Economic crisis in Lanka: Rajapaksa’s grip on power weakens; Finance minister resigns within 24 hours of appointment: The Tribune India


Colombo, April 5

Sri Lanka’s ruling coalition, led by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, faced more problems on Tuesday after the resignation of new Finance Minister Ali Sabry, even as dissenting lawmakers, led by former President Maithripala Sirisena , were planning to quit government amid nationwide protests against the country’s worst economic crisis.

President Rajapaksa had appointed Sabry after sacking his brother Basil Rajapaksa, who was at the center of anger in the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) coalition.

In a letter to the president, Sabry said he took the job as a temporary measure.

“However, after much thought and deliberation and in view of the current situation, I am now of the view that Your Excellency must make appropriate interim arrangements to weather the unprecedented crisis in a fresh and proactive manner, and unconventional measures must be taken, including the appointment of a new finance minister,” Sabry said in the letter.

He was among four new ministers appointed by the president on Monday after all cabinet ministers resigned a day earlier.

When Parliament convened on Tuesday, several government allies expressed their decision to remain neutral. It was the first session since President Rajapaksa declared a state of emergency last week.

The ruling coalition, which had won 150 seats in the 2020 general election and continued to grow its membership thanks to opposition defections, appeared to lose the support of at least 41 MPs.

It now appears to have 109 seats, five short of the 113 seats required for a simple majority in the 225-member parliament.

The government, however, claimed it had a simple majority.

Sri Lanka is currently experiencing the worst economic crisis in its history. With long queues for fuel, cooking gas, out-of-stock essentials and long hours of power cuts, the public has been suffering for months.

The dissidents, led by former President Sirisena’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), would quit the ruling SLPP coalition with its 14 MPs, party sources said after meeting the president on Monday.

The coalition, which won 157 out of 225 votes in the government’s last budget vote, is expected to lose between 50 and 60 members, Udaya Gammanpila, a dissident MP, told reporters on Monday.

As a result, the government would not only be deprived of its two-thirds, but even a simple majority of 113 members, he said.

However, Rohitha Abeygunawardena, an SLPP MP, said the government was rock solid with 138 members backing it.

The dissidents said that in addition to Sirisena’s 14 members, another 16 of the coalition’s 11 other members would defect to become an independent group. They expect at least 20 SLPP members to join their ranks.

On Monday, angry protesters stormed the homes of many government politicians, including Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s country house in the far south of the province.

Prasanna Ranatunga, who is a staunch Rajapaksa loyalist, said: “The president will not resign over the protests, but he is ready to hand over the government to anyone who can prove he is 113.”

The president had called on opposition parties to join a unity government to deal with the public anger unleashed over the hardships caused by the economic crisis.

Opposition parties rejected the offer.

The president, who has named only four members to his new cabinet, would be forced to appoint his own SLPP cabinet on Tuesday, analysts said.

Despite the declaration of a state of emergency and a weekend curfew, people joined protests calling for Rajapaksa’s resignation.

While President Rajapaksa holds the all-powerful executive presidency, his older brother Mahinda, who is a former president, is the current prime minister.

Basil held the finance ministry portfolio until his dismissal on Monday.

Mahinda’s son Namal, the heir apparent, is Minister of Youth and Sports.

India recently announced a $1 billion line of credit to Sri Lanka as part of its financial assistance to the country to tackle the economic crisis after a previous $500 billion line of credit. in February to help him buy petroleum products.

During his recently concluded visit to Colombo, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar had assured India’s continued support in Sri Lanka’s economic recovery process.

President Rajapaksa has defended his government’s actions, saying the currency crisis was not his fault and the economic downturn was largely due to the pandemic, the island nation’s tourism revenue and remittances decreasing incoming.

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