Sri Lanka, a significant hallmark was the conflict between the socialist government headed by Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike and the "capitalist" mainstream press. This conflict culminated in the take-over ("broadbasing") of the country's largest newspaper group through the Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd. (Special Provisions) Act 1973.

The Sri Lankan Parliament is a unicameral 225-member legislature. Members are elected by universal (adult) suffrage based on a modified proportional representation system by district to a six-year term. The primary modification is that the party that receives the largest number of valid votes in each constituency gains a unique "bonus seat" (see Hickman, 1999). The president may summon, suspend, or end a legislative session and dissolve Parliament any time after it has served for one year. Parliament reserves the power to make all laws. Since its independence in 1948, Sri Lanka has remained a member of the Commonwealth of Nations.

Parliament was dissolved on February 7, 2004 by President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. Elections were held on April 4 and the new Parliament convened on April 23 and elected Mahinda Rajapaksa as the Prime Minister.

In August 2005, the Supreme Court ruled that Presidential Elections would be held in November 2005, resolving a long-running dispute on the length of President Kumaratunga's term. Mahinda Rajapaksa was nominated the SLFP candidate even though the party leader and President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga did not support his campaign. The former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was nominated the UNP candidate and had the backing of minority parties.

The Election was held on November 17, 2005, and Mahinda Rajapaksa was elected the fifth Executive President of Sri Lanka with a 50.29% of valid votes, compared to Ranil Wickremesinghe's 48.43%. Mahinda Rajapaksa took oath as President on November 19, 2005. Ratnasiri Wickremanayake was appointed the 22nd Prime Minister on November 21, 2005, to fill the post vacated by Mahinda Rajapaksa. He was previously Prime Minister in 2000. His narrow victory was largely due to the mass support from the Southern Sinhala-Buddhist voters. Also, in the North, the LTTE boycotted the election, thereby preventing thousands of Tamils living in the areas under their control from voting, and so Wickremasinghe, whose election promises included a Federal state to the North and East, from taking power.

Rajapaksa offers less autonomy than Wickremasinghe to the northeast, home to most of Sri Lanka's 3.2 million ethnic Tamils. However, since taking the office, Rajapaksa has offered to have peace talks with the LTTE on a permanent solution to the conflict.

Foreign relations of Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka generally follows a non-aligned foreign policy but has been seeking closer relations with the United States since December 1977. It participates in multilateral diplomacy, particularly at the United Nations, where it seeks to promote sovereignty, independence, and development in the developing world. Sri Lanka was a founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). It also is a member of the Commonwealth, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, Asian Development Bank, and the Colombo Plan. Sri Lanka continues its active participation in the NAM, while also stressing the importance it places on regionalism by playing a strong role in SAARC.

Ethnic groups

Sinhalese 73.8%, Sri Lankan Muslims 7.2%, Indian Tamil 4.6%, Sri Lankan Tamil 18%, other 1%

The History

Sri Lanka possesses a written history of over 2,500 years and an unwritten history of over 125,000 years attested to by archaeological ruins and other evidence, of more than 125,000 years on the island of Heladiva ('Sri Lanka') Historical chronicles are found in stone writings ('sel lipi'), leaf writings ('Hela Atuva') and also in great Indian chronicles as Mahabharata and the Ramayana. The main historical written evidence is the Mahavamsa, also including Dipavamsa & Chulavamsa . The island presently known as 'Sri Lanka' was originally known as 'Sinhale' or 'Heladiva' Comprising of naga, yaksha, deva & raksha tribes for over 30 millennia.

Pre and Proto history

During the last million years, when humans are known to have existed, Sri Lanka was connected to the sub-continent on numerous occasions. The rise and fall of sea level (due to cold/warm fluctuations in the global climate), & various tsunamis determined the periodicities of these connections, the last separation having occurred at ca. 7000 BP. There is secure evidence of settlements in Sri Lanka by 130,000 years ago, probably by 300,000 BP and possibly by 500,000 BP or earlier.

Paleolithic human settlements by 125,000 year-old people using chert and quartz tools have been discovered at excavations in several cave sites in the Western Plains region and the South-Western face of the Central Hills region. The island is estimated to have been colonised by the Balangoda people (named after the area where their remains were discovered) about 34,000 years ago. They have been identified as a group of Mesolithic hunter gatherers who lived in caves. Several of these caves including the well known Batadombalena and the Fa-Hien Rock cave) have yielded many artefacts that points to them being the first inhabitants of the island.

It is estimated that during certain pluvial episodes in South Asia, as at ca. 125,000 BP, the population density in the Dry Zone of northern, eastern and southern Sri Lanka (for ecozones v. ibid.: app. I) could have ranged between 1.5 and 0.8 individuals per square kilometre, whereas the Wet Zone in the west would have had densities of 0.1 or less.

Paleo-anthropologists have shown that burial rites and certain decorative artifacts show similarities between the first inhabitants of the island and the early Dravidian inhabitants of southern India.

The Balangoda people appear to have been responsible for creating Horton Plains, in the central hills, by burning the trees in order to catch game. However, discovery of Oats and Barley on the plains dating to about 15,000 BC suggest they may have engaged in agriculture.

Several minute granite tools of about 4 centimeters in length, earthenware and remnants of charred timber, and clay burial pots that date back to the Stone Age Mesolithic Man who lived 8000 years ago have been discovered during recent excavations around a cave at Varana Raja Maha vihara & also in Kalatuwawa area.

Cinnamon, which is native to Sri Lanka, was in use in Ancient Egypt in about 1500 BC, suggesting that there were trading links with the island. It is possible that Biblical Tarshish was located on the island (James Emerson Tennant identified it with Galle).

A large settlement appears to have been founded before 900 BC at the site of Anuradhapura and signs of an Iron Age culture have also been found. The size of the settlement was about 15 hectares at that date, but it expanded to 50 ha, to 'town' size within a couple of centuries. A similar site has been discovered at Aligala in Sigiriya.

One of the first references to the island is found in the epic Ramayana. The Ramayana tells the story of Rama (an incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu), Rama invaded the island through the Mannar causeway with the help of Vanara Army, to save his abducted wife, Sita, from Ravana the King of Sri Lanka. Plenty of archaeological evidence of been found that are supportive of the fact that Ravana did indeed rule over the island from his capitol.

While a majority of present day Sri Lankans are of Indian origin, it is believed that many of the first inhabitants also integrated with those of Indian origin. However, it is suspected that the hunter gatherer people known as the Wanniyala-Aetto or Veddas, who still live in the North-Eastern parts of the island, are relatively direct descendants of the first inhabitants.

The earliest chronicles The Dipavamsa and Mahavamsa say that, before the migration of the Indo-Aryans, tribes of Yakkhas (demons) and Nagas (cobras) inhabited the island. These names might refer to the tribal totems of the people living in the island.

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