President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Monday appointed a new Cabinet, even as seaside protests demanding his resignation continue for over 10 days.
A total of 17 members, including many former Cabinet ministers, were sworn in, authorities said. The “new Cabinet” did not include two Rajapaksa brothers — Chamal and Basil Rajapaksa — and Namal Rajapaksa, their nephew, who earlier held key portfolios. They resigned with their Cabinet colleagues on April 3, amid surging public anger against the ruling clan. Twenty-four new State Ministers were also sworn in.
Despite massive demonstrations demanding their resignation, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa remain in power.
For the first time admitting to “mistakes” made by his administration, Mr. Gotabaya said: “I believe that we should have gone for a programme with the International Monetary Fund earlier. Also, I think the decision not to provide chemical fertilizers to farmers was an error. We have taken steps to revive that practice,” according to a statement issued by his office on Monday.
His May 2021 policy decision to switch abruptly to organic farming is expected to reduce the country’s annual yield by half. It sparked nationwide farmers’ protests last year that were the first sure sign of the Rajapaksas’ popularity falling, even among supporters.
Further the President, told the newly appointed ministers on Monday: “The present crisis is a good opportunity to make the system change that the people have demanded.”
But the move may not appease demonstrators, who have been gathering outside the Presidential Secretariat, braving the scorching sun, thunderstorms, and fatigue. Apparently responding to the installation of a “new Cabinet”, a poster put up at the venue on Monday said: “No new cabinet with previous jokers.”
For weeks now, youth, professional groups, artistes, and citizens from varied backgrounds are demonstrating, asking the Rajapaksas to quit.
On Monday, Sri Lankan journalists joined the ongoing ‘Occupy Galle Face’ movement near Colombo’s seafront, expressing solidarity with the protesters and demanding justice for their colleagues who were forcibly disappeared or killed.
The developments come as Sri Lanka’s economic crisis intensifies, with citizens struggling to get essentials, including food items, cooking gas, and fuel. Sunday night, Indian Oil Corporation subsidiary Lanka IOC, which accounts for a third of the local market, announced yet another steep hike in fuel costs. It increased the price of petrol 35 Sri Lankan rupees a litre, and diesel by 75 Sri Lankan rupees, as the local currency continues to depreciate, and global oil prices soar. The current prices of Petrol are LKR 338 (roughly ₹ 79) per litre in case of 92 Octane, and LKR 367 (₹ 86) per litre for the 95 Octane variety.
Last week, Colombo announced its decision to default on its $ 50 billion foreign debt, and this week, a delegation led by Finance Minister Ali Sabry will hold talks with the International Monetary Fund in Washington DC. The Parliament is scheduled to convene on Tuesday. The Opposition has indicated that it may table a No Confidence Motion against the government.