Colombo, Sri Lanka ( Associated Press) – A group of lawmakers from the Sri Lankan ruling party called for the appointment of an interim government on Tuesday, warning that failure to do so would lead to violence and chaos, as protesters demanded the resignation of President Gotabaya. Were were Rajapaksa expressed displeasure over the country’s worst economic crisis in decades.
The MPs urged the Speaker of Parliament to lead discussions with all parties to choose an interim prime minister with the support of a majority of legislators.
However, the largest opposition party said it would not support any interim government and insisted that the president resign immediately.
“We should pay attention to the voices on the streets. The government should start from the president,” said Sajith Premadasa, leader of the United People’s Force or SJB.
The SJB has 54 seats out of 225 in Parliament. The governing coalition controlled about 150 seats before the current crisis, but is believed to have lost the support of some lawmakers.
Sri Lanka’s cabinet resigned on Sunday night after thousands of people violated the state of emergency and curfew and joined street protests condemning the government.
The president and his older brother, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, remain in power despite their politically powerful family being the center of public outcry.
For several months, Sri Lankans have faced long lines to buy fuel, cooking gas, food items and medicine, most of them from abroad. Hard currency crunch has also hampered imports of raw materials for manufacturing and worsened inflation, which rose to 18.7% in March.
As oil prices rise during the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the island nation’s fuel stocks are running out. Authorities have announced nationwide power cuts of up to 7 1/2 hours a day because they cannot supply enough fuel to power generating stations.
Parliament met on Tuesday for the first time since the protests began earlier this month.
He said, ‘The first condition for solving this problem is that this government has to be left. There should be an interim government in its place,” said MLA Vimal Veeravansa, a former member of Rajapaksa’s cabinet.
“We as members of the government and the opposition have a responsibility to solve this problem. If not, there may be bloodshed in this country,” said party MLA Vijayadas Rajapakse. “If that happens, you and all of us will be responsible.”
Both Veerawansa and Rajapaksa were elected on the governing party ticket, but later opted to vote independent of the Coalition’s directives.
During Tuesday’s session, about 40 governing Coalition lawmakers said they would no longer vote according to the Coalition’s directives, leaving the government significantly weakened.
MPs also asked the speaker to ensure their safety on Tuesday, as angry protesters surrounded the homes of several governing party members on Monday, shouting slogans and pelting stones.
Police barricaded the area around Parliament, where a few hundred protesters were holding placards and shouting “return our stolen money”.
“We have to get all the thieves out of Parliament,” said one of the protesters, Devani Jayatilaka. “The President has to go and there should be an audit of the assets of all the leaders.”
A group of lawyers held a rally near Sri Lanka’s main court complex and accused the attorney general of protecting corrupt politicians. Catholic priests and nuns also held a silent protest near the Archbishop’s house and called on the authorities to stop the persecution and protect the rights of the people.
President Rajapaksa has assumed emergency powers that give him wide-ranging powers to protect public order, suppress rebellions, riots or civil unrest, or maintain essential supplies. Under the decree, the President can authorize detention, confiscation of property and search of premises. He can also change or suspend any law except the constitution.
On Monday, Rajapaksa invited all parties to join a unity government to resolve the crisis, but the SJB immediately rejected the offer.
The extent of Sri Lanka’s economic crisis became clear when it could not pay for imports of basic supplies due to its heavy debt and dwindling foreign reserves. The country is said to have usable reserves of less than $400 million and about $7 billion in foreign debt obligations for this year alone.
The pandemic has dealt a heavy blow to an economy that relies heavily on tourism and trade, with the government estimating losses of $14 billion over the past two years. According to the central bank, the economy is projected to shrink 1.5% in July-September 2021.
The already dire economic crisis has deepened as oil prices rose above $100 a barrel coupled with the war in Ukraine. Vehicles are stranded with empty tanks, power cuts leaving students unable to study for exams, and air conditioners in shopping malls being switched off to conserve energy. Sri Lanka was already so short of hard currency that officials ordered a ban on imports of cars and fertilizers and appealed to the country’s expatriates to send money home to help restore their foreign reserves. .
Rajapaksa said last month that his government was in talks with the International Monetary Fund and had turned to China and India for loans.
The president’s two brothers, Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa and Irrigation Minister Chamal Rajapaksa, along with the prime minister’s son, Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa, were among the cabinet members who resigned on Sunday. Those resignations were seen as the family’s attempt to quell public anger while retaining executive, defense and law-making powers.