Sri Lankan President to appoint new PM, cabinet within a week

Former premier Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned following deadly violence in the country

May 11, 2022 09:41 pm | Updated May 12, 2022 12:43 pm IST - COLOMBO

A woman watches a telecast speech of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at her house in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Wednesday, May 11, 2022.

A woman watches a telecast speech of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at her house in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Wednesday, May 11, 2022. | Photo Credit: AP

Sri Lanka’s beleaguered President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Wednesday said he will appoint a new Prime Minister, who commands a parliamentary majority, and a Cabinet of Ministers, within a week’s time, as the island struggles to cope with its political and economic crises.

“I am taking steps to form a new government to control the current situation, to prevent the country from falling into anarchy,” he said, in a televised address, two days after his older brother Mahinda Rajapaksa stepped down as Prime Minister, amid violent attacks triggered by ruling party supporters.

On Wednesday, Mr. Gotabaya also met former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, and explored the possibility of appointing him as Premier, if a majority of lawmakers in Parliament supports the move, sources knowledgeable about their discussion told The Hindu. Mr. Wickremesinghe is considering the option, said a reliable source, requesting not to be named given the sensitivity of the talks during a grave economic crisis and an enduring political gridlock.

At present, Mr. Wickremesinghe sits in Opposition, as the lone parliamentarian of the United National Party, which split when his former deputy Sajith Premadasa broke away to form the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB or United People’s Force), that is now the main Opposition party. Opposition Leader Mr. Premadasa has maintained that he will not accept any position under President Gotabaya, who is hugely unpopular, as citizens struggle amidst acute shortages of essentials, including food items, fuel, cooking gas, and medicines. They hold the Rajapaksas responsible for the country’s economic meltdown and their distress.

Mr. Wickremesinghe, if willing, will likely need backers from the ruling camp and the Opposition, to command a majority in the 225-member legislature and form government. He would still have to work under Mr. Gotabaya, who is widely criticised for his “failed” crisis response. For months now, citizens groups across the country are agitating relentlessly, demanding his resignation, and for over a month, demonstrators have been protesting continuously near his sea-facing office in capital Colombo.

Further, in his address, Mr. Gotabaya vowed to amend the Constitution, giving more powers to the Parliament, something Mr. Mahinda had mooted in Parliament weeks before resigning. The proposal would effectively reverse a legislation his government passed, making the Executive President more powerful with greater immunity.

“I will give the opportunity for the new government and PM to start a new programme to take the country forward,” Mr. Gotabaya said. Once “stability is restored”, the President said he would hold discussions on abolition of the Executive Presidency, which is among the main demands of anti-government protesters and Opposition parties.

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