Sri Lanka opposition hopes to install new government amid turmoil

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Demonstrators react to tear gas during a protest in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Reuters

Sri Lanka’s opposition political parties will meet Sunday to agree on a new government a day after the country’s president and prime minister offered to resign in the most dramatic day of monthslong political turmoil, with protesters storming both leaders’ homes and setting fire to one of the buildings in a rage over the economic crisis.

It was not clear if President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was at his residence at the time, and government spokesperson Mohan Samaranayake said he had no information about his movements.

Protesters remained in Rajapaksa’s home, his seaside office and the prime minister’s residence, saying they will stay until they officially resign. Soldiers were deployed around the city and Chief of Defense Staff Shavendra Silva called for public support to maintain law and order.

Opposition lawmaker M. A. Sumanthiran said all opposition parties combined could easily muster the 113 members needed to show a majority in Parliament, at which point they will request Rajapaksa to install the new government and then resign.

He said the parties hoped to reach consensus Sunday.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said he will leave office once a new government is in place, and hours later the speaker of Parliament said Rajapaksa would step down Wednesday. Pressure on both men had grown as the economic meltdown set off acute shortages of essential items, leaving people struggling to obtain food, fuel and other necessities.

If both president and prime minister resign, Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena will take over as temporary president, according to the constitution.

Rajapaksa appointed Wickremesinghe as prime minister in May in an effort to solve the shortages and start economic recovery.

Wickremesinghe had been part of crucial talks with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout program and with the World Food Program to prepare for a predicted food crisis. The government must submit a plan on debt sustainability to the IMF in August before reaching an agreement.

Analysts say it is doubtful any new leader could do more than Wickremesinghe. His government’s efforts showed promise, with much-needed fertilizer being distributed to farmers for next season’s cultivation and a first consignment of cooking gas orders arriving in the country Sunday.

“This kind of unrest could create confusion among international organizations like the IMF and the World Bank,” political analyst Ranga Kalansooriya said, adding that a new administration should agree on a common program for economic recovery.

He said while Wickremesinghe was working in the right direction, his administration’s weakness was not implementing a long-term plan to go with its focus on solving day-to-day problems.

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