Sri Lanka opposition says it will move no-confidence motion if crisis unaddressed

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is running his administration with only a handful of ministers after his entire cabinet resigned this week, while opposition and even some coalition partners rejected calls for a unity government to deal with the country’s worst crisis in decades.

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COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s main opposition party on Friday asked the government to take effective action to resolve an economic crisis or face a no-confidence motion, as business leaders from garments, tea and other industries warned exports could fall 20-30 percent this year.

The heavily indebted country has little money left to pay for imports, which has led to crippling shortages of fuel, power, food, and increasingly, medicine. Street protests have gone on nearly non-stop for more than a month, despite a five-day state of emergency and a two-day curfew.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is running his administration with only a handful of ministers after his entire cabinet resigned this week, while opposition and even some coalition partners rejected calls for a unity government to deal with the country’s worst crisis in decades.

At least 41 lawmakers have walked out of the ruling coalition to become independents, though the government says it still has a majority in parliament.

“The government needs to address the financial crisis and work to improve governance, or we will move a no-confidence motion against the government,” Sajith Premadasa, the leader of Samagi Jana Balawegaya, said in parliament.

“It is imperative that Sri Lanka must avoid a disorderly debt default. The government must work to suspend debt and appoint financial advisers to start off the process of restructuring debt.”

Parliament proceedings were suspended twice in the morning after parliamentarians heckled each other, with two members temporarily removed from the chamber on the orders of the speaker. Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa will never resign, his government whip told parliament on Wednesday, as mass anti-government protests continued throughout the country.

The South Asia island nation is struggling with double-digit inflation and dwindling foreign reserves in its worst financial crisis in decades. Months of shortages of basic commodities including food, medicines, and fuel, and increasingly long power cuts have resulted in growing public anger, with protesters taking to the streets demanding Rajapaksa’s resignation.

On Tuesday night, Rajapaksa lifted controversial state of emergency measures following further protests, the departure of his finance minister and dozens of lawmakers who have walked out of the ruling coalition, leaving the government in a minority.

“President Gotabaya Rajapaksa will never resign from his post,” Chief Government Whip and Highways Minister Johnston Fernando said in parliament.

“He was elected president by 6.9 million people. We are prepared to face any challenges and he will never resign from his office.”

The opposition, which has since rejected Rajapaksa’s invitation to form a unity government, said the president had lost people’s trust and should quit.

“People have lost confidence in the president since he has failed to deliver the goods to the people,” Sajith Premadasa, leader of the opposition in parliament, told lawmakers during Wednesday’s session.

Mujibur Rahman, from the Samagi Jana Balawegaya opposition alliance led by Premadasa, said it was high time Rajapaksa stood down.

“Already there is a strong uprising against the president who had disappointed the people,” he told Arab News. “Now, after two years they want him to go home for his failure.”

Rajapaksa, who has governed the country since 2019, continues to hold power with his older brother, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, despite the politically powerful family increasingly becoming the focus of public ire. Other family members include former Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa and Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa, who resigned on Sunday — a move widely perceived as an effort to quell public anger.

Rajapaksa’s government, despite having secured financial support from India and China, has failed to end the shortages of essential foods, and is facing nearly $7 billion in foreign debt obligations this year alone.

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