Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa will not resign “under any circumstances”, his government’s chief whip told parliament on Wednesday as he defended the beleaguered leader’s controversial decisions, amidst huge public protests demanding his resignation over the country’s worst economic crisis. Sri Lankans have protested for weeks over lengthy power cuts and shortages of gas, food and other basic goods. The public anger has prompted nearly all Cabinet ministers to quit, and scores of lawmakers to leave Rajapaksa’s government.
Speaking in Parliament, Chief Government Whip Minister Johnston Fernando said the government will face this problem and there is no reason for the President to resign as he was elected to office. “As a responsible Government, we state President Gotabaya Rajapaksa will not resign from his post under any circumstances,” Fernando said.
Claiming that the Opposition Janatha Vimukthi Peramunawas (JVP) party was behind the violence in the country, Fernando said that this “thug politics” should not be allowed and called on the people to end the violence. He said that the government will continue to work to address the issues faced by the public at present, the Colombo Page portal reported.
Sri Lanka is facing its worst economic crisis since gaining independence from the UK in 1948. The Government also defended the President’s decision to enforce a state of emergency, that had given him sweeping authority to act in the interests of public security and preserving public order, including suspending any laws, authorising detentions and seizing property, saying it was declared after attempts were made to attack the President’s Office and other public property.
Rajapaksa, 72, had declared the emergency last week after protesters demonstrated near his home in Colombo. The President late Tuesday night revoked the emergency after huge public protests demanded his resignation. The president and his older brother, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, continue to hold power in Sri Lanka, despite their politically powerful family being the focus of public ire.
On Tuesday, a verbal clash took place in Parliament between ruling party and Opposition members when they held a debate over the current crisis in Sri Lanka. The main Opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) also held placards in Parliament during the debate.
The Opposition questioned the state of emergency enforced and later lifted by the President and also insisted that the President steps down. Meanwhile, the UN Human Rights Office on Tuesday said it is closely following developments in Sri Lanka and urged the authorities to engage in a meaningful dialogue with political parties and civil society to find a solution to the deepening economic crisis, the Colombo Page reported.
Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Liz Throssell said public frustration had been rising in recent months with largely peaceful demonstrations taking place across the country and the situation has worsened over the past two weeks amid sudden shortages in fuel, cooking gas and some essential food items, as well as power cuts. The Spokesperson said the Human Rights Office is concerned over the measures taken by the government declaring a state of emergency, curfew and internet ban and police violence against protesters.
We are concerned that such measures are aimed at preventing or discouraging people from legitimately expressing their grievances through peaceful protests, and that they frustrate the exchange of views on matters of public interest, she said. Economists have warned that the country will plunge into more serious economic and political crises by the end of May.
We have been hit by two crises, economic and political, said Professor Janak Kumarasinghe. He said both crises need urgent solutions to prevent further disasters.
President Rajapaksa is still struggling to appoint a Cabinet as none of the political parties responded positively to his offer to form a unity government to tackle the crisis. He appointed just four ministers and one of them, the new finance minister, resigned after less than 24 hours in the job.
The Ministry of Finance is without a minister and its top bureaucrat with the resignation of the incumbent S R Attygalle. Following the 2019 Sri Lankan elections, the Rajapaksa family kept several portfolios in the government under their control.
While President Rajapaksa holds the all-powerful executive presidency, his elder brother Mahinda, who is a former president, is the current prime minister. Basil held the finance ministry and Mahinda’s son Namal, the heir apparent, was the minister of youth and sports. India recently announced to extend a USD 1 billion line of credit to Sri Lanka as part of its financial assistance to the country to deal with the economic crisis following a previous USD 500 billion line of credit in February to help it purchase petroleum products.
During his recently-concluded visit to Colombo, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar had assured India’s continued support in Sri Lanka’s economic recovery process. President Rajapaksa has defended his government’s actions, saying the foreign exchange crisis was not his making and the economic downturn was largely pandemic driven with the island nation’s tourism revenue and inward remittances waning.