By Chandani Kirinde
Sri Lanka was pushed into a political impasse yesterday with the much-anticipated resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa not materialising and instead Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe appointed Acting President, setting off a fresh wave of protests which continued late into last night.
Wickremesinghe’s appointment as Acting President was confirmed last night by way of an Extraordinary Gazette under the President’s name which said that as he is unable to exercise, perform and discharge the powers, duties and functions of the Office of the President by reason of his absence from Sri Lanka, he appoints Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, with effect from 13 July, to be in charge during his period of absence from Sri Lanka.
The Gazette notification came hours after Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena announced that the President had formed him of his decision to appoint Wickremesinghe to act in place and would send his letter of resignation by the end of the day.
However, there was no sign of the President’s letter by late last night.
The announcement of the Prime Minister’s appointment set off a fresh wave of protests with hundreds of protesters marching to the Prime Minister’s office at Flower Road in Colombo and occupying it after initially being pushed back due to tear gas fired by the Police.
Shortly after Wickremesinghe in a televised address took a hard-line against the protesters, calling them ‘fascists’ who not only planned to take over the PM’s office but had plans to take over the residences of commanders of the three forces.
He also announced that a state of emergency would be imposed to deal with the situation. The curfew imposed last afternoon is expected to be lifted at 5 a.m. today but an emergency has yet to be declared.
The Acting President last evening also informed the Speaker to nominate a Prime Minister who is acceptable to both the Government and Opposition in keeping with the decision taken on Monday by the Cabinet to form an all-party Government.
“All the ministers who participated in this meeting were of the opinion that as soon as there is an agreement to form an all-party Government, they will hand over the responsibilities to that Government. Accordingly, the ruling party and the Opposition must form an all-party Government,” Wickremesinghe informed the Speaker.
The Speaker held a party leaders meeting last evening but it was not attended by the Acting President nor ruling party members, the Daily FT learns.
Other party leaders had called for the immediate resignation of Wickremesinghe from the post of Prime Minister, to allow the Speaker to take over as Acting President.
At the meeting, the Chief of Defence Staff, the Commanders of the three armed forces and the Inspector General of Police briefed the party leaders about the current security situation.
Acting President Ranil Wickremesinghe said a committee comprising the Chief of Defence Staff, the IGP and Commanders of the Tri-Forces has been appointed to restore law and order and to bring normalcy to the country.
Issuing a special statement, the Acting President said the committee has been instructed to ensure the security and the safety of the citizens during the ongoing protests and requested citizens to support the Police and Tri-Forces personnel to maintain law and order in the country.
He said some factions of protesters are resorting to fascism attempting to capture power.
Explaining the decisions made after the President Gotabaya Rajapaksa left the country yesterday without resigning as stated before, Wickremesinghe, who is also the Prime Minister said according to the intelligence reports received, despite the ongoing process to elect a new President, some groups of protestors (Aragalaya) had organised to storm the Prime Minister’s Office and to surround the residence of the Air Force Commander for providing the President with a plane to fly to Maldives. He said they had also decided to surround the residences of the Army Commander and the Navy Commander.
They had also organised to surround the Parliament, Speaker’s House, he said.
He said that the Speaker discussed with the Chief of Defence Staff and security forces commanders to safeguard the Parliament and due to that, they were not able to storm the Parliament.
Wickremesinghe said that those who stormed the Prime Minister’s Office are now rioting and engaging in violence and unruly behaviour. “They have no reason to enter the Prime Minister’s Office.”
“Some have said that the country’s Constitution doesn’t matter, the Parliament does not matter and to only do what they say. The Constitution and the Parliament implement universal suffrage and the sovereignty of the people. They are attempting to spread fascist politics,” the Acting President said.
He stressed that the fascistic groups cannot be allowed to undemocratically usurp power by such acts. Some of the vocal Aragalaya frontliners denied the allegation.
Civil society condemned the violent actions by so called Aragalaya participants.