Sri Lanka declares state of emergency ahead of presidential vote
Colombo, Jul 18 (EFE).- Sri Lanka’s interim president, Ranil Wickremesinghe, on Monday imposed a state of emergency in the country, two days before the parliament is set to appoint the new leader of the country, after former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled the country and resigned amid massive protests.
“I am of opinion that by reason of a public emergency in Sri Lanka, it is expedient to do so (impose a state of emergency) 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,” Wickremesinghe said in an order.
The Sri Lankan parliament is set to meet on Tuesday to receive nominations of presidential candidates and if there is more than one nominee, a final vote will be held on Wednesday through a secret ballot among the 225 members of the house.
The president chosen by the parliament would be tasked with leading the nation out of a severe economic and institutional crisis and hold the post until the next elections in 2024.
Opposition leader Sajith Premadasa is being seen as the front-runner for the presidency, having also contested the 2019 presidential elections, in which he finished as the runner-up to Gotabaya.
A faction of Rajapaksa’s Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna party – which holds the majority in the parliament – has announced that it would back the candidature of Wickremesinghe, who was appointed the prime minister in May and took temporary charge of the presidency on Friday.
Another SLPP faction has supported breakaway leader Dullas Alahapperuma.
The new government would need to resume talks with the International Monetary Fund over the possibility of a bailout.
Sri Lanka has been suffering for months from shortages of medicines, food, and fuel, partly due to heavy debts, flawed government policies, and the impact of the pandemic on tourism.
With international reserves at record lows and the decision to suspend payments on its foreign debt in April, the island approached the IMF in search of a credit line to restore fiscal stability while trying to reach agreements for debt restructuring.
However, the island’s political turmoil – with unrest continuing for months after widespread street protests first broke out in March – saw thousands of demonstrators call for Rajapaksa’s resignation and blocked the progress.
On Jul. 9, hundreds of protesters stormed the official residences of Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe, and forced them to vacate the buildings as well as promise to tender their resignations.
However, only the president followed through with the promise after fleeing to Maldives and eventually taking refuge in Singapore, while Wickremesinghe stepped in to take his place ahead of the parliamentary session. EFE