President granted new powers . . .
On Monday, Sri Lanka’s parliament approved a state of emergency first declared by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on August 30 in response to potential food shortages. The president has been given extraordinary powers to pass Emergency Regulations – laws that are given primacy over existing laws, except for those preserved in Sri Lanka’s Constitution. The state of emergency also grants authorities the power to detain citizens without a warrant, suspend laws, seize property, issue orders, and search premises. Authorities that invoke these powers cannot be sued for their actions.
President takes steps to prevent food shortages . . .
Since the state of emergency was declared the government has appointed a commissioner to seize food stocks and ensure their prices are regulated. Although the government has officially denied that there are food shortages, prices for essential goods such as rice, sugar, potatoes, and onions have spiked recently, and shortages of cooking gas, milk powder, and kerosene have led to long queues outside stores. The government claims that the shortages are artificially created by hoarders but that the state of emergency is nonetheless needed to combat dwindling foreign reserves, which have dropped partly due to the lack of tourism income. Foreign reserves have decreased by approximately 63 per cent in the last two years, from C$9.5 billion in 2019 to just C$3.5 billion in 2021. Sri Lanka also has significant foreign debt that it must begin to repay despite the country’s economy contracting by 3.6 per cent in the past year and a significant depreciation of its currency.
Widespread criticism of the government’s strategy . . .
Declaring a state of emergency is not unprecedented, or even uncommon, in Sri Lanka – the country spent much of the past 50 years under a state of emergency, including during the civil war (1983-2009). Similarly, emergency regulations have been used in the past to stifle anti-government dissent. Several members of the opposition say the current state of emergency is politically motivated and that the measures the government wants to implement could have been done using other means. The government has defended its decision, claiming the pandemic caused too much of a delay in the normal legal process.
- Aljazeera: Sri Lanka parliament approves state of emergency
- The Hindu: Explained | What is the ‘food emergency’ in Sri Lanka?
- The Indian Express: Sri Lanka food and forex crisis: Here’s all you need to know