Sri Lanka opposition threatens no-confidence motion, industry warns of 'precipice'

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

April 08, 2022 03:08 pm | Updated April 09, 2022 07:01 pm IST - COLOMBO

A fruit and vegetable vendor waits for customers at a market in Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka.

A fruit and vegetable vendor waits for customers at a market in Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka. | Photo Credit: Rebecca Conway

Sri Lanka’s Opposition leader Sajith Premadasa on Friday warned President Gotabaya Rajapaksa of a trust vote against his government if he continued to remain in power, defying citizens’ persistent demand for his immediate resignation.

For weeks, Sri Lankans have been out on the streets every day, protesting the government’s “mishandling” of the economic crisis that has left them scrambling for food, fuel, and medicines, amid long power cuts. Demonstrators across the country are asking President Gotabaya and the ruling family to step down. While all ministers in cabinet resigned last weekend, amidst the growing public outrage, the President and his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is the Prime Minister, stubbornly remain in office. All opposition parties have rejected Mr. Gotabaya’s offer to form a national government under his Presidency.

Speaking in parliament during the adjournment debate on the International Monetary Fund report on Sri Lanka’s economic situation, Mr. Premadasa told Mr. Gotabaya: “Either lead, follow, or get out of the way.” In addition to demanding that the President step down, Mr. Premadasa, leader of the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB or United People’s Force) also sought the abolition of Executive Presidency, a system of governance that gives sweeping powers to the office.

While Mr. Premadasa appeared to echo the chief demand of citizens across the country in the House, getting a No Confidence Motion through may not be all that simple. Even with the support of all other parties sitting in opposition the SJB, which has 54 seats, can muster just over 70 votes. A simple majority needed to pass a trust vote in the 225-member legislature, would be impossible without support from the 42 government MPs, now sitting independently, and other potential defectors.

Impeaching the President, too, is not possible without two-thirds of the House backing a motion for it, along with a favourable hearing from the Supreme Court. However, as the government’s popularity dips further by the day its lawmakers – some of their homes have already been attacked by angry protestors – are under significant pressure.

The President or Prime Minister are yet to make any public address since protests escalated in the country. Citizens have rejected the Mr. Gotabaya’s efforts to appoint a “new cabinet”, as their slogans and posters showed. Curiously, the “new” Finance Minister appointed by the President earlier this week, who resigned the following day, on Friday told Parliament he was still holding the portfolio.

Meanwhile, protests continue surging across the country, with now IT professionals, teachers, lawyers, health workers, and students coming out in larger numbers. Police used tear gas and water cannons on university students who marched to the Parliament on Friday. More agitations and rallies are expected in Colombo this weekend, ahead of the Sinhala and Tamil New Year next week, one of the biggest festivals in Sri Lanka that will be marked amid severe shortages this time.

In a joint press conference on Friday, industry leaders from the export, import, and logistics sectors warned of a “complete collapse” of the country’s economy, with more shortages and “imminent mass unemployment and social unrest.”

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