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New Lankan PM struggles to form unity govt

By :International Desk
Published : May 14, 2022 12:44:00 AM | World

Sri Lanka's new prime minister on Friday struggled to forge a unity government and forestall an imminent economic collapse as opposition lawmakers refused to join his cabinet and demanded fresh elections, reports AFP.

Ranil Wickremesinghe was sworn in late Thursday to navigate his country through the worst downturn in its history as an independent nation, with months of shortages and blackouts inflaming public anger.

The 73-year-old insists he has enough support to govern and approached several legislators to join him, but four opposition parties have already said his premiership lacks legitimacy.

Senior opposition lawmaker Harsha de Silva publicly rejected an overture to take charge of the finance ministry and said he would instead push for the government's resignation.

"People are not asking for political games and deals, they want a new system that will safeguard their future," he said in a statement.

De Silva said he was joining "the people's struggle" to topple President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and would not support any political settlement that left the leader in place.

Huge public demonstrations have for weeks condemned Rajapaksa over his administration's mismanagement of the worsening economic crisis.

Hundreds remain outside his seafront office in the capital Colombo at a protest camp that has for the past month campaigned for him to step down.

"We will stop this struggle when our people get justice," said Chamalage Shivakumar, one of the hundreds of people who have camped out at the protest site in the capital.

"Whoever they appoint as prime minister, we will not stop this struggle until people get relief."

De Silva is a member of the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB), the largest single opposition grouping in parliament, which had appeared ready to split over the question of whether to support Wickremesinghe.

But the head of the possible splinter faction, Harin Fernando, said yesterday he had returned to the fold. "I will not support Wickremesinghe's government," Fernando told AFP.

Three smaller parties have also signalled they will not join any unity government, with the leftist People's Liberation Front (JVP) demanding fresh elections.

However, the cash-strapped government is unlikely to be able to afford polls, or even print ballots, at a time when a national paper shortage forced schools to postpone exams.

Parliamentary elections are not due until August 2025.

Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu of the Colombo-based Centre for Policy Alternatives think tank said Wickremesinghe would still likely be able to govern with the support of Rajapaksa-allied lawmakers.

"He'll appoint a cabinet and get on with the job," Saravanamuttu told AFP.

A Sri Lankan lawmaker who shot dead an anti-government protester this week was later lynched by a mob, a forensic report showed yesterday, contradicting a police report that he died by suicide.

"The MP's death was due to multiple injuries, fractures and internal bleeding, but he had no gunshot wounds," the Lankadeepa newspaper said, quoting the autopsy report.

Troops have largely restored order and a nationwide curfew has been in effect for most of the week.

Foreign diplomats in Colombo were among the first to call on Wickremesinghe after he officially assumed duties on Friday.

Envoys from China, neighbour India and Japan all pledged to continue providing Sri Lanka with assistance through the crisis, the prime minister's office said.