Sri Lanka’s main Opposition SJB said on Sunday that it has rejected an offer by embattled President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to its leader Sajith Premadasa to head 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,” Tissa Attanayake, the national organiser for Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) told reporters.
Rajapaksa had called over the telephone both Premadasa and Harsha de Silva, the SJB economic guru, on the prospect of forming an interim government which had been a demand endorsed by the powerful Buddhist clergy as well as the group which had broken away from the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) coalition.
The SJB announced on Saturday that they would back the proposal from the lawyers’ body BASL which had advocated for the setting up of an interim government for a period of 18 months with a move to abolish the presidential system of governance.
They had also called for the repealing of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution which conferred unfettered powers to Rajapaksa in 2020.
The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) calls for the restoration of the 19 Amendment to the Constitution which had empowered Parliament over the president.
The SJB is to have a discussion with the BASL on this proposal, the SJB leader Harin Fernando said.
The 19A adopted in 2015 pruned presidential powers by empowering Parliament above the executive president.
However, the 19A was scrapped after Gotabaya Rajapaksa won the November 2019 presidential election. Meanwhile, former President Maithripala Sirisena also met Premadasa on Saturday to ask the SJB to take over the interim government.
Premadasa, 55, has already announced that he would not be a party to any government headed by the two Rajapaksas – Gotabaya and Mahinda.
The SJB, which has handed over to the parliamentary Speaker motions of no-confidence against the SLPP coalition government and President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, is putting pressure on parliamentary Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena to advance the date of its debate.
The Buddhist clergy too has intensified pressure on Rajapaksa to implement the interim government plan. The government hemmed in by a month of street protests has imposed a state of emergency, which gives the security forces sweeping powers to crack down on dissent.
Sri Lanka is currently in the throes of unprecedented economic turmoil since its independence from Britain in 1948. Thousands of demonstrators have hit the streets across Sri Lanka since April 9, as the government ran out of money for vital imports; prices of essential commodities have skyrocketed and there are acute shortages in fuel, medicines and electricity supply. Despite mounting pressure, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his elder brother and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa have refused to quit office.
In a special Cabinet meeting on Friday, President Rajapaksa declared a state of emergency with effect from Friday midnight. This is the second emergency declared in just over a month. Rajapaksa had declared an emergency on April 1 also after a mass protest opposite his private residence. He had revoked it on April 5 following severe criticism of his move.