The Sri Lankan government is in turmoil as the economic crisis deepens and a health crisis develops

  • The government lost a majority in parliament
  • The Finance Minister resigned on the day of his inauguration
  • Shares rise after parliamentary events
  • Opposition groups called for the beleagured PM to resign

Colombo, April 5 (Reuters) – President Gotabhaya Rajapakse’s government, which has been battling to quell protests amid the country’s worst economic crisis for decades, left parliament as a minority and dozens of Sri Lankan parliamentarians left the ruling coalition on Tuesday.

In another setback for the administration, Finance Minister Ali Sabri resigned a day after his appointment and ahead of important talks planned with the International Monetary Fund for the loan scheme.

Rajapakse dissolved his cabinet on Monday and sought to form a united government as public unrest escalated as the ruling family dealt with a debt-ridden economy that led to food and fuel shortages and prolonged power cuts.

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A medical organization has told the government that there is a severe shortage of drugs that could disrupt the health system.

Politically, the next steps could be to appoint a new prime minister to replace the president’s older brother, Mahinda Rajapakse, or to hold parliamentary elections ahead of the planned referendum in 2025.

There is no immediate indication of what was planned.

Sabri, in his resignation letter to the president, said he believed “he acted in the best interests of the country.”

“At this crucial juncture, the country needs stability to deal with the current financial crisis and difficulties,” he said in a letter to Reuters.

Street protests against food and fuel shortages, triggered by a shortage of foreign exchange for imports, began last month but have intensified in recent days, sometimes leading to clashes between protesters and police.

Dozens of protesters gathered peacefully near the prime minister’s residence on Tuesday.

‘With people’

The party leaders announced in parliament the names of 41 MPs who will leave the coalition.

With 225 members, they left the Rajapaksa government with less than the required 113 members to retain a majority and are now independent.

Although Rajapaksa’s minority government decision making is very challenging, there has been no vote count so far. Independent parliamentarians, however, can continue to support government proposals in the House.

Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) leader Maithripala Sirisena, who withdrew his support for Rajapakse’s coalition, told parliament that “there is an endless shortage of essential commodities, including fuel and cooking gas. Hospitals are being closed due to a lack of medicines.”

At such a time our party stands on the side of the people.

Sri Lanka has announced the temporary closure of its embassies in Oslo and Baghdad and its consulate in Sydney from April 30, further indicating a lack of funding.

The Ministry of External Affairs has stated that it will restructure Sri Lanka’s diplomatic representation due to the “economic situation facing the country and foreign currency restrictions”.

The Government Medical Officers’ Association, which represents more than 16,000 doctors across the country, says there is a severe shortage of drugs, including life-saving drugs.

“Failure to ensure a consistent and adequate supply of essential medicines will lead to the collapse of the overall health system,” it said in a letter to the Ministry of Health.

“This will create a life-threatening situation for our citizens who are already facing an unprecedented crisis.”

Reuters graphics

Shares rise

The All Share Index (.CSE) of the Colombo Stock Exchange rose by about 6% as lawmakers made their positions clear in parliament.

Sirisena, along with other lawmakers, called on the president and prime minister to put forward a clear plan to resolve Sri Lanka’s financial crisis.

Opposition parties, however, demanded that the two brothers resign. A third brother, Basil Rajapaksa, resigned as finance minister on Sunday.

Protests erupted in several regions, including Colombo, Sri Lanka’s largest city, over the country’s worst economic crisis in decades.

Opposition parties have stated they will not run in the by-elections.

Sajid Premadasa, the leader of Sri Lanka’s main opposition party, the Samagi Jana Balavekaya, said:

“People want this president and the whole government to resign.”

A small group staged a protest near parliament, with police standing guard with tear gas and water cannons.

“If the government loses a majority, you can see the opposition bringing a no-confidence vote, but first there is the parliamentary process around it, which is unlikely to happen immediately,” said Louis Niranjan Ganesanathan, a lawyer who specializes in constitutional matters.

He said the president could appoint a new prime minister if a no-confidence motion is brought.

Ganesanathan added that the opposition could bring a resolution to dissolve parliament and hold elections.

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Report of Udita Jayasinghe and Devjot Koshal in Colombo; Further report by Varuna Karunathilaka in Colombo; Devajyot Koshal and Krishna n. Das wrote; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Bernard Pam

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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