Gotabaya Rajapaksa loses majority in parliament

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka lost his parliamentary majority on Tuesday, as a group of lawmakers from the ruling party and its allies sat in the House on their own, abandoning the government, which has been widely chastised for “mishandling” the economic crisis. Ali Sabry, the newly appointed Finance Minister, resigned from the Cabinet just 24 hours after taking office, signaling yet another turning point in the crisis.

The ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP or People’s Front)-led alliance lost its majority in the 225-member legislature after over 40 MPs, including key partner Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), quit. Their defection signaled the government’s popularity, which had given it a strong two-thirds majority in 2020. However, no vote of confidence has been scheduled to test the government’s or opposition’s strength.

Leader of the Opposition Sajith Premadasa blamed the government for the current crisis in his address to Parliament on Tuesday, saying it was past time for the country to abolish the Executive Presidency, which gives President Gotabaya broad powers to make unilateral decisions. M.A. Sumanthiran, an opposition legislator and Jaffna MP, also intervened, challenging the government to put its recently imposed Emergency regulations to a vote in the House, as the Constitution requires. Mr. Gotabaya, on the other hand, revoked the Emergency late Tuesday, ahead of a possible vote.

On Wednesday, the Parliament will meet to discuss the country’s economic crisis, which has resulted in a severe shortage of basic goods and skyrocketing prices. It’s also sparked a wave of spontaneous street protests, with citizens demanding that the President resign. 

Gotabaya’s attempt to appoint a new Cabinet backfired

The President Gotabaya’s attempt to appoint a “new” Cabinet following mass resignations appears to have backfired, with Ali Sabry, the newly appointed Finance Minister, resigning just 24 hours after taking office. On Tuesday, the top bureaucrat and Secretary of the Treasury and Finance Ministry resigned, leaving two critical positions vacant at a critical time in the country’s economic crisis. 

Meanwhile, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which Sri Lanka has sought assistance from, said on Tuesday that it is “very closely” monitoring political and economic developments in the country amid rising public unrest, according to Reuters. The IMF Sri Lanka mission chief was quoted as saying, “IMF staff is looking forward to program discussions with the authorities, including during the newly appointed Finance Minister’s visit to Washington later this month.” As of Tuesday, Sri Lanka lacked a Finance Minister due to Mr. Sabry’s resignation.

Citizens and professionals, including doctors and lawyers, continued to demonstrate outside Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s private residence on Tuesday, calling for Gotabaya Rajapaksa to resign immediately. The Ministry of Defence has urged citizens not to resort to violence as protests grow in various parts of the country, despite police attempts to disperse crowds with water cannons and tear gas in some areas. In a statement, General GDH Kamal Gunaratne (Retd), Secretary, Ministry of Defence, said, “I further emphasize that the security forces will act to maintain peace and will not hesitate to enforce the law against those involved in violence.”

The UN expressed concern on Tuesday about “excessive and unjustified police violence” against protesters. “The drift towards militarisation and the weakening of institutional checks and balances in Sri Lanka have affected the State’s ability to effectively tackle the economic crisis,” a spokesman said in a statement, referring to the UN Human Rights Chief’s report.

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