Three-horse race likely to be for Presidency

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On the second week of March 2022 the State Intelligence Service (SIS), in a detailed report to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa informed him that the ongoing public ire, against the Government, was beyond control of any political party and may intensify within the next few weeks. Yet, not in his wildest dreams would President Gotabaya Rajapaksa or the all powerful Rajapaksa clan have imagined they would be compelled to go into hiding in fear of life amidst growing public anger.

Disappointment of the people in the government came out small scale, in the form of isolated protests in various parts of the country and took a massive turn with the storming of President Rajapaksa’s private residence in Mirihana on 31 March. Despite having Executive powers, the President and the Cabinet were left helpless as thousands of citizens flocked to Galle Face Green on 9 April, defying an arbitrarily imposed islandwide curfew. Civilians who belonged to all walks of life and were  previously divided by race, religion, politics, caste and class, united under one banner ‘Go Home Gota’ and camped at the now popular GotaGoGama with the determination of not leaving until their mission was accomplished. The Bar Association of Sri Lanka and the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka stood as guardian pillars making sure the rights of peaceful protesters were intact. These unprecedented events ultimately led to President Rajapaksa, who was confined to meeting dignitaries at the President’s House and returning to his safe house for three months, having to go into self-exile.

Resignation

President Rajapaksa, along with his wife and two security personnel, arrived in Singapore on Thursday (14) from the Maldives, where he had spent the previous 24 hours after fleeing protests demanding for his resignation.

Meanwhile, the Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs, responding to numerous queries on President Rajapaksa’s arrival, issued an official statement putting asylum speculations to rest.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs responding that Rajapaksa had been granted entry into Singapore on a private visit also insisted that he had not requested asylum or has not been granted asylum.

It was also emphasised that Singapore generally does not grant requests for asylum.

Meanwhile, the Speaker of the Maldives tweeted that President Rajapaksa had resigned and he hopes Sri Lanka can now move forward. “I believe the President would not have resigned if he was still in Sri Lanka and fearful of losing his life. I commend the thoughtful actions of the Government of Maldives,” he tweeted.

A Saudi Arabian Airlines flight, from Maldives to Singapore, believed to be carrying Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, was the world’s most-tracked flight on Thursday, underscoring massive global interest in the troubled island nation’s political affairs, Bloomberg reported.

“Saudia flight 788, from Male, was being tracked by almost 5,000 users as of 7:43 a.m. GMT, according to data from Flightradar24.com, more than three times the number of people tracking a French Air Force plane flying in Europe. Rajapaksa is taking a Saudi Arabian Airlines plane to Singapore and then Saudi Arabia, the Associated Press reported earlier Thursday, citing a Maldivian official it did not name,” Bloomberg said.

Due to his having to juggle between destinations to find a safe place to settle down, President Rajapaksa, sent his resignation to Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena Thursday evening (14) – a lapse of 24 hours from the promised date.

The Speaker in a statement, while acknowledging the receipt of the letter, however said the official confirmation with regard to the letter would be announced on Friday, after re-confirming the authenticity and completing the legal procedures.

The Speaker apparently received the letter through email and Rajapaksa’s original letter was to be flown into Colombo from Singapore.

This is the first time a President has tendered a resignation following people’s protests in Sri Lankan political history.

“Gotabaya Rajapaksa has officially stepped down as the President of Sri Lanka effective from 14 July, 2022,” Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena announced in a special statement, read at a media briefing, held at his residence, Friday morning.

Upon verifying the authenticity of the letter and finalising all legal matters, the Speaker made the official announcement on Rajapaksa’s resignation from the presidency.

According to him, a Head of State is expected to be appointed within a period of seven days, pursuant to Article 40 of the Constitution and Presidential Elections (Special Provisions) Act (No. 2 of 1981).

The Speaker appealed to all political party leaders, State officials, Security forces and the members of the public to extend their support to this democratic process.

Dream comes true

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was sworn in as the Acting President before Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya at Walukarama Temple on 15 Friday. His swearing-in came shortly after the Speaker officially announced the resignation of Gotabaya Rajapaksa as the President of Sri Lanka.

After taking office he made a special statement in which he said:

“President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has resigned from office. In accordance with the Constitution, the Parliament will meet next week and take steps to elect a new President.

