Acting president declares state of emergency ahead of MPs’ vote
Sri Lanka’s acting president, Ranil Wickremesinghe, has declared a state of emergency as his administration seeks to quell social unrest and tackle an economic crisis gripping the island nation.
“It is expedient, so to do, in the interests of public security, the protection of public order and the maintenance of supplies and services essential to the life of the community,” a government notice released late on Sunday said.
Wickremesinghe had announced a state of emergency last week, after president Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled the country to escape a popular uprising against his government.
It was unclear whether that order had been withdrawn or had lapsed, or whether Wickremesinghe had reissued the order in his capacity as acting president, having been sworn in on 15 July. A spokesperson for Wickremesinghe’s office did not respond to Reuters request for comment.
The specific legal provisions of the latest emergency are yet to be announced by the government but previous emergency regulations have been used to deploy the military to arrest and detain people, search private property and dampen public protests.
The country’s commercial capital, Colombo, remained calm on Monday morning, with traffic and pedestrians out on the streets.
Bhavani Fonseka, senior researcher at the Centre for Policy Alternatives, said declaring a state of emergency was becoming the government’s default response.
“This has proven ineffective in the past,” Fonseka told Reuters.
Rajapaksa’s resignation was accepted by parliament on Friday. He flew to the Maldives and then Singapore after hundreds of thousands of anti-government protesters came out on to the streets of Colombo a week ago and occupied his official residence and offices.
Sri Lanka’s parliament met on Saturday to begin the process of electing a new president, and a shipment of fuel arrived to provide some relief to the crisis-hit nation.
Wickremesinghe, an ally of Rajapaksa, was nominated by the ruling party as its candidate to be the next president but protesters also want him gone, leading to the prospect of further unrest should he be elected.
Wickremesinghe was appointed interim president on Friday after informally occupying the role since Wednesday, and the announcement was greeted with anger and frustration on the streets of Colombo.
Wickremesinghe, who has now been prime minister six times, stands accused of protecting and propping up the Rajapaksa family dynasty for years, shielding them from corruption charges and enabling their return to power.
His decision to agree to become a caretaker prime minister two months ago was seen by many as the reason Rajapaksa stayed in power for weeks longer than he would have otherwise.
The public frustration at Wickremesinghe has manifested multiple times, from his private residence being burned down to his offices being stormed by protesters on Wednesday.
Wickremesinghe will be the candidate for the Rajapaksas’ ruling party, the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), which still has the largest number of seats in parliament. He stands a high chance of being elected after the vote by MPs in parliament scheduled for next Tuesday or Wednesday.
Wickremesinghe’s nomination even appeared to cause divisions with the SLPP. The party chair, GL Peiris, sent a letter to the party’s general secretary expressing “amazement and total disbelief” at the statement that it would be backing Wickremesinghe as its presidential nominee.
However, Wickremesinghe will be up against several candidates in the presidential secret ballot next week, including the leader of the opposition, Sajith Premadasa – who has vowed to make sure “an elective dictatorship never, ever occurs” and go after the leaders who “looted the country” – and another SLPP politician, Dullas Alahapperuma, which could split the vote of the ruling party.
Former army chief Sarath Fonseka has also signalled his intention to run.