Sri Lankan opposition prepares to form new government as crisis worsens


COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s opposition announced on Wednesday it was preparing to form a new government following the resignation of the country’s prime minister, as the country plunged into political turmoil.

For over a month, protesters have been taking to the streets across the country, which is facing its worst economic crisis in decades, demanding that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa step down. While the president remains in office, his prime minister and brother, Mahinda Rajapaksa, quit on Monday, as once-peaceful protests turned violent and at least seven people were killed in clashes.

Troops were deployed to the streets of the capital Colombo on Wednesday with an order to shoot those deemed to be participating in the violence, as acts of arson and vandalism continued despite a nationwide curfew.

The main opposition alliance, Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB), has nominated Sajith Premadasa, leader of the opposition in parliament, to form a new government.

“We are prepared to form the government with Sajith Premadasa as the prime minister provided the president steps down from his post,” the SJB said in a statement.

Premadasa is the son of Ranasinghe Premadasa, who served as the country’s president from 1989 to 1993. He contested the 2019 presidential election, in which he lost to Rajapaksa.

Premadasa’s bid to take over the country’s premiership has also been endorsed by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, a former government coalition member.

The party’s secretary general, Dayasiri Jayasekara, said in a statement that if Premadasa is “willing to accept the Premiership, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) is prepared to support him.”

He called on the opposition leader to accept the office without waiting for the president to step down to prevent the situation from further deteriorating into a “state of anarchy.”

The opposition, which has rejected the president’s calls for a unity government, does not have the necessary two-thirds majority in parliament to impeach him.

The current absence of a prime minister further complicates the situation, as a president’s resignation must be followed with a takeover by the prime minister under the country’s constitution, before a new person is nominated to complete the unexpired presidential term.

Sri Lanka is also likely to face difficulties in negotiations for foreign aid without a premier, as it continues discussions with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout. 

“Once the premier is appointed, the president also could be appointed by the legislature following Rajapaksa’s withdrawal from his post,” Hussein Mohamed, former Colombo mayor and ex-ambassador to Saudi Arabia, told Arab News.

“Any delay in taking over the premiership by Sajith Premadasa would lead the country to anarchy.”  

Sri Lankans blame the Rajapaksas, the country’s most influential political dynasty, for a meltdown in the island nation that reduced reserves to around $50 million, stalling most imports and bringing massive shortages of fuel and key food items and medicines.

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