Sri Lanka's President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Tuesday lost his parliamentary majority, as a group of lawmakers from the ruling party and its allies sat independently in the House, deserting the government that faces enormous public criticism for “mishandling” the economic crisis. In another inflexion point in the crisis, newly appointed Finance Minister Ali Sabry resigned from the Cabinet barely 24 hours after taking charge.
Over 40 MPs, including from key partner Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), quit the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP or People’s Front)-led alliance, and the government lost its majority in the 225-member legislature. Thier defection signalled the collapse of the government 's popularity that, in 2020, fetched it a formidable two-thirds majority. However, there is no vote of confidence scheduled yet to test the strength of the government or Opposition .
In his address to Parliament on Tuesday, Leader of Opposition Sajith Premadasa blamed the government for the current crisis, and said it was time for the country to abolish Executive Presidency that allows the President sweeping powers to take unilateral decisions. Opposition legislator and Jaffna MP M.A. Sumanthiran too intervened, challenging the government to put its recently imposed Emergency regulations to vote in the House, as is mandated in the Constitution. However, Mr.Gotabaya revoked the Emergency late on Tuesday, ahead of a possible vote on it.
The Parliament will convene on Wednesday to debate the country’s economic crisis that has resulted in severe shortage of essentials for citizens and skyrocketing prices. It has also led to a spontaneous eruption of street protests, with citizens demanding that the President step down.
The President’s attempt to appoint a “new” Cabinet after mass resignations appears to have backfired, with the newly appointed Finance Minister Ali Sabry resigning barely 24 hours after his appointment. Top bureaucrat and Secretary to the Treasury and Finance Ministry resigned on Tuesday, resulting in two crucial positions falling vacant at a time of a dire economic crisis.
Meanwhile, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), where Sri Lanka has sought support, on Tuesday said that it is monitoring political and economic developments in Sri Lanka "very closely" amid growing public unrest, Reuters reported. "IMF staff is looking forward to program discussions with the authorities, including during the visit of the newly appointed Finance Minister to Washington later this month," IMF Sri Lanka mission chief was quoted as saying. Except, with Mr. Sabry’s resignation, Sri Lanka did not have a Finance Minister as of Tuesday.
On Tuesday, citizens and professionals including health workers, lawyers, continued agitating at different locations, including outside Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s private resident, asking the Rajapaksas to resign immediately. As protests swell in different parts of the country, despite the police attempting to disperse crowds with water cannons and tear gas in some areas, the Ministry of Defence urged citizens not to resort to violence. “I further emphasize that the security forces will act to maintain peace and also will not hesitate to enforce law against those involving in violence," said General GDH Kamal Gunaratne (Retd), Secretary, Ministry of Defence in a statement.
The UN on Tuesday expressed concern over “excessive and unwarranted police violence” against protesters. Recalling the report of the UN Human Rights Chief, a spokesman said in a statement: "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."