Sri Lanka: Lawmakers set to replace ex-President Gotabaya Rajapaksa

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SriLankan lawmakers met on Saturday to choose a  next president for their country.

On Friday, Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was sworn in as acting president as mandated by the constitution. 

Also according to the constitution, the new president can potentially appoint a new prime minister, who would then have to be approved by parliament.

In a televised statement Friday, Wickremesinghe said he would initiate steps to change the constitution to curb presidential powers and strengthen parliament, restore law and order and take legal action against “insurgents.” 

Security was tightened around the parliament building in the capital, Colombo, on Saturday, with armed masked soldiers on guard and several roads blocked to the public.  

The race to lead Sri Lanka

The secretary general of the parliament, Dhammika Dasanayake, said on Saturday that nominations for the election of the new president would be heard on Tuesday.

If more than one candidate is nominated for the presidency, lawmakers in parliament would vote Wednesday, Dasanayake added.

Dasanayake also read aloud former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s resignation letter — after having received the hard copy on late Thursday.

Rajapaksa said in the letter he stepped down from his position following a request by party leaders.

He added that the economic crisis that engulfed Sri Lanka this year was looming around the time he took over the presidency in 2019, but those hardships were aggravated by the coronavirus pandemic and the consequent lockdowns.

Rajapaksa fled the country Thursday, before resigning, to possibly avoid being arrested by members of the next administration since presidents are protected from arrest while in office.

But that he sought refuge in Singapore marks a major fall from grace for a leader whose family dominated Sri Lankan politics for nearly 20 years.

Opposition leader in the running

Although there’s a chance that Wickremesinghe can be named president, protesters have demanded that he step down because he threw “a lifeline to the Rajapaksa,” Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, executive director of the Sri Lankan think tank Centre for Policy Alternatives, told DW recently.

Wickremesinghe, a senior politician, has been prime minister six times before, and began his latest stint in May, as Rajapaksa made a desperate attempt to cling to power.

Some had welcomed his appointment to the post since he was not from the Rajapaksa family clan, but that hasn’t been enough to cushion Wickremesinghe from the anger of ordinary citizens who stormed both the president and the prime minister’s residences last week.

Wickremesinghe had previously offered to resign as prime minister, but he’s yet to step aside, fueling anger on the streets.

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka’s opposition leader, Sajith Premadasa told the Associated Press on Friday that if he presidential bid is successful, he would ensure that “an elective dictatorship never, ever occurs” in the country.

He vowed to “listen to people” and to hold Rajapaksa accountable for his alleged crimes.

“That’s what we should do. That is our function — catching those who looted Sri Lanka. That should be done through proper constitutional, legal, democratic procedures,” Premadasa said.

Sri Lankans have blamed the Rajapaksa family for economically mismanaging the country and corruption. Sri Lanka is currently in talks with the International Monetary Fund and other creditors to tackle its financial crisis.

rm/sms (Reuters, AP, AFP)

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