Colombo, April 6 (newsin.asia): The beleaguered Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa revoked the Public Emergency late on April 5, following the defection of 42 MPs from the ruling coalition which had reduced the government’s majority in parliament to two. The government has to have at least 113 MPs in the House of 225. At the end of April 5, it had 114, a wafer thin majority, which it could lose any time.
Due to defecations from the ruling coalition, the “Independent group” in parliament has swelled to 42. The opposition comprises 68 MPs.
42 MPs had broken away from the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) coalition led by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. They were responding to the popular demand that the President quit office, owning responsibility for the current economic crisis marked by sky rocketing prices and shortages of food, fuel and foreign exchange. Power cuts ranging from 5 to 13 hours per day had stretched the patience of Sri Lanka’s 21 million citizens.
Groups of people from various economic classes and age groups continued to gather at public places across the island to shout slogans and hold placards demanding the exit of the President and the Rajapaksas from the government. Two Rajapaksa brothers and two of their sons are Ministers, while sibling Gotabaya Rajapaksa is the Executive President with humongous powers.
On April 5, 42 MPs from the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) and its allies like the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the Ceylon Workers’ Congress, told parliament that they would henceforth sit separately as “Independent groups.”
Foreseeing this, President Gotaabaya Rajapaksa had said on Monday that he would appoint anyone as Prime Minister if he or she came with the support of a minimum of 113 MPs, the minimum needed to form a government. The opposition parties rejected the President’s offer.
The reason for the rejection is that under the Sri Lankan Executive Presidential system, the President is all powerful, especially after the enactment of the 20 th. Amendment which had enhanced the powers of the President to the detriment of the Prime Minister, the cabinet and parliament. With the 20 th. Amendment in place, the President can always over-rule the Prime Minister no matter how many MPs the latter has to back him. And a strong-man like Gotabaya Rajapaksa would certainly not allow a Prime Minister from the ranks of the opposition to function independently and effectively.
This is why Sajith Premadasa, Leader of the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB), the principal opposition party, demanded the abolition of the Executive Presidency. To manage the interim period, he requested the Speaker to seek the resignation of the President. But the Speaker said that the constitution has no provision for making such a request. He told the MPs to settle the issue politically.
The first government group to announce its exit was the 11-party outfit led by former Ministers Wimal Weerawansa and Udaya Gammanpila. 17 MPs from this group decided to function as an independent group. The Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) leader Maithripala Sirisena said that the 16 MPs of his party have decided to function as an independent group. Seeing the writing on the wall, Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) MP and former Minister Anura Priyadharshana Yapa announced that 12 SLPP MPs have decided to function independently. The Tamil Progressive Alliance has said that it would support the government if it repealed the 20 th.Amendment.
Newly Appointed Finance Minister Quits
Meanwhile, the newly appointed Finance Minister Ali Sabry tendered his resignation to the President saying that the Ministry of Finance should be in the hands of an expert in the field of economic and finance given the complexity of the economic and financial situation. Sabry is a lawyer. He even offered to resign from his seat in parliament to enable the SLPP to nominate a financial expert in his place and give him the Finance portfolio.
Finance Secretary A.R.Attygalle also quit. The Central Governor Ajith Nivard Cabraal had already resigned and P.Nandalal Weerasinghe, the Deputy Governor, had taken his place. Last weekend, two State Ministers had quit from their posts.
What will Gotabaya Do?
What President Gotabaya Rajapaksa will do now, with so many of his crew jumping ship, is the million-dollar question now. Will he resign seeing the writing on the wall or will he hang on regardless of his growing unpopularity?
Most political observers, who know his mindset expect him to stay put and fight, touting Highway Minister Johnston Fernando’s argument that he still enjoys a mandate given by 6.9 million voters in the last Presidential election.
Rajapaksa might go along with the United National Party (UNP) Ranil Wickremesinghe’s suggestion that MPs should set aside politics and jointly evolve a solution to the economic problem, which lies at the root of the political problem. Wickremesinghe told parliament on Tuesday that he had talked to the IMF, the World Bank and other international institutions and was told that they would help Sri Lanka tide over the current shortages. Sri Lanka could also seek help from a consortium of friendly countries such as India, China, Japan, US, and South Korea, Wickremesinghe said. In fact, all these countries have told the President that they were ready to help.
To Wickremesinghe, merely changing the government or the President will not solve the economic problem. Parliament should collectively evolve a national solution, though he said earlier that he would not mind taking up the Presidency if Gotabaya Rajapaksa resigned and parliament elected him to take his place temporarily.
Namal Rajapaksa, the son of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and former Sports Minister, has noted that the demonstrators only want an individual to go, and are giving no thought whatsoever to solving the economic problem collectively through the formation of an all-party government as the President had suggested.
There is another school of thought which believes that in desperation, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, an ex-army officer, might hand over power to the army led by Gen.Shavendra Silva. But Gen.Silva met the Defense Attaches of the various embassies in Colombo on Monday and apprised them of the army’s role which he said is to aid civil power as and when it is called upon to do so.
“The armed forces of Sri Lanka would always comply with the Constitution and the Army is no exception,” Gen. Shavendra Silva said. “The Army as a professional outfit is always prepared to provide security and protection to the State as necessary,” he added.
Still another school of thought believes that the demonstrations would cease once the diesel shortage ends and power generation resumes with fuel aid from India and perhaps China too. Till then, Gotabaya Rajapaksa would hang on. Once shortages end, however temporarily, the Rajapaksa clan that had left the government will re-enter it to re-establish its political dominance over Sri Lanka, it is felt.
One of the reasons for the existence of the last line of thought is that Sri Lankans are not capable of sustaining movements over a long period of time. They tend to wait for elections to make their point. The next Presidential election is slated for 2024. And the other reason is the lack of unity in the opposition. There is no single tall leader in the opposition to unite it and give it decisive leadership.