Sri Lanka's parliament to meet as protesters call for President Rajapaksa to step down

Opposition parties reject any move for a unity government

Sri Lanka's parliament on Tuesday will meet amid ongoing protests and after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa dissolved his Cabinet and sought to form a unity government.

The country's economic crisis has led to street protests and a number of MPs calling for Mr Rajapaksa to step down over the mismanagement of the country’s finances and his sweeping executive powers.

In a wave of unprecedented spontaneous demonstrations across Sri Lanka, including large gatherings in the commercial capital Colombo, protesters have called for Mr Rajapaksa and members of his powerful ruling family to resign, Reuters reported.

His brother, Mahinda Rajapaksa, is the prime minister.

Social media and TV channels showed footage of people in Colombo and other towns holding up placards and chanting for the president to “go home”.

A countrywide curfew was lifted on Monday morning.

Mr Rajapaksa’s own party, the Sri Lanka Podujuna Peramuna, is counting on keeping his brother as prime minister, although there are reports that some politicians are planning to sit out as independents.

Opposition parties and even members of Mr Rajapaksa's ruling alliance rejected the move for a unity government, setting the stage for a test of strength in parliament.

The Sri Lanka Freedom Party, a ruling coalition partner, said its 14 MPs had decided to withdraw support for Mr Rajapaksa’s government and will sit as an independent group in parliament.

The departure of this party has put Mr Rajapaksa's coalition in a predicament, having lost its two-thirds majority in the 225-seat parliament.

Sri Lankans have been suffering from a shortages of food, fuel and prolonged power cuts lasting up to 13 hours.

Two other brothers, Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa and Irrigation Minister Chamal Rajapaksa, were among those who resigned, along with the prime minister’s son, Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa.

Those resignations were regarded as the family’s effort to pacify public anger while retaining executive, defence and legislative powers.

On Monday, Mr Rajapaksa swore in new Finance Minister Ali Sabry, who is among the key decision-makers as the country starts bailout talks with International Monetary Fund.

“You could see the composition of parliament changing today,” said lawyer Luwie Niranjan Ganeshanathan, who specialises in constitutional issues.

Sri Lanka's ruling coalition won 145 out of 225 seats in the last parliamentary election. But some of its 11 coalition partners that collectively hold 30 seats have indicated they will sit independently in parliament.

“If the government loses its majority, you could see the opposition bringing in a vote of no confidence but there is parliamentary procedure that goes around it first and is unlikely to happen immediately,” Mr Ganeshanathan told Reuters.

If a vote of no confidence is adopted, then the president can appoint a new prime minister, he said.

Or, if the government loses its majority, the opposition can also table a resolution to dissolve parliament and call for snap elections, Mr Ganeshanathan said.

Mr Rajapaksa last month said his government was in talks with the International Monetary Fund and had turned to China and India for loans.

He also asked Sri Lankans to limit their use of fuel and electricity, and “extend their support to the country”.

For months, Sri Lankans have endured long queues to buy fuel, cooking gas, food and medicine, most of which come from abroad and are paid for in hard currency.

Updated: April 05, 2022, 8:14 AM