Sri Lanka’s ruling party has rejected a decision by parliament to urgently debate a motion censuring President Gotabaya Rajapaksa for the country’s worst economic crisis
We do not know when the motion will be resumed.
He does not legally force Rajapaksa to resign, but his refusal to do so has already rocked Sri Lanka, which is on the verge of bankruptcy as it negotiates with other countries and institutions for an economic lifeline to be able to import basic supplies, medicine and fuel.
MA Sumanthiran, an opposition Tamil National Alliance lawmaker, has proposed that parliament bypass the usual procedure to urgently consider the motion against Rajapaksa. But the ruling party rejected the motion by 119 votes to 68.
Protesters have occupied the entrance to the president’s office for more than a month to demand Rajapaksa’s resignation. Months of anti-government rallies have led to the near dismantling of the once-powerful ruling family with the president’s brother resigning as prime minister, and other siblings and a nephew stepping down from their cabinet posts.
Protesters accuse the Rajapaksas of triggering the crisis through corruption and mismanagement.
Monday evening, the new Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, drew up a grim assessment of the disastrous situation in the country. He said around $75 billion was urgently needed to help supply the nation with essential items, but the country’s treasury is struggling to come up with even a billion dollars.
“At the moment we only have stocks of gasoline for one day,” he said in a televised address.
“The next two months will be the hardest of our lives,” he said. “I have no desire to hide the truth and lie to the public. Although these facts are unpleasant and terrifying, this is the real situation. For a short time, our future will be even more difficult than the difficult times we have crossed.
Attacks on peaceful protests last week sparked violence across the country that left nine dead, including a lawmaker, and 200 injured. Many homes of lawmakers and their supporters were burned down.
The motion accuses Rajapaksa of being responsible for the economic crisis by introducing untimely tax cuts and banning the use of chemical fertilizers, which led to poor harvests. It also indicates that the President has mishandled the COVID-19 pandemic by using it for weaponization, promoting unscientific solutions and making unfavorable vaccine deals.
Sri Lanka has suspended repayment of about $7 billion in foreign loans due this year out of the $25 billion to be repaid by 2026. The country’s total external debt is $51 billion. The Ministry of Finance says the country currently has only $25 million in usable foreign exchange reserves.
The shortage of foreign currency limited imports, leading to long queues for milk, fuel, cooking gas and medicine.
Wickremesinghe said on Monday that the diesel shortage will be solved to some extent with shipments from India.
“For more than 40 days, three ships carrying crude oil and fuel oil have been anchored in the maritime area of Sri Lanka. We are trying to get dollars from the open market to pay for these shipments,” he said. .