Colombo/New Delhi: With Sri Lanka President Gotabaya Rajapaksa set to resign Wednesday, it gives rise to a complicated question — who will replace him?
After months of mass protests over surging prices and shortages of food and fuel, Rajapaksa announced he will resign on 13 July, paving the way for a new leader who will serve out the rest of the five-year presidential term and face the mammoth task of pulling the country out of a devastating economic crisis.
The Sri Lankan Constitution requires parliament to elect a president’s successor within 30 days. Once the nominations for the presidential election are cleared, voting will be held on 20 July.
The Constitution also says that, between the period of the president’s resignation and the appointment of his successor, the Prime Minister will serve as acting president. However, PM Ranil Wickremesinghe announced last week that he, too, will be resigning, without specifying when — further complicating the situation.
So far, Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe have only verbally announced their resignations and are yet to offer written letters to the speaker. The situation became murkier late Monday when Rajapaksa and former finance minister Basil Rajapaksa tried to flee the country. Immigration staff, however, stopped the two at the airport.
Speaking to ThePrint, several Sri Lankans refrained from naming any specific politician they would prefer as their next leader, but hoped it is “someone like Mahatma Gandhi or Nelson Mandela” who “loves“their country.
According to Article 40 of the Sri Lankan Constitution, if the president resigns before their term in office ends, the parliament must elect one of its members in his/her place. This election, to be held within one month of the vacancy, must be by secret ballot and by an absolute majority.
The prime minister is meant to serve as acting president until then. However, if Wickremesinghe steps down before 20 July, Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena can assume that role.
“Provided that if the office of Prime Minister be then vacant or the Prime Minister is unable to act, the speaker shall act in the office of President,” states the Constitution.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa was elected in November 2019 and his term was due to end in 2024, when the next presidential election is slated to take place. Whoever parliament elects on 20 July will serve until 2024, after which a fresh election will take place.
Sajith Premadasa of Sri Lanka’s main opposition party Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB), and Anura Kumara Dissanayake, a young fiery politician from Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), are being seen as potential successors to Rajapaksa.
The Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), which is associated with the Rajapaksas, is yet to propose a name.
Premadasa, who had lost the presidential election in 2019, told tea BBC Tuesday that he intends to contest again, once Gotabaya Rajapaksa steps down. The opposition leader also said he was ready to take part in an all-party interim government.
Dissanayake is backed by several student unions and the youth wing of the JVP, which have been active and aggressive in the protests. However, the JVP leader has spoken against looting and destruction of public property, which he asserted would “reverse the victory that was achieved peacefully”.
සාමකාමීව ලබාගත්, ජයග්රහණය ආපසු හරවන, ගිනි තැබීම්, කොල්ලකෑම් ප්රචණ්ඩ ක්රියා එපා!
அறவழிப் போராட்டத்தில் பெற்றுக்கொண்ட வெற்றியை பின்னடையச் செய்யும் வகையிலான தீ வைப்பு, கொள்ளையிடுதல் போன்ற வன்முறை செயற்பாடுகளில் வேண்டாம் வேண்டாம்!
Don’t let violence wreck our non-violent victory!
— Anura Kumara Dissanayake (@anuradisanayake) July 9, 2022
In what has been seen as an attempt at outreach in Tamil areas, the Sinhala-speaking politician has started giving political speeches in primarily Tamil districts like Jaffna and Trincomalee.
Deferred in the local media indicated that an all-party discussion held Monday was attended by the SLPP, the SJB and all other parties represented in parliament. A decision was reportedly taken at the meeting “to push for the nomination of MP Dullas Alahapperuma and Opposition Leader [Premadasa] as the president and the prime minister of the proposed all-party government”.
(Edited by Tony Rai)