DESCRIBING THE situation in Sri Lanka as “dangerous”, the country’s new Acting President Ranil Wickremesinghe on Friday said that he would not “allow anything unconstitutional” to happen, setting the stage for the Parliamentary process starting Saturday to elect a new leader on July 20.
Former Prime Minister Wickremesinghe’s remarks came after he was sworn in as Acting President following official confirmation from the Speaker of Sri Lanka’s Parliament, Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, that he had received President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s resignation letter.
“I am bound to protect the Constitution,” Wickremesinghe said.
“I will never allow anything unconstitutional to take place in our country. I am not working outside the Constitution… If law and order breaks down, it will affect our economy. Like fuel, our electricity and water supply as well as our food supply can be disrupted. We all need to understand this dangerous situation,” he said.
The forceful remarks appeared to be aimed at the protesters in Colombo who have called for the entire government machinery to be replaced by a “People’s Council” comprising representatives of common citizens. In the past few days, Wickremesinghe, whose private residence was burned down during the protests, had referred to the protesters as “fascists”.
Wickremesinghe also announced two steps to reassure the public that the President’s powers were being clipped. He said the country would do away with the honorific title, “His Excellency”, for the President — and that the official flag of the President will be abolished since the country needs only one national flag.
Speaker Abeywardena said the new President would be elected through Parliament on July 20 as decided by the leaders of all political parties. The Parliament will convene on Saturday to start the legislative process for the elections.
Nominations for the post will be called for on July 19 and voting will take place on July 20 in accordance with provisions in the Constitution, the Communications Department of Lanka’s Parliament said. Apart from Wickremesinghe, Opposition leader Sajith Premadasa, former Army chief Sarath Fonseka and former minister Dullas Alahapperuma are among the main contenders.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s party, Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), which has the most number of seats in the Parliament, announced its support for Wickremesinghe. According to Sri Lankan media reports, party chief and former prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and his son Namal are still in the country.
Earlier, the Parliament Speaker officially confirmed that he had received disgraced President Gotabaya’s resignation letter and said that he intends to complete the legislative process to elect a new President over the next week. Secretary General of Parliament Dhammika Dassanayake will inform the House on Saturday about the resignation, which Gotabaya had sent from Singapore on Thursday after fleeing Lanka.
On Friday morning, Speaker Abeywardena said: “My intention is to conduct the necessary Parliamentary affairs to elect a new President as per the provisions of the Constitution as soon as possible. I request all party leaders to extend their support for this purpose.”
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At the “Go Gota Gama” protest village at the Galle Face Greens, there was thin attendance on Friday, after the huge gathering earlier this week when protesters had captured key government buildings. But those at the site reiterated their demand for the resignation of Wickremesinghe. “We won’t give up till all our demands are met,” Niroshini, a protester at the President’s secretariat, said.
Meanwhile, the Indian High Commission reiterated the Ministry of External Affairs’ official statement from earlier this week that India “will continue to stand with the people of Sri Lanka as they seek to realize their aspirations for prosperity and progress through democratic means and values as well as established institutions and a constitutional framework”.
The commitment that India has demonstrated in helping the Sri Lankan people, to address the challenges arising out of the current situation in Sri Lanka, underlines India’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy as well as the SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region) vision, the High Commission said.
It echoed the MEA’s statement that India responded with urgency to assist the people of Sri Lanka in overcoming their economic hardships and emphasised that India expeditiously delivered assistance as well as support worth about US$ 3.8 billion in 2022.
It also pointed out that India had categorically denied having any role in facilitating the departure or travel of former President Gotabaya from Sri Lanka.