The political crisis escalated further with the Aragalaya protest movement forcing President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to unceremoniously leave the country through an air force flight under the protection of the Armed Forces and the subsequent appointment of the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe as Acting President. The Sri Lankan Air Force said the plane was provided to the president after full approval from the Ministry of Defense for immigration, customs and other laws to fly to the Maldives, as he is entitled to such facilities as president.
The development comes days after he gave in to protesters’ months-long demand to leave the presidential office as they blamed him for the worst economic crisis in decades. Protesters’ refusal to accept Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe as interim president until parliament elects a new president and the storming of Sirimathipaya, the Prime Minister’s Office, has led to a new crisis of order public with the imposition of a state of emergency and an island-wide curfew. Western Province which was lifted at 5am yesterday.
Section 40(1)(a) of the Constitution and Section 3(1) of the Act provide that Parliament elects one of its members to serve as Speaker. This election must take place within one month from the date of the vacancy. The new president will then serve the remainder of the current presidential term, which ends in November 2024. The whole process, if followed correctly and in good faith, is simple.
President Mahinda Yapa Abeywaedane said nominations would be accepted on Monday (18) and a new president would then be elected by Parliament in accordance with the Constitution. If more than one candidate is nominated, an election must be held. On the date fixed for the election, each deputy is authorized to vote for one candidate. Members can also cast second and third preference votes, if there are multiple candidates. Article 11 of the law on the election of the president provides that if a candidate obtains more than half of the valid votes cast, the secretary general must declare this candidate elected to the office of president. If no candidate obtains more than fifty percent of the valid votes, the second and third preferential votes will be counted. For example, if three or more candidates are nominated, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated from the competition. The second preference votes of the members who voted for this eliminated candidate are then counted and added to the tally of the remaining candidates. The procedure ultimately ensures that a candidate is elected to the office of president. If all goes as planned and in accordance with the law, a new president will be elected by parliament on July 20.
Meanwhile, the Mahasangha and leaders of other religions have made a fervent appeal to the people to remain calm and peaceful. The Commander of the Defense Services, the Commanders of the Army, Air Force and Navy and the Inspector General of Police issued a joint appeal for peace and the maintenance of public order . They also called on protesters not to resort to vandalism and the destruction of public property.
Given the severe economic crisis and the shortage of fuel, gas and other essentials, it is imperative to quickly restore a functioning government. It should be noted that the violence and political chaos rocking the country came amid negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) over a bailout package, as well as proposals to restructure Sri Lanka’s sovereign debt, which both could be thrown into disarray if there is instability in government.
If many people did not accept the acts of vandalism of a part of the radical youth, they also recognize the role played by the protest movement of Aragalaya in the “change of system”. The movement had started in March, when thousands of people took to the streets to express their anger at the long power cuts and soaring prices, and to call on the government to resign. The protest, which began on April 9, reached its peak on July 9. In the middle of the protest, there was a visible decline but the energetic leaders of the movement managed to revive it and keep it going until it was successful beyond their wildest hopes. . Within weeks, hundreds of thousands of people descended on Colombo.
On trains, buses, trucks and bicycles, or simply on foot, huge crowds converged on Colombo last Saturday, outnumbering security forces deployed to protect government buildings and upending Sri Lankan politics. After initially clashing with police, protesters occupied key government buildings – the President’s House, the Presidential Secretariat, Temple Trees, the official residence and finally Sirimathipaya, the Prime Minister’s office.
As the world watches the situation with concern, global and regional powers as well as the UN Secretary-General have called for a constitutional transition of power without resorting to violence.
The need of the hour is the speedy restoration of law and order and the establishment of a stable government to deal with the economic crisis and bring relief to the people. Political leaders as well as young leaders of Aragalaya should realize this and lend their support and cooperation to these efforts for the good of the homeland.