Sri Lankan opposition meeting to form new government amid uproar

Colombo, Sri Lanka – Sri Lanka’s opposition political parties were meeting on Sunday to agree a new government, a day after the country’s president and prime minister offered to resign In the most dramatic day of months of political turmoil, protesters stormed the homes of both leaders and set a building on fire in anger over the economic crisis.

Protesters stayed at President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s home, his seaside office and the prime minister’s residence, saying they would stay there until he officially resigned. Troops were deployed around the city and Chief of Defense Staff Shavendra Silva called for public support to maintain law and order.

Ranjit Madduma Bandara, a top official of the main opposition United People’s Force, said separate discussions were held with other parties and MPs who broke away from Rajapaksa’s ruling coalition and more meetings were planned. He did not say when the deal could be reached, although it was expected to be finalized on Sunday.

Another opposition legislator, MA Sumanthiran, had earlier said that all opposition parties combined could easily mobilize the 113 members needed to show a majority in parliament, at which point they would request Rajapaksa to install a new government and then resign. will do.

Rajapaksa appears to have vacated his residence before the storm hit, and government spokesman Mohan Samarnayake said he had no idea about his movements. A statement from the President’s Office on Sunday said Rajapaksa ordered officials to immediately begin distributing the consignment of cooking gas, suggesting he was still on the job.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said he would step down once a new government was formed, and hours later the speaker of parliament said Rajapaksa would step down on Wednesday. Both men were under increased pressure as the economic downturn led to an acute shortage of essential commodities, forcing people to struggle to obtain food, fuel and other necessities.

Protesters rest on a sofa in the living hall of the prime minister’s official residence, a day after vandalism, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Sunday, July 10, 2022.

Address Jayawardene / AP

If both the President and the Prime Minister resign, President Mahinda Yapa Abhaywardene will take over as the Provisional President in accordance with the Constitution.

Rajapaksa appointed Wickremesinghe as prime minister in May in an effort to address the shortfall and launch economic reforms.

Wickremesinghe was part of key talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a bailout program and with the World Food Program to prepare for a projected food crisis. The government will have to submit a plan on debt stability to the IMF in August before an agreement can be reached.

Analysts say it is doubtful that any new leader can do more than Wickremesinghe. His government’s efforts showed promise, much-needed fertilizers were distributed to farmers for next season’s cultivation and the first consignment of LPG orders arrived in the country on Sunday.

“Such unrest could create confusion among international organizations such as the IMF and the World Bank,” said political analyst Ranga Kalansuriya. He said a new administration must agree on a common program for economic reform.

He said that while Wickremesinghe was working in the right direction, the weakness of his administration was not implementing a long-term plan to focus on solving day-to-day problems.

It is unlikely that an all-party government would agree to IMF-backed economic reforms without losing the political support of some parties.

Wickremesinghe said on Saturday that his departure without the government was not appropriate.

Wickremesinghe said, “Today in this country we have a fuel crisis, a food shortage, we have the head of the World Food Program here and we have many matters to discuss with the IMF.” “Therefore, if this government goes, there should be another government.”

Thousands of protesters stormed the capital Colombo on Saturday and gathered at Rajapaksa’s fortified residence. Crowds of people splashed in the garden pool, lay on beds and used their cellphone cameras to capture the moment. Some made tea or used the gym, while others issued statements from a conference room demanding the president and prime minister leave.

Even though both Wickremesinghe and the Speaker of Parliament, Abewardene, said in their speeches that they had spoken with the President, they did not say anything about his whereabouts.

Wickremesinghe’s office said the protesters later entered the prime minister’s private residence and set it on fire. It was not clear whether he was present at the time of infiltration or not.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington was monitoring developments in Sri Lanka and urged parliament to act quickly to implement a solution and address public discontent.

Speaking at a news conference in Bangkok, Blinken said the United States condemns attacks against peaceful protesters, while calling for a full investigation into any protest-related violence.

Sri Lanka is dependent on aid from India and other countries as leaders try to negotiate a bailout with the IMF. Wickremesinghe recently said that talks with the IMF were complicated as Sri Lanka was now a bankrupt state.

Sri Lanka announced in April that it was suspending repayment of foreign loans due to a lack of foreign currency. Its total external debt is $51 billion, of which it will have to pay $28 billion by the end of 2027.

Months of demonstrations have decimated the political dynasty of Rajapaksa, who has ruled Sri Lanka for more than two decades but has been accused of mismanagement and corruption by protesters. The president’s older brother resigned as prime minister in May after violent protests saw him demanding security at a naval base. Later he went to live in a house in Colombo.

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