President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has no reason to resign: Srilankan government chief whip 

President was elected by 6.9 million people, says chief whip Johnston Fernando.

April 06, 2022 09:27 pm | Updated April 07, 2022 06:49 pm IST - COLOMBO

Police officers scuffle with a medical student as he protests along with others outside the Health Ministry in Colombo on April 6, 2022.

Police officers scuffle with a medical student as he protests along with others outside the Health Ministry in Colombo on April 6, 2022. | Photo Credit: AFP

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa “has no reason” to resign, the chief government whip told Parliament on Wednesday, as citizens’ protests expand, now with state sector workers too demanding his resignation.     

“The President has been given a mandate by 6.9 million voters. He does not need to resign,” said Johnston Fernando, who was among the four Ministers that Mr. Gotabaya recently re–appointed to a “new Cabinet”, after members of the old Cabinet resigned en masse.

In his first initiative yet to address the economic crisis after citizens’ protests erupted, President Gotabaya on Wednesday appointed a panel of eminent Sri Lankan economists to advise him on debt restructuring and recovery, a statement said. 

The “Presidential Advisory Group on Multilateral Engagement and Debt Sustainability” includes Indrajit Coomaraswamy, former Governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, Shanta Devarajan, former Chief Economist with the World Bank and Sharmini Coorey, a former Deputy Director at the IMF, the Presidential Media Division said. 

Watch | What led to the economic crisis in Sri Lanka?

The ruling Rajapaksa clan faces unprecedented public criticism as Sri Lanka battles severe shortages of fuel, food and medicines among other essentials, during one of its worst economic downturns.

Mr. Gotabaya’s government lost its majority in Parliament on Tuesday, as over 40 MPs from his party and its coalition partners sat separately, distancing themselves from the unpopular administration.

The widespread public anger, over the government’s ‘mishandling’ of a grave economic crisis gripping the country, first manifested in pocket protests by citizens that began over a month ago. Over the last two weeks, the agitations escalated and the call for the resignation of President Gotabaya, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and their family members grew louder.

Almost every evening now, thousands throng the streets of capital Colombo and many other towns and villages in the island, raising slogans such as “Gota go home”, “Rajapaksas go home”, ”. In addition to citizens, lawyers’ groups, teachers and health workers have also begun protesting in different locations blocking roads or gathering outside the homes of officials, MPs, Ministers, without sparing even the President and the Prime Minister themselves.

As agitations spread, President Gotabaya responded by imposing Emergency, curfew, and banning social media last weekend — moves that his critics see as targeting dissent. Protesters defied the curfew while the ban on social media was removed in less than a day following a backlash. On Tuesday, Mr. Gotabaya also revoked the Emergency, hours after the Opposition challenged him to a parliamentary vote on it.    

The political impasse triggered by the Cabinet resignations persists, with the country left with just the President, the PM and three Cabinet Ministers, after one of them resigned within a day. The Opposition has rejected Mr. Gotabaya’s offer to form a national Cabinet and is reluctant to form a caretaker government under his Presidency.

Parliament convened on Wednesday to debate the crisis. Commencing the debate, Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena said: “Sri Lanka is facing the worst economic crisis in history, but it is just the beginning.” As citizens face enormous hardship owing to the stifling shortages, he said experts have warned of a severe food shortage.  “The food, gas and electricity shortages will get worse. There will be very acute food shortages and starvation,” he said, urging parliamentarians to set aside political differences and respond collectively to the crisis.

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