Sri Lanka Cabinet convenes crucial parliamentary session

The parliament session began with mourning for the murder of Sri Lankan ruling lawmaker Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) Amarakeerthi Athukorala, who was killed along with his security guard during clashes between anti-government and pro-government protesters in the country last week. The main task of Tuesday’s session was to select a suitable candidate for the post of vice-president.

The post of Deputy Speaker of Parliament remained vacant after the resignation of Ranjith Siyamabalapitiya. The main opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) party nominated Rohini Kaviratne, while the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna Party (SLPP) nominated Ajith Rajapaksa as vice president. However, most parliamentarians called on President Mahinda Yapa Abeywardana to end a secret ballot without wasting time and money and to ask the Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister to find common ground on a suitable candidate, preferably a female candidate, as requested by the Prime Minister.

National Freedom Front leader, Wimal Weerawansa, criticized the call for a vote saying that a voting process costs Rs 9 million of taxpayers’ money. In doing so, the whole Parliament becomes a joke to the people. Legislator Nimal Lanza of the Independent MPs Group has threatened to leave the chamber if a vote is called for, while former President Maithripala Sirisena and chairman of Sri Lanka’s Freedom Party said SLFP lawmakers would vote invalid if a poll took place.

The speaker, however, opted for the secret ballot. This is the first session of Parliament after the appointment of Wickremesinghe as Sri Lankan Prime Minister following the resignation of Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister. Wickremesinghe said on Sunday that the 21st Amendment to the Constitution aimed at limiting presidential powers would be discussed with the attorney general’s department on Monday so that it could be submitted to Cabinet for approval. Protestors in the streets demand a change in the country’s political system.

The 21st Amendment is expected to undo 20A, which gave unlimited powers to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa after the abolition of the 19th Amendment, which made parliament powerful over the president. The powerful Rajapaksa family has tightened its grip on power after its massive victory in the August 2020 general election, which allowed it to amend the Constitution to restore presidential powers and install close family members in critical positions. During his 2019 presidential bid, Gotabaya Rajapaksa won a convincing term for a presidency in which he sought full presidential powers over parliament. Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government made decisions such as banning imports of chemical fertilizers in favor of organic farming and resisting turning to the International Monetary Fund, which led to the country’s worst economic crisis. since its independence from Britain in 1948.

A crippling shortage of foreign exchange reserves has led to long queues for fuel, cooking gas and other necessities, while power cuts and soaring food prices have deepened misery Population. The economic crisis has also triggered a political crisis in Sri Lanka and a demand for the resignation of the powerful Rajapaksas. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa sacked his cabinet and appointed a younger cabinet to meet the resignation demand. A continuous demonstration in front of its secretariat has now lasted for more than a month. On May 9, Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s older brother, Mahinda Rajapaksa, resigned as prime minister to make way for the president to appoint an interim government made up of all political parties. Wickremesinghe was named the country’s new prime minister on Thursday.