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Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa imposes Emergency for the second time in five weeks as the political crisis in the island nation deepens

Published : May 07, 2022 07:35 IST T+T-
Police use tear gas and water cannon to disperse university students demanding the resignation of Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, near the parliament building in Colombo on May 6.

Police use tear gas and water cannon to disperse university students demanding the resignation of Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, near the parliament building in Colombo on May 6.

Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa declared a State of Emergency late night on May 5 for the second time in five weeks, giving security forces sweeping powers even as Sri Lanka slipped into a state of governance-limbo, with no end to the political crisis in sight.

The imposition of Emergency appears to be a knee-jerk reaction to the massive protests in front of Parliament on May 6. The police had resorted to firing tear gas and lathi-charging the protesters. Author and writer Amanda Jayatissa commented: “My husband and I were at the protest in front of the parliament and left may be 10 minutes before they fired teargas. The protest was 100% peaceful. There were children there.”

There are protests across the country demanding the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa following the economic crisis that has engulfed the island nation. Some of the protesters, notably those who have camped in front of the Presidential Secretariat on the Galle Face Green in Colombo, have made it clear that they will leave only after the President resigns.

The imposition of the first Emergency on the night of April 1 has already been challenged in the courts. The President hastily withdrew that order, but has now re-imposed it again because the government appears confident that it will pass muster in Parliament this time.

The new-found confidence of the government stems from the fact that it managed to get its candidate for Deputy Speaker, Ranjith Siyambalapitiya, elected on May 5. (In a rather surreal sequence of events, Siyambalapitiya resigned after being elected. In fact, the election was necessitated by the fact that he had resigned earlier. In effect, Siyambalapitiya resigned; was put up again as the candidate for Deputy Speaker; got elected again; and resigned yet again!)

‘Is this a joke?’

Responding to the re-election and the re-resignation, Mahela Jayawardena, former Sri Lanka cricket captain who has been vocal in the current crisis, tweeted: “Is this a joke? Time and money wasted as if this appointment was the most pressing matter they had to do in this current crisis and he resigns again. Can everyone in SL parliament resign and stay home please.” He tweeted this with the hashtag #GoHomeGota (asking the President to resign).

Meanwhile, the Bar Association of Sri Lanka expressed its “grave concern” over the re-imposition of Emergency and asserted that the “imposition of emergency is not the answer to the present situation in the country”. “The declaration of emergency will further complicate the efforts at restoring political stability in Sri Lanka,” it said in a late-night statement and called upon the President to revoke the imposition of the Emergency and restore the fundamental rights of the people.

Sajith Premadasa, leader of the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB), the main opposition party, warned the President that the State of Emergency runs counter to seeking a solution to the crisis. “Just resign,” he tweeted soon after the imposition of the Emergency.

David McKinnon, the Canadian Ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives, tweeted soon after the declaration of Emergency that “it was hard to understand why it is necessary,” given the fact that protests across Sri Lanka “overwhelmingly involved citizens enjoying their right to peaceful freedom of expression and are a credit to the country’s democracy”.