Mahinda Rajapaksa to be Sri Lanka Prime Minister

Ranil Wickremesinghe steps down after his party’s candidate Sajith Premadasa lost in the presidential election

November 20, 2019 06:40 pm | Updated November 21, 2019 07:41 am IST

Sri Lanka's former defense secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa (R) waves next to his brother and former president Mahinda Rajapaksa. File

Sri Lanka's former defense secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa (R) waves next to his brother and former president Mahinda Rajapaksa. File

Sri Lanka’s Leader of Opposition Mahinda Rajapaksa will be sworn in as Prime Minister on Thursday by his younger brother and newly-elected President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, following incumbent Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe’s resignation.

Mr. Wickremesinghe on Wednesday announced his decision to step down, days after his party’s presidential candidate Sajith Premadasa lost to Mr. Gotabaya. “Although we enjoy a parliamentary majority, we respect the mandate received by Mr. Rajapaksa and we have decided to allow him to form a new government,” he said in a statement. 

“I value democracy. I respect democracy. I act according to democratic values,” he said, adding that he would officially tender his resignation to the President on Thursday. The move enables Mr. Gotabaya to appoint a caretaker government until general elections, which he may choose to call by dissolving Parliament in March — when 4.5. years of its term is complete — or when the legislature’s full term ends in August. Alternatively, the House could be dissolved anytime with a favourable vote from two-thirds of its members.

“Our leader [Mr. Mahinda] will be sworn in as PM tomorrow afternoon, and he will assume duties immediately after that,” Keheliya Rambukwella, spokesperson of the Rajapaksas’ Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (People’s Party or SLPP) told  The Hindu .

Mr. Mahinda served as President for two consecutive terms spanning a decade from 2005. He was unable to run again, due to a 2015 legislation that disallows a third term. Consequently, his brother Mr. Gotabaya contested in last week’s election and won with a clear majority.

The 2015 legislation, or the 19th Amendment to Sri Lanka’s Constitution, clips the President’s executive powers, in turn empowering the Parliament led by the Prime Minister. 

Mr. Gotabaya, who has worked as Defence Secretary during Mr. Mahinda’s presidency, will now have to share powers which his brother, the incoming Premier.

On Thursday, Mr. Mahinda assume charge as Prime Minister, a year after a failed attempt by outgoing President Maithripala Sirisena to appoint him to the post. In October 2018, Mr. Sirisena controversially sacked Mr. Wickremesinghe appointed Mr. Mahinda in his place. However, following the 52-day constitutional crisis, Mr. Wickremesinghe was re-installed as Premier, while Mr. Mahinda was named Leader of Opposition.

Meanwhile, many legislators in the Mr. Wickremesinghe-led United National Party (UNP), are pressuring him to make way for Mr. Premadasa as the Leader of Opposition. “MPs backing Mr. Premadasa have requested Mr. Wickremesinghe to consider this, because we feel that is the only way we can build on the support he drew in this election,” said Harin Fernando, who was a cabinet minister in the incumbent government. He, along with few others, resigned from their ministerial positions following their candidate’s poll defeat.

“We need to reflect on the poll outcome and re-strategise. And many of us think Mr. Premadasa should lead us at this time,” he told The Hindu. Mr. Premadasa resigned from the post of deputy leader of the party, and has reportedly said he would quit politics if he is not allowed to lead the UNP.

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