COLOMBO: In a major victory for Sri Lanka’s embattled Rajapaksa clan, the government backed nominee on Thursday won the secret vote for the position of Deputy Speaker, demonstrating the ruling SLPP coalition’s ability to prove their parliamentary majority despite raging public protests demanding their resignation for mishandling the country's worst economic crisis.
MP Ranjith Siyambalapitiya was re-elected to the position from which he had resigned.
Siyambalapitiya, a member of the former President Maithripala Sirisena’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), had resigned as his party decided to stay independent of the government.
He was elected with 148 for and 65 against with three invalid votes, Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeyawardene announced.
Despite the SLFP going independent, the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) decided to back Siyambalapitiya in their bid to show that the government majority was intact. Speaking after his election as the Deputy Speaker, Siyambalapitiya said he had expected to be unanimously appointed by both the government and the Opposition.
The main Opposition leader Sajith Premadasa said they decided to field their nominee Imtiaz Bakeer Markar as they had learnt the ruling SLPP was to back Siyambalapitiya at a possible secret vote.
Premadasa accused Siyambalapitiya as a "government stooge."
The government majority was seen as fragile since the decision by some 40 lawmakers from the ruling coalition declaring independence in view of the raging public protests calling for the resignation of the entire Rajapaksa family.
With more members from the ruling coalition calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa to make way for an interim government of all parties, Rajapaksa stayed put claiming majority.
The Deputy Speaker’s vote appears to have restrengthened his position, experts said. Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and President Gotabaya Rajapaksa are coming under increasing pressure to step down in the simmering economic meltdown where people struggle with all essentials, including having to put up with power cuts.
The main opposition party, Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB), handed over to the Speaker two motions of no-confidence against the SLPP coalition government and embattled President Gotabaya Rajapaksa under Article 42 of the Constitution.
Article 42 stipulates that the President is responsible to Parliament for the exercise, performance and discharge of his functions.
Any motion needs seven days' notice before getting into the order paper for debate. A date has not yet been announced for a vote on the no-confidence motions.
The Opposition parties accuse top government officials of excessively printing money, hurting farm production by banning chemical fertilizers to make the production fully organic and minimize import costs, failing to order COVID-19 vaccines in a timely manner and buying them later at higher prices.
Sri Lanka is currently in the throes of unprecedented economic turmoil since its independence from Britain in 1948. The crisis is caused in part by a lack of foreign currency, which has meant that the country cannot afford to pay for imports of staple foods and fuel, leading to acute shortages and very high prices.
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.