Sri Lanka’s Acting President Ranil Wickremesinghe on Monday declared an Emergency, days before legislators elect a new President in a scheduled parliamentary vote, amid political tumult and a deepening economic crisis. Wickremesinghe is a frontrunner in the contest.

This is the third time that Sri Lanka is under Emergency rule since April. A state of Emergency gives the President to make regulations, overriding existing laws and democracy advocates associated it with arbitrary arrests, especially of dissidents.

‘Draconian act’

The move drew sharp criticism from the political opposition and civil society. “Imposition of Emergency is an undemocratic draconian act. Peace loving citizens of our motherland have the sacred privilege to exercise their fundamental rights in a democratic society. Long live democracy,” Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa said in a tweet.

The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL), a professional body of lawyers, urged the Acting President to revoke the proclamation. “A declaration of a state of Emergency is not the answer to the present situation in the country, including the spate of public protests which have occurred which resulted in the eventual resignation of the former President,” the association said in a statement.

Following Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s resignation from Presidency last week, the then Prime Minister Wickremesinghe was appointed Acting President. Even prior to his official appointment, Wickremesinghe sought to declare an Emergency and curfew, until he was forced to backtrack on the decision that sparked wide condemnation.

Presidential election

Constitutionally, a new President must be elected through Parliament within one month if the office of the President falls vacant. The nominations will be made on Tuesday, making known the final list of presidential aspirants in parliament. Wickremesinghe is said to have considerable support from the Rajapaksas’ party that holds a majority in the House, although some of its members are openly backing his contender Dullas Alahapperuma, a former Rajapaksa loyalist now sitting independently. Premadasa and leader of the leftist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) Anura Kumara Dissanayake have also said they would run for Presidency. The vote will be held through a secret ballot.

Meera Srinivasan is The Hindu Correspondent in Colombo

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