Sri Lanka's new pm struggles to forge unity government

Sri Lanka's new pm struggles to forge unity government

Sri Lanka's new prime minister struggled Friday to forge a unity government and forestall an imminent economic collapse, as opposition lawmakers refused to join his cabinet and demanded fresh elections.

Ranil Wickremesinghe was sworn in late Thursday to manage his country through the worst downturn in its history as an independent nation, with months of shortages and blackouts inflaming public anger.

Three opposition parties have already said that his premiership lacks legitimacy, because he insists he has enough support to govern and approached several legislators to join him.

Senior opposition lawmaker Harsha de Silva publicly rejected an offer to take over the finance ministry and said he would instead push for the resignation of the government.

He said that people are not asking for political games and deals, but they want a new system that will safeguard their future.

De Silva said he was joining the people's struggle to topple President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and would not support any political settlement that left the leader in place.

Huge public demonstrations have condemned Rajapaksa for weeks over his administration's mismanagement of the worsening economic crisis.

Hundreds remain outside his seafront office in the capital Colombo at a protest camp that has campaigned for him to step down.

De Silva is a member of the Samagi Jana Balawegaya SJB, the largest single opposition group in parliament, which appeared ready to split over the question of whether to support Wickremesinghe.

The head of the possible splinter faction, Harin Fernando, said Friday he had returned to the fold.

Two smaller parties have signalled they will not join a unity government.

The Tamil National Alliance said Rajapaksa's administration had lost legitimacy with the appointment of Wickremesinghe, a five-time former prime minister who most recently held office in 2019.

The leftist People's Liberation Front JVP said that new national elections were the only way out of the current impasse.

Anura Dissanayake, the leader of JVP's Anura Dissanayake, told reporters in Colombo that we can't solve the economic crisis by having an illegitimate government. The cash-strapped government is unlikely to be able to afford polls, or even print ballots, at a time when a national paper shortage forced schools to postpone exams.

Parliamentary elections are not due until August 2025.

Sri Lankans have suffered months of severe shortages of food, fuel and medicine, as well as long power cuts after the country burnt through foreign currency reserves needed to pay for vital imports.

The island's economy is just days from collapse beyond redemption unless a new government is appointed, according to the central bank chief this week.

Wickremesinghe warned on Thursday that the situation could get worse in the coming months and called for international assistance.

He said that we want to return the nation to a position where our people will have three meals a day.

Mahinda Rajapaksa, the president's brother, resigned as prime minister on Monday after his supporters attacked anti-government demonstrators who had been protesting peacefully.

At least nine people were killed and more than 200 injured in the ensuing clashes, with dozens of Rajapaksa loyalist homes set on fire by furious mobs.

Mahinda has been repelled from the country after being banned by a court from leaving the country and has taken refuge at the Trincomalee naval base in Sri Lanka's east.

Troops have been largely restored order and a nationwide curfew has been in place for most of the week.

Soon after he took over duties on Friday, the Indian and Japanese envoys in Colombo were among the first to call on Wickremesinghe.

The new prime minister is seen as a pro-West, free-market reformist, which could make bailout negotiations with the International Monetary Fund and others smoother.