Amid the economic crisis, Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa managed to defeat a no-confidence motion brought against him by the opposition. The island nation recently witnessed violent protests calling for the beleaguered president’s resignation.
The government led by Sri Lanka’s beleaguered President Gotabaya Rajapaksa scored two major victories in Parliament on Tuesday when his candidate for the post of vice president was elected as he convincingly defeated an opposition move to speed up debate on a no-confidence motion blaming him for the island nation’s worst economic crisis.
A no-confidence motion moved by opposition Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MP M A Sumanthiran to censure President Rajapaksa was defeated 119-68 in a deeply-divided Parliament, amid nationwide protests demanding his resignation due to the hardships faced by the people.
With the no-confidence motion, the opposition sought to demonstrate how nationwide calls for President Rajapaksa’s resignation are reflected in the country’s 225-member legislature.
Hours earlier, the ruling SLPP’s candidate won a key vote when its deputy Ajith Rajapaksha was elected Tuesday as deputy speaker of the country’s Parliament, which met for the first time since the resignation of former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and the swearing-in. of new Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Rajapaksha, 48, of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna Party (SLPP), was elected after a secret ballot in Parliament.
He received 109 votes and the main opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya candidate, Rohini Kavirathna, received 78 votes.
Rajapaksha is not related to the ruling Rajapaksa family but hails from the same home district as Hambantota.
Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena said 23 votes were rejected.
The deputy speaker’s post became vacant after Ranjith Siyamabalapitiya resigned from the post twice in one month this year.
The House met for the first time Tuesday since the resignation of former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and the cycle of violence in which nine people, including a parliamentarian, were killed and more than 200 injured.
Both Mahinda Rajapaksa and his son Namal Rajapaksa were absent, while Basil Rajapaksa and Shasheendra Rajapaksa, the other members of the Rajapaksa family, were present in Parliament.
Meanwhile, TNA leader Sumanthiran, who filed the no-confidence motion against the president for mishandling the island’s economy, criticized Prime Minister Wickremesinghe for his shameful conduct in supporting the government to defeat a motion filed by the opposition.
The country knows who protects the president and who protects you. Absolutely disgraceful conduct by the Prime Minister and all those who sit on the government benches. But, I say the Prime Minister. Because of this dissenting motion, when it was drafted the Prime Minister who was in Opposition at the time, wanted to take a look at it, the MP said.
He has changed his principles, his policy he publicly told this country for the work of a Prime Minister, Sumanthiran said, a day after Wickremesing said his aim is to save crisis-hit Sri Lanka, and not one person, family or group, in an apparent reference to the Rajapaksa family and its former strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa.
In response to the criticism, the United National Party (UNP), represented only in Parliament by Wickremesinghe, has defended its vote against the Opposition’s attempt to express the House’s dissatisfaction with President Gotabaya Rajajapaksa’s handling of the crisis.
The UNP tweeted Tuesday that its leader Wickremesinghe had informed the Opposition that voting to suspend Parliament’s Standing Orders was a bad parliamentary strategy.
Prime Minister Wickremesinghe was also criticized by Opposition MP SJB Rohini Kavirathna, who lost her bid to become deputy speaker.
The Prime Minister had become a mere puppet of the Rajapaksa family and had become a tool to carry out the agenda of the Rajapaksa regime, while the first policy decision taken in Parliament has been defeated, she said.
The MP, as a defeated candidate for the post of Deputy Speaker, stated that as a woman within Parliament, when she was subjected to linguistic harassment, it was Deputy Speaker-elect Ajith Rajapaksa who presided over the House.
However, today, this House has shown the world that a woman still has no right to preside over Parliament, she said.
Human rights lawyer Bhavani Fonseka tweeted after the vote that the defeat of the motion exposed parliamentarians protecting Speaker Rajapaksa.
On Tuesday, Parliament met for the first time after the appointment of new Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, as the country seeks to undertake major constitutional reforms amid the worst economic crisis.
Sri Lanka is witnessing an unprecedented economic crisis.
In his first televised address to the nation on Monday, Wickremesinghe said the nation urgently needs USD 75 million in foreign exchange in the next few days to pay for essential imports.
The prime minister said the central bank would have to print money to pay government salaries. Wickremesinghe also said state-owned Sri Lankan Airlines could be privatized.
Sri Lanka’s economy has been hit hard by the pandemic, rising energy prices, and populist tax cuts. A chronic shortage of foreign exchange and skyrocketing inflation had led to severe shortages of medicines, fuel, and other essential items.
The Rajapaksa government also made some arbitrary decisions, such as banning chemical fertilizer imports in favor of organic farming and resisting going 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 essentials, while power cuts and rising food prices add to people’s misery.
The economic uncertainty also triggered a political crisis in Sri Lanka and a demand for the resignation of the powerful Rajapaksas.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa dismissed his cabinet and appointed a younger cabinet in response to the demand for his resignation. An ongoing protest in front of his secretariat has been going on for more than a month.
On May 9, Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s elder brother, Mahinda Rajapaksa, resigned as prime minister to make way for the president to appoint an all-party caretaker government. Wickremesinghe was appointed as the country’s new prime minister on Thursday to pull the country’s economy out of danger.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Education said schools that were closed for the past week due to the violence were reopened on Tuesday. The government said that with the lifting of the curfew, activities in various sectors, including transportation, will resume normally.
Train services, which were suspended, will operate normally as of Tuesday, the Railway Department said, indicating that the law and order situation across the island has returned to normal.