Wednesday, Oct 05, 2022
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Sri Lanka Crisis: Things To Know

Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had informed both Speaker of Parliament Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena and PM Ranil Wickremesinghe that he will resign on July 13 after protesters stormed his official residence.

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Sri Lanka crisis Photo: AP/PTI

From being a “war hero” to becoming a symbol of hatred who pushed the island nation into an economic and constitutional crisis and fled the country hours before he was supposed to step down in the face of a public revolt, Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa's political destiny has turned a full circle.

The 73-year-old embattled leader, who enjoys immunity from prosecution while he is president, fled to the Maldives along with his wife and two security officials to avoid the possibility of arrest by the new government.

Rajapaksa had informed both Speaker of Parliament Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe that he will resign on July 13 after protesters stormed his official residence in rage over the island nation's worst economic crisis on Saturday.

Speaker Abeywardena says President Rajapaksa will announce his resignation to the nation on Wednesday.

CONSTITUTIONAL ROADMAP

If President Rajapaksa resigns as promised, the constitutional provisions will get activated to elect his successor, according to senior lawyer Kamal Perera.

"There will be two people who would come under immediate focus, the sitting prime minister and the speaker of parliament," lawyer Kamal Perera said.

He cited the Article 40 (c) of the Sri Lankan Constitution which reads "during the period between the occurrence of such vacancy and the assumption of office by the new president, the prime minister shall act in the office of the president...If the prime minister is unable to act, the Speaker shall act in the office of president."

The parliament would then proceed to fill the vacancy by an election among MPs, Perera said. The Article 40 (b) states that such election shall be held as soon as possible after the occurrence of the vacancy and in no case later than one month from the date of occurrence of the vacancy.

The Article 40 (1) says parliament shall elect a president from one of its members who is qualified to be elected to the office of the president. "Such elected person shall hold office only for the unexpired period of the term of office vacating the office."

Perera said the ballot to appoint the successor in parliament would be held according to the Presidential elections Act no 2 of 1981.

In terms of the article 5 of the Act, “The Secretary General of parliament shall inform parliament that a vacancy has occurred. He shall fix a date and time not earlier than 48 hours and not later than seven days from the date of such meeting."

He would act as the returning officer for the election with each member being able to vote. They are able to mark their preferences depending on the number of candidates vying to be elected as president.

KEY PLAYERS

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe: Wickremesinghe was appointed as acting President by President Rajapaksa who fled to the Maldives. Parliament Speaker Abeywardena announced that President Rajapaksa has appointed Prime Minister Wickremesinghe to act to perform his functions while he is abroad.

Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena: Under the Sri Lankan Constitution, if both the president and prime minister resign, the Speaker of parliament will serve as acting president for a maximum of 30 days. The Parliament will elect a new president within 30 days from one of its members, who will hold the office for the remaining two years of the current term.

Opposition leader Sajith Premadasa: Sri Lanka's main opposition party Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) leader Sajith Premadasa has said that his party is ready to lead the next government to bring stability to the bankrupt island nation as it grapples with political and economic crises and any resistance to the move in Parliament will be seen as a "treacherous act".

WHAT HOLDS FOR THE RAJAPAKSA FAMILY?

They reigned supreme with as many as four from the Rajapaksa family in the top echelons of power while two nephews waiting in the wings in the lower rung of Parliament.

"Gotabaya Rajapaksa may have been the most powerful of the Rajapaksa brothers in terms of popular support and the constitutional capacity he wielded as the president, he never had a firm grip in his own party, the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP)," said Kusal Perera a political commentator and writer in Colombo.

The reason was Gotabaya, who had never been a politician, was piggybacking on his brother Mahinda's charisma and political acumen, he said.

"His political position has been weakened substantially. Even his own staff would not stand with him now. No chance for him to make a comeback in order to resume the presidency," Perera said.

"Mahinda would not be a factor anymore, he has become physically weaker with age - no chance he would be politically the same potent charismatic force as he used to be. Not after he was virtually forced out of the Temple Trees (Prime Minister's residence) by massive crowds,” Perera said of the 76-year-old patriarch of the Rajapaksa family who has been the country's president and prime minister.

There is no comeback for the younger sibling and former finance minister Basil Rajapaksa either, Perera said as the SLPP could not expect to perform too well at future elections with no charismatic Rajapaksa in the lead.

Basil, 71, had masterminded the Rajapaksa renaissance by designing the SLPP - the vehicle which regained the glory of the dynasty having been in the dumps between 2015-19.

ECONOMIC CRISIS

Sri Lanka, a country of 22 million people, is under the grip of an unprecedented economic turmoil, the worst in seven decades, leaving millions struggling to buy food, medicine, fuel and other essentials.

Schools have been suspended and fuel has been limited to essential services. Patients are unable to travel to hospitals due to the fuel shortage and food prices are soaring.

Trains have reduced in frequency, forcing travellers to squeeze into compartments and even sit precariously on top of them as they commute to work.

In several major cities, including Colombo, hundreds are forced to stand in line for hours to buy fuel, sometimes clashing with police and the military as they wait.

FOREIGN DEBT

The country, with an acute foreign currency crisis that resulted in foreign debt default, had announced in April that it is suspending nearly USD 7 billion foreign debt repayment due for this year out of about USD 25 billion due through 2026. Sri Lanka's total foreign debt stands at USD 51 billion.

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