In that short period of time, I have been entrusted with the responsibility of temporarily acting as the President. I hope to take some urgent steps in this short period of time.

The people of the country expect a change in the political system. An important factor for this change is the full implementation of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. Therefore, I have started the programme to bring forth the necessary drafts to the Parliament to fully re-implement the 19th Amendment.

Immediate steps will be taken to re-establish law and order in the country. I fully accept the right to peacefully protest, but others are now trying to sabotage these protests. It has been reported that outside groups are preparing to try and influence the Members of Parliament during the election of the new President in Parliament next week.

We must create the environment for MPs so that they can express their opinion independently. They will be provided with full protection.  We will not allow any group to destroy the democracy in Parliament.

Also, there are groups that are trying to set the country on fire through fascist methods by suppressing democracy. Two weapons belonging to the Security Forces along with bullets were stolen by such persons near Parliament.

Twenty-four members of the Army have been injured. Two of them have been seriously injured today. It is my belief that real fighters do not do such acts. There is a big difference between rebels and protesters. Many people who have been involved in the struggle since the beginning have expressed their opposition to these acts of sabotage.

We are bound to ensure they are protected by law and order. We are obliged to uphold democracy.

I am bound to protect the Constitution. I will never allow anything unconstitutional to take place in our country. I am not working outside the Constitution. If law and order breaks down, it will affect our economy.

Like fuel, our electricity and water supply as well as our food supply can be disrupted. We all need to understand this dangerous situation.

In order to maintain law and order, I have appointed a special committee consisting of the Chief of the Defence Staff, the Inspector General of Police and the Commanders of the three Armed Forces. They have been given full freedom to take legal action without any political interference.

We emphasised the government’s position on the establishment of an All-Party Government at the party leaders’ meeting held last Monday. I request all parties in the Parliament to reach a common agreement for that immediately. These political parties should put aside their differences and opinions and come together for the sake of the country.

So, put aside your personal ambitions. Put the needs of the country first.

Think about protecting the country rather than protecting individuals. We must have a country to live in and do politics. I request all political parties and groups to think about our country, and to think about the people of the country when they act. First, let’s save the country and the people from this current crisis. Then we can turn to party politics.

As Acting President, I will take two more decisions. The use of the term ‘His Excellency’ to introduce the President is officially prohibited. The presidential flag will be abolished too.

A country should have only one flag. Only the national flag… One should move forward under one flag.

Meditate and think deeply about this situation we are facing today. Now the background has been set for a new journey with a different approach to the whole country. The opportunities for creating a peaceful and prosperous society free from corruption have been set in place.

The scope of raising our motherland up has expanded. It is the duty and responsibility of all of us to make the most of it.

Let us all give full strength and full support to start a new era and a new system. Finally, I would like to mention one more thing.

About two months ago today, on 13 May, I took a serious decision for the country. I took that serious decision thinking about the 22 million people of this country. Until the Parliament appoints a new President, that decision will be carried out for the country. I am constitutionally bound to carry out that decision.”

What’s next?

The procedure for election of the President when the office of President shall become vacant (In terms of Presidential Elections (Special Provisions) Act No. 2 of 1981):

Where the office of President becomes vacant in terms of paragraph (1) of Article 38 of the Constitution, as provided by Article 40 of the Constitution, Parliament shall elect as President one of its members who is qualified to be elected to the office of President, to hold office for the unexpired period of the term of office of the President vacating office.

This election is held in accordance with the provisions of the Presidential Elections (Special Provisions) Act No. 2 of 1981.

In particular, this process is led by the Secretary General of Parliament and the Speaker also has a vote in this election. Also, for this process the Parliament will meet for three days.

Accordingly, the following steps will be taken to hold this election under the provisions of the Act:

– In this case, the election shall be held as soon as possible after, and in no case later than one month from, the date of occurrence of the vacancy

– Accordingly, the Parliament should be convened within three days after the vacancy occurs, and the date and time for the Parliament sitting will be informed by the Secretary General of the Parliament to the Members of Parliament.

– When Parliament meets, the Secretary-General shall inform Parliament that a vacancy in the office of President has occurred. He shall fix a date and time at which nominations shall be received by him being a date not earlier than forty-eight hours and not later than seven days from the date of such meeting.

