Sri Lanka Parliament meets to choose Deputy Speaker, initiate constitutional reforms
Sri Lanka's Parliament met for a crucial session on Tuesday, the first after the appointment of new Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, as the country looks to undertake major constitutional reforms amid the worst economic crisis.
The Parliament session began with mourning the murder of ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) lawmaker Amarakeerthi Athukorala, who was killed along with his personal security officer during clashes between anti- and pro-government protesters in the country last week.
The primary task in Tuesday's session was to select a suitable candidate for Deputy Speaker. The post of Deputy Speaker of Parliament was left vacant after Ranjith Siyamabalapitiya stepped down from the post.
The main Opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) party nominated Rohini Kaviratne, while the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) party nominated Ajith Rajapaksa for the post of Deputy Speaker.
However, a majority of the parliamentarians called on Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardana to terminate a secret vote without wasting time and money, and instruct the Opposition leader and the prime minister to reach common ground on a suitable candidate, preferably a female candidate as requested by the premier.
Leader of the National Freedom Front Wimal Weerawansa slammed the call for a vote stating that a voting process costs Rs 9 million from the taxpayers' money and by doing so, the entire Parliament becomes a joke in front of the people.
Lawmaker Nimal Lanza from the Independent group of MPs threatened to walk out of the chamber if a vote is called for, while former president Maithripala Sirisena and Chairman of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party said the SLFP lawmakers would cast invalid votes if a vote goes ahead.
The speaker, however, opted for the secret vote.
It is the first session of Parliament after the appointment of Wickremesinghe as Sri Lankan Prime Minister after the resignation of Mahinda Rajapaksa as premier.
Wickremesinghe on Sunday said that the 21st Amendment to the Constitution to curb the presidential powers will be discussed with the Attorney General's Department on Monday so that it can be submitted to the Cabinet for approval.
Protesters in the streets seek a change in the country's political system.
The 21st Amendment is expected to annul the 20A which gave unfettered powers to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa after abolishing the 19th Amendment which had made Parliament powerful over the president.
The powerful Rajapaksa family tightened their grip on power after their massive victory in the general elections in August 2020, which allowed them to amend the Constitution to restore presidential powers and install close family members in key positions.
In his 2019 presidential bid, Gotabaya Rajapaksa won a convincing mandate for a presidency during which he sought full presidential powers over Parliament.
The government under Gotabaya Rajapaksa took some decisions like banning chemical fertiliser imports in favour of organic farming and resisting turning to the International Monetary Fund which led to the country's worst economic crisis since its independence from Britain in 1948.
A crippling shortage of foreign reserves has led to long queues for fuel, cooking gas and other essentials while power cuts and soaring food prices heaped misery on the people.
The economic crisis also triggered a political crisis in Sri Lanka and a demand for the resignation of the powerful Rajapaksas.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa sacked his Cabinet and appointed a younger Cabinet as a response to the demand for his resignation. A continuous protest opposite his secretariat has now gone on for well over a month.
On May 9, Gotabaya Rajapaksa's elder brother Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned as the prime minister to make way for the president to appoint an interim all political party government. Wickremesinghe was appointed the country's new prime minister on Thursday.