Crisis in Sri Lanka: the opposition divided on the face of the new Prime Minister


COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s main opposition, the SJB, is divided over the choice of the next prime minister because its leader Sajith Premadasa does not want to be prime minister in the interim government led by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
In a late night televised address to the nation, the president on Wednesday refused to step down but promised to appoint a new prime minister and young cabinet this week who would introduce key constitutional reforms to limit his powers, amid protests against the country’s worst economic crisis. crisis that ousted his older brother Mahinda Rajapaksa who is under protection at a naval base following violent attacks on his aides.
The main opposition split Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) came to light when its leading figure, Harin Fernando, told reporters that he had decided to remain independent from the party.
He said the leader of the Premadasa party was unwilling to be the prime minister of the caretaker government.
“Now is not the time to set conditions and shirk our responsibilities, every minute that passes without a government would be disastrous,” Fernando said, adding that he would support any interim prime minister to lead the country.
Sri Lanka has been without a government since Monday, when Gotabaya’s older brother and prime minister, Mahinda Rajapaksa, resigned after violence erupted following an attack on anti-government protesters by his supporters. The attack sparked widespread violence against Rajapaksa loyalists, killing nine people, including two policemen.
Premadasa asserted morally that he “would not accept being Prime Minister under the corrupt Rajapaksas”, SJB leader Fernando said.
Premadasa would only become prime minister if President Gotabaya Rajapaksa steps down, he said.
The SJB wrote a four-point letter to the president on Wednesday evening.
It included conditions such that he had to resign for a specified period of time; it must not interfere in the day-to-day running of the government; the cabinet of the caretaker government must be appointed not according to its will and the executive presidency must be abolished.
If President Gotabaya Rajapaksa agreed, Premadasa would become the prime minister.
The group, which became independent from the ruling coalition which had suggested three names for the prime minister, said it would agree with the president’s choice.
“The President appoints the person who he thinks could get the support of Parliament. So let him make the nomination first and we can consider when he reaches parliament,” Anura Yapa, a lawmaker with the group, told PTI.
The president, in his address on Wednesday evening, said the person who commands the parliamentary majority would be appointed prime minister.
Former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who met the president on Wednesday evening, is expected to become the new prime minister of the caretaker government.
Wickremesinghe only has his seat in the 225-member assembly, but said he has won support from a wider section to run the caretaker administration.
Mahinda, the 76-year-old leader of the Sri Lanka People’s Party (SLPP), known for his brutal military campaign against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) during his presidency from 2005 to 2015, resigned on Monday.
He is being protected at Naval Base Trincomalee after being evacuated from his official residence, Defense Secretary General (Retired) Kamal Guneratne said on Wednesday.
Mahinda, who served as the country’s three-time prime minister, had his private residence set on fire on Monday. Along with his wife and family, he fled his official residence – Temple Trees – and took refuge at Trincomalee Naval Base after a series of deadly attacks on his followers.
A curfew is in effect across the island nation after mobs torched the ancestral home belonging to the ruling Rajapaksa family amid growing anger over their mismanagement of the economy, leading to the worst economic crisis of the island nation.
More than 250 people were injured in the clashes which also saw dozens of properties belonging to ruling party politicians set on fire.
Sri Lanka is facing its worst economic crisis since gaining independence from Britain in 1948. The crisis is caused in part by a lack of foreign currency, which means the country cannot afford to pay for imports of ‘staple food and fuel, resulting in an acute attack. shortages and very high prices.
Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets of Sri Lanka since April 9 to demand the resignation of the Rajapaksa brothers.
The powerful Rajapaksa clan has dominated Sri Lankan politics for years. Gotabaya is the latest member of the Rajapaksa family in office and his brother’s resignation as prime minister has done nothing to appease protesters or restore calm to the island nation.
Meanwhile, the nationwide curfew that was imposed following the violent incidents was lifted at 7 a.m. Thursday for seven hours and will be reimposed at 2 p.m., the president’s office said.
The curfew will then be in effect until 6 a.m. on Friday.

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