Incumbent PM stands in Sri Lanka President Rajapaksa's way

World | 19 Nov 2019 5:45 pm

Sri Lanka’s newly-elected President, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, may struggle to consolidate his victory.

With many executive powers clipped and the opposition in control of Parliament, the former defense secretary who inspires respect but also fear may have difficulty assembling a government, writes AP's Krishan Francis.

Rajapaksa, who is credited with helping to vanqish Tamil terrorism, comfortably won Saturday’s presidential election with about 52 percent of the vote.

When Rajapaksa was sworn in as Sri Lanka’s seventh president yesterday, he said he would form his own government.

“I am the executive president of this country. I will not hesitate to use my executive power for the benefit of the country,” Rajapaksa said. “I will form a new government that can implement my policies.”

But that depends on whether unpopular Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe loses a no-confidence vote or resigns, allowing Parliament to choose a new prime minister.

Rajapaksa faces legal barriers in appointing a government because of a 2015 constitutional amendment that curtails the powers of the presidency that followed an unsuccessful bid for reelection by his brother, ex-president Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The president can appoint or fire ministers only on the advice of the prime minister — whom the president has no power to remove.

Rajapaksa can legally dissolve Parliament only next March, six months before its term ends.

Wickremesinghe’s party is in discussions on its future course and says it recognizes the mandate Rajapaksa received, but that it has not yet decided whether to clear the way.

“The mandate is so overwhelming that it is difficult for the Ranil Wickremesinghe government to survive anymore,” said analyst and independent journalist Kusal Perera. Several Cabinet ministers have already resigned after the governing party’s defeat.

The parliamentary speaker’s office said in a statement that party leaders and lawmakers are discussing different options including a voluntary dissolution of Parliament with the support of two-thirds of its members or allowing Rajapaksa to appoint a caretaker government to function until March.

Rajapaksa will also need a national budget for 2020 by April with the current government having only approved an interim budget for the first three months of the year because of the impending election.

He is inheriting an economy wounded by last April’s Easter Sunday bomb attacks that killed 269 people. The suicide bombings blamed on local Muslim groups were carried out at three churches and three tourist hotels.

Tourists fled the country soon after the attacks, hurting hotels and tourism-dependent businesses.

Rajapaksa must find the wherewithal to make repayments on foreign debt totaling nearly US$6 billion.

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