Colombo, May 17: Sri Lanka’s new Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, who has been the butt of criticism and derision for the way he was catapulted to power by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, consolidated his power on Tuesday, when the government-side two votes.
The nominee of the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), Ajith Rajapakse, won the secret ballot for the post of Deputy Speaker of Parliament. And opposition MP M.A.Sumanthiran’s proposal to suspend the Parliament Standing Orders to take up the debate on the motion expressing displeasure against President Gotabaya Rajapaksa as a matter of urgency, was defeated.
Both results showed that the government, backed by the ruling SLPP, is still in intact and enjoying majority support in parliament. The government, formerly headed by Mahinda Rajapaksa, is now headed by Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Ajith Rajapakse (no relation of Mahinda and Gotabaya Rajapaksa) obtained 109 votes, a majority of 31 votes as opposed to 78 obtained by Rohini Kumari Wijerathna, the main opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya’s nominee. The Deputy Speaker position was vacant after Ranjith Siyambalapitiya resigned from the post.
Ruling party MPs, Mahinda Rajapaksa and his son Namal Rajapaksa, were absent during the vote for the Deputy Speaker, while at least two MPs whose arrest has been advised by the Attorney General were present in the House.
The proposal to suspend Parliament Standing Orders to take up the debate on the motion expressing displeasure against President Gotabaya Rajapaksa as a matter of urgency was defeated by a majority vote of 51 votes. A total of 119 lawmakers had voted against the motion while 68 voted in favor. The motion expressing displeasure against the President will not be taken up for debate in the House as a “matter of urgency”.
Sri Lanka’s main opposition SJB on Monday decided to support the new government under Prime Minister Wickremesinghe for the sake of the country’s economic recovery, the party said. However, if the government tries to accommodate defectors from the SJB or connect them to any policies against the SJB’s principles, support will be withdrawn.
“As a responsible political party, Samagi Jana Balawegaya believes saving the country from the current crisis is of utmost importance,” the SJB said in a statement. “Accordingly, without taking any portfolio and on behalf of the betterment of the country, SJB in its parliamentary group discussion today decided to fully support the current government in its efforts on economic recovery.”
However, SJB MPs Harin Fernando and Manusha Nanayakkara have written to the Prime Minister requesting answers to several questions before deciding on supporting the new Government. Among the questions are: the time period for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s exit, what legal action is proposed to be taken against those who attacked peaceful “Gota Go Gama” protesters and against those who conspired to stage the August 2019 Easter Sunday attacks in which 270 people died.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe requested MPs to frame a new Code of Conduct and a Parliamentary Standards Act. “If this is not done, the confrontational culture of Parliament will not change and soon, MPs will not be allowed to attend Parliament,” he warned, referring to the bid by protesters to prevent MPs from entering or leaving parliament as part of the “Gota Go Home” agitation.
Meanwhile, the Attorney General’s Department directed the CID to arrest 22 suspects, including MPs Johnston Fernando, Sanath Nishantha, Sanjeeva Edirimanna and Senior DIG Western Province, “if sufficient evidence is available against them over the attack on protesters near Temple Trees and Galle Face on May 9.”
Sanath Nishantha was arrested on May 17 Tuesday.
The Department has also instructed the CID to record the statements of those on whom foreign travel bans have been imposed. There is a foreign travel ban on former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, among others.
Former Provincial Council member Amal Silva and an employee of the Moratuwa Municipal Council have already been taken into custody over the unrest.
Trade Union Actions
Meanwhile, a series of protests is expected to be launched on Wednesday across the island against the “arbitrary” arrests made in the wake of the unrest that broke out last week, the Trade Union Coordinating Centre (TUCC) has said.
Addressing a media, the co-convener of TUCC Wasantha Samarasinghe said the protests will be carried on for three days. He said the trade unions hope to seek legal action against those who incited violence from inside the Temple Trees, the Prime Minister’s official residence, on May 9. The trade unions will compel the government and the Inspector-General of Police to take them into custody, Samarasinghe added.
The chief secretary of the Ceylon Teachers’ Union (CTU), Mahinda Jayasinghe, said the teachers and principals will support this series of trade union action.