President Rajapaksa loses parliamentary majority and new finance minister

Silent procession of nuns denouncing corruption on April 5, 2022 in Colombo (Ishara S. KODIKARA / AFP)

Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa lost his parliamentary majority and his new finance minister on Tuesday as protests and calls for his resignation intensified amid an unprecedentedly severe economic crisis.

The country of 22 million is suffering from shortages of basic commodities (food, fuel, medicines), power outages and record inflation, and nothing indicates an end to these difficulties.

The once-all-powerful Sri Lanka Podujana Party (SLPP) coalition of President Gotabay Rajapaksa suffered a string of defections ahead of the parliamentary session on Tuesday.

The latest of these is Sri Lanka’s new Finance Minister Ali Sabri, who announced his withdrawal from government on Tuesday, the day after his appointment as President Rajapaksa.

“river of blood”

Law enforcement patrol in Colombo, April 5, 2022
Law enforcement patrol in Colombo, April 5, 2022 (Ishara S. KODIKARA/AFP)

“While I regret the inconvenience caused, I believe that I have always acted in the best interests of the country,” Sabri added in a statement, advocating “new, proactive and unconventional measures” to address the country’s problems.

A new independent MP who left the presidential coalition ruled in parliament on Tuesday that it was time for the leader to step down.

“If we do not act now, a river of blood will flow through the country,” Vijeyadas told Rajapaksha. “We must forget about party politics and guarantee an interim government,” he added.

Sixteen SLPP deputies left its ranks, depriving the President of his brief five-member parliamentary majority in the House of 225.

Opposition parties have already rejected a proposal to form a government of national unity led by Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his older brother, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Parliament adjourned to allow party leaders to vote on the opposition’s request to move the extension of the state of emergency, which expires next Thursday, to a vote later Tuesday.

“protest party”

Demonstration at the entrance to the residence of the President of Sri Lanka, April 4, 2022
Demonstration at the entrance to the residence of the President of Sri Lanka, April 4, 2022 (Ishara S. KODIKARA / AFP)

Nimal Lanza, a former minister who also left the Rajapaksa administration, admitted that the ruling party no longer had a mandate to govern and supported the crowd demanding the president’s resignation.

“I ask and urge you to take the side of the protesters,” he told parliament, addressing the prime minister, who silently watched the meeting.

All members of the government, with the exception of the president and his older brother, resigned on Sunday evening.

Numerous demonstrations calling for the departure of Rajapaksa took place in the cities of the island, despite the state of emergency allowing the army to arrest offenders and the weekend curfew.

The crowd attempted to storm the residences of a dozen government officials, including the president in Colombo. The protesters set fire to the vehicles of the security forces, who responded with tear gas and rubber bullets.

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjit leads a silent procession denouncing the economic situation in Sri Lanka, April 5, 2022, in Colombo.
Cardinal Malcolm Ranjit leads a silent procession denouncing the economic situation in Sri Lanka April 5, 2022 in Colombo. (Ishara S. KODIKARA / AFP)

But most of the protests were peaceful. Catholic clergy and nuns, led by Cardinal Malcolm Ranjit, also organized a silent procession in the capital.

The Covid pandemic has led to a sharp drop in tourism and remittance income. With a severe shortage of foreign exchange, Sri Lanka is struggling to pay off its whopping $51 billion debt.

Bad policy decisions have exacerbated the problems, economists say. Misguided tax cuts just before the pandemic drained government revenue and increased debt.

The government has acknowledged that this was the worst economic crisis since independence in 1948 and has turned to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for help, but negotiations could take until the end of the year.

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