Opposition leader seeks to abolish presidential governance system, which came into effect in 2019
Sri Lanka’s main opposition party, the SJB, said on Sunday it had rejected an offer by embattled President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to his leader Sajith Premadasa to lead an interim government amid continued political uncertainty in the country, which is now under a state of emergency.
“Our leader refused to accept the president’s offer,” Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) national organizer Tissa Attanayake told reporters.
Rajapaksa had called both Premadasa and Harsha de Silva by phone, to discuss the prospect of forming an interim government. The request was endorsed by the powerful Buddhist clergy as well as the group that had split from the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) coalition.
The SJB announced on Saturday that it would support the proposal of the BASL legal body, which had argued for the establishment of an interim government for a period of 18 months to abolish the presidential system of governance.
They also called for the repeal of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution, which gave unlimited powers to Rajapaksa in 2020.
The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) is calling for the reinstatement of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which gave Parliament the power to override the President.
It was passed in 2015 and reduced presidential powers by giving parliament power above the executive president. However, it was dropped after Gotabaya Rajapaksa won the November 2019 presidential election.
The SJB needs to have a discussion with the BASL on this proposal, said SJB leader Harin Fernando.
Meanwhile, former President Maithripala Sirisena also met with Premadasa on Saturday to ask the SJB to take over the caretaker government.
Premadasa, 55, has already announced that he will not be part of any government led by the two Rajapaksas – Gotabaya and Mahinda.
The SJB, which has handed the Speaker of Parliament motions of no confidence against the SLPP coalition government and President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, is pressuring Speaker of Parliament Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena to bring forward the date of its debate.
The Buddhist clergy also intensified pressure on Rajapaksa to implement the caretaker government’s plan.
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The government, surrounded by a month of street protests, has imposed a state of emergency, which gives security forces sweeping powers to suppress dissent.
Sri Lanka is currently in the throes of economic turmoil not seen since its independence from Britain in 1948.
Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets of Sri Lanka since April 9, when the government ran out of money for vital imports; commodity prices have soared and there are severe shortages of fuel, medicine and electricity supplies.
Despite growing pressure, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his older brother and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa refused to leave office.
At a special Cabinet meeting on Friday, President Rajapaksa declared a state of emergency with effect from midnight Friday. This is the second declared emergency in just over a month.
Rajapaksa had declared a state of emergency on April 1 also after a mass demonstration in front of his private residence. However, he had dismissed him on April 5 following harsh criticism of his decision.