– On the date fixed for the receipt of nominations Parliament shall meet and the Secretary-General shall act as the Returning Officer. A member who wishes to propose any other member for election to the office of President shall obtain prior written consent of the member whom he wishes to propose indicating that such member is willing to serve if elected. Also, the MP proposed for candidacy must be present in Parliament that day.

– If only one member be so proposed and seconded to the office of President he shall be declared by the Secretary General to have been elected to such office. If more than one member be so proposed and seconded, Parliament shall fix a date and time for the holding of the election. That date should not be later than forty-eight hours from the time of receiving nominations.

– On the date fixed for the holding of the election, the Secretary-General shall act as the Returning Officer. Before voting commences the Returning Officer shall show the empty ballot box or boxes to the members and thereafter seal it or them, as the case may be, in their presence. When voting commences, the Returning Officer shall call out the name of each member including the Speaker. Accordingly, each member should go to the Returning Officer’s desk, get a ballot paper and mark the vote. Then it should be put in the ballot box.

– If a member inadvertently spoils a ballot paper, he may return it to the Returning Officer who shall, if satisfied of such inadvertence, give him another ballot paper and the spoilt ballot paper shall be immediately cancelled by such Returning Officer. The Returning Officer shall, before the voting is due to end, call out a second time the name of any member who has not voted when his name was called out. If such member does not vote after his name is called out a second time, he shall be deemed to have abstained from voting.

– Each member shall have only one vote and shall place on his ballot paper the figure ‘1’ in the square opposite the name of the candidate for whom he votes. There is also an opportunity to mark preferences when several candidates have been nominated. Accordingly, according to the number of candidates presented, preferences can be applied in the order of 2, 3 etc. in the square opposite the name of the candidates.

– If any candidate desires to be present at the counting of votes, he may do so or if he wishes appoint another member to represent him at the counting.

– Where any candidate has received more than one half of the valid votes cast, the Returning Officer shall forthwith declare such candidate elected to the office of President.

– Where no candidate has received more than one-half of the valid votes cast, the Returning Officer shall eliminate from the contest the candidate who has received the lowest number of votes, and the second preference of each member whose vote had been for the candidate eliminated from the contest shall be counted.

– Where at the end of the count no candidate has obtained more than one-half of the valid votes, the Returning Officer shall declare the candidate who has obtained the majority of the votes at that count, elected to the office of President.

– Also, when two or more candidates have the same number of votes, the determination shall be made by the Returning Officer.

Three-horse race?

Even though it was previously agreed by the Opposition parties to unanimously elect Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa as Prime Minister, following a meeting held Friday afternoon, SJB announced their leader Premadasa would field nominations for the Presidency.

Meanwhile, Dullas Alahapperuma, backed by SLFP’s Maithripala Sirisena and other members of the independent MPs also announced he would run for the presidency.

Meanwhile, SLPP will support Prime Minister and Acting President Ranil Wickremesinghe in the upcoming Parliamentary vote for the appointment of President.

 SLPP General Secretary Sagara Kariyawasam said SLPP will not nominate a Presidential candidate as such move will be contrary to the purpose for which former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa stepped down.

‘’Rajapaksa made the decision to step down following a meeting held with party leaders on 9 July in order to pave way for the establishment of an All-Party Government,’’ the SLPP noted.

‘’Since SLPP has majority in Parliament, if a Presidential candidate is nominated from the party, there will be a conflict with the main purpose of Rajapaksa’s resignation,’’ they said while noting that SLPP has made way for the establishment of an All-Party Government that would restore law and order while stressing on the need for the establishment of a plan for economic recovery.

On the other hand, another group has also launched a campaign to take the traditions forward by appointing the Leader of the House as the Prime Minister. They pointed out that it is how Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was the Leader of the House at the time, succeeded D. B. Wijetunga as Prime Minister in 1993 following the assassination of Premadasa and Wijetunga’s succession to the presidency. If this is a success, then Dinesh Gunewardena would be appointed as the Prime Minister.

However, the election of the President will end up creating divisions in almost all political parties with part of SLPP will not voting for Wickremesinghe while a part of SJB will back him, part of SLFP not backing Alahapperuma and some in TNA not voting for Wickremesinghe. Premadasa is also unlikely to get all in the SJB voting in his favour. NPP’s Anura Kumara Dissanayake and Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka have also expressed their intention to contest.