The Sri Lankan Parliament convened for a crucial session on Wednesday, a day after the main Opposition party, the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB), handed over motions of no-confidence against President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the government for mishandling the country’s worst economic crisis.
Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena received motions of no-confidence from the SJB. Meanwhile, the government announced the appointment of a sub-committee of the cabinet to look into the proposal for a new constitution. SJB General Secretary Ranjith Madduma Bandara met with former president Maithripala Sirisena at his residence and handed him a no-trust motion against President Rajapaksa under Article 42 of the constitution, and another against the government. Commenting on the same, Bandara said, “We want these taken as quickly as possible.” Article 42 states that the president is responsible to the Parliament for the exercise, performance and discharge of his duties. Prior to being placed on the order paper for discussion, any motion must be given seven days’ notice. When the party leaders meet to decide how the business of the House will be conducted, a date must be set. The Parliament is meeting today for the first of eight sessions this month.
The House will hear from Finance Minister Ali Sabry about the talks he held in Washington with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) last month. Amidst Sri Lanka’s worst economic crisis since independence, the country sought a possible bailout from the IMF. In his remarks to reporters last week, Sabry said that Sri Lanka has no foreign reserves. According to analysts, a possible secret vote in parliament on Wednesday for the deputy speaker’s position might be crucial to proving a majority in the House. According to the SJB, a candidate would be nominated for the position, after Ranjith Siyamabalapitiya’s resignation left the position vacant.
In the past, Siyamabalapitiya belonged to the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) of Maithripala Sirisena, which split from the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP). Harshana Rajakaruna, a SJB legislator, has predicted that the main opposition party will field its candidate for the office of deputy speaker if the Speaker announces it today.
The vote would be held only if President Rajapaksa accepts Siyambalapitiya’s resignation. According to governing party insiders, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa will also make an announcement on Wednesday. He is anticipated to say that he will not quit since he still has a majority in the House, according to sources. Meanwhile, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and former prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP) are planning to jointly launch a no-trust resolution against President Rajapaksa, implying that the House has lost faith in him. There is no legal obligation for the president to resign as a result of the TNA-UNP proposal.
This issue will only be resolved if either the president or the prime minister resigns. Former premier Wickremesinghe said, “It is up to them to decide.” Under Article 38 of the constitution, a president can be removed only if he or she has resigned, or is under the long process of impeachment.
Experts believe that if the government is rejected in the SJB motion, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and the cabinet would be forced to quit. A flurry of political discussions took place over the weekend as Prime Minister Mahinda refused to quit in order to pave the way for an interim unity administration. The influential Buddhist clergy has requested Rajapaksa to quit and to allow for an interim administration to be formed.
In the midst of widespread protests over the government’s handling of the economy, Prime Minister Mahinda has advocated for amending the constitution to establish a responsible administration that met the people’s desires.
While expressing reluctance to fire his older brother, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa told the parties that he would be prepared to form an all-party temporary administration if the parties could collect 113 votes in the 225-member legislature. Both Rajapaksas are under increasing pressure to stand down in the midst of a smouldering economic disaster in which people are struggling to meet basic needs, including power outages.
According to ANI, the recession has been attributed to foreign exchange shortages caused by a fall in tourism during the COVID-19 pandemic and reckless economic policies such as the government’s decision last year to ban chemical fertilisers in an effort to make Sri Lanka’s agriculture “100 percent organic”. Recently, Sri Lanka defaulted on its entire foreign debt amounting to about $51 billion due to an acute shortage of foreign exchange.
The Indian government has provided the country with urgent economic assistance. Since Sri Lanka’s independence from Britain in 1948, this is its worst economic turmoil. Since April 9, tens of thousands of demonstrators have taken to the streets across Sri Lanka as the government is unable to pay for imports. Prices of essential commodities have risen dramatically, and there are acute shortages of fuel, medicines, and electricity.