Sri Lanka crisis: Acting President Wickremesinghe declares emergency ahead of presidential election
On Monday morning, the government gazette dated July 17 declared a state of emergency in the island country.
Acting President Ranil Wickremesinghe of Sri Lanka declared a state of emergency on Monday, giving him broad powers ahead of the crucial presidential election on Wednesday, a move dubbed by opposition leaders as an "undemocratic draconian act" amid growing calls for his resignation.
Wickremesinghe, who was sworn in as acting President on Friday after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled to the Maldives and then to Singapore, where he resigned in the face of public outrage over his government's mismanagement of the country's economy, declared an emergency as protests in most parts of the country demanded his resignation.
On Monday morning, the government gazette dated July 17 declared a state of emergency in the troubled country.
Wickremesinghe stated in the notification that enforcing public emergency was necessary in Sri Lanka for public security, public order protection, and maintaining supplies and services essential to the community's life.
On July 20, the 225-member Parliament will elect a new president. The seat became vacant following Rajapaksa's resignation last week.
Part 2 of the public security ordinance empowers the President to impose emergency regulations, which states that (a) if the President believes that the police are inadequate to deal with a situation, he may issue an order calling out the armed forces to maintain public order.
This means that security forces will have the authority to search, arrest, seize, and remove weapons and explosives, and enter and search premises or people.
Opposition leaders slammed the decision to declare an emergency. Sajith Premadasa, leader of the opposition and Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) party, tweeted that the declaration of a state of emergency is an undemocratic and draconian act. Peace-loving citizens of our motherland have the sacred privilege of exercising their fundamental rights in a democratic society. Long live democracy!
In two separate tweets, Opposition Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MP M A Sumanthiran tagged media reports and wrote, "Ranil Rajapaksa': Wickremesinghe's Power Grab Will End Badly for Sri Lanka," and "Why @RW_UNP has become unacceptable to the nation to replace @GotabayaR as President for the remaining term?
The emergency declaration comes as Parliament prepares to accept nominations for the presidency, which became vacant last week after Rajapaksa fled the country and later resigned. Rajapaksa is in Singapore right now.
At least four candidates, including Wickremesinghe, are vying to be the next President, taking over Rajapaksa's remaining term until November 2024. The vote in Parliament is scheduled for Wednesday.
The acting President's office announced on Sunday that he had directed police to keep track of anyone threatening or influencing parliamentarians during Wednesday's vote. According to local media, security around the Parliament complex has been increased, and all entry roads leading to the Parliament have been closed off with roadblocks.
In addition to Wickremesinghe and Premadasa, Marxist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake and Dullas Alahapperuma, a breakaway SLPP candidate, have announced their candidacy to contest the vote in Parliament.
Wickremesinghe has officially received the support of the ruling SLPP. The 73-year-old politician, who leads the United National Party (UNP), was routed in the 2020 parliamentary election.
The decision to declare an emergency also came amid growing demands for Wickremesinghe's resignation.
On Sunday, Sri Lankan protesters vowed to continue their fight for a complete system change by abolishing the presidency.
Sri Lanka is in the grip of its worst economic crisis in seven decades, with a severe foreign exchange shortage impeding imports of necessities such as food, fuel, and medicines.
Since April, when protests against the government erupted, Sri Lanka has declared a state of emergency several times.
Wickremesinghe declared a state of emergency last week after Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled the country, but it was not officially announced.
Following a popular uprising against the government, the country experienced a political crisis due to an economic crisis.
The island nation off the coast of southeast India requires approximately USD 5 billion in the next six months to cover necessities for its 22 million residents, who have been experiencing power outages, growing shortages, and long queues.