Sri Lankan opposition hopes to set up new government amid unrest

Sri Lanka’s opposition political parties will meet on Sunday to agree on a new government.
It comes one day after the country’s president and prime minister offered to step down on the most dramatic day of months of political upheaval.

Protesters broke into the homes of both leaders and set fire to one of the buildings in a rage over the economic crisis.

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It was unclear if President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was at his residence at the time, and government spokesman Mohan Samaranayake stated that he had no information on his movements.
The protesters remained at Mr Rajapaksa’s home, his seaside office and prime minister’s residence, saying they would stay until they formally resigned.
Soldiers were deployed throughout the city and Chief of Defense Staff Shavendra Silva urged the public to support law and order.
Opposition politician M.A. Sumanthiran said all opposition parties combined could easily assemble the 113 members needed to win a majority in parliament, after which they would demand that Mr. Rajapaksa set up a new government and then step down.

He said the parties hope to reach a consensus on Sunday.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said he would leave his post as soon as a new government was formed, and a few hours later the Speaker of Parliament announced that Mr Rajapaksa would step down on Wednesday.
The pressure on both men increased as the economic crisis caused a severe shortage of essentials, leaving people struggling to obtain food, fuel and other essentials.
If both the president and the prime minister resign, Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena will take over as interim president, as per the constitution.
Mr. Rajapaksa appointed Mr. Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister in May to address the deficit and start the economic recovery.
Mr. Wickremesinghe was involved in important negotiations with the International Monetary Fund on the bailout program and with the World Food Program in preparation for the predicted food crisis.

The government is due to submit a debt sustainability plan to the IMF in August before an agreement is reached.

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Analysts say no new leader is likely to be able to do more than Mr. Wickremesinghe.
His government’s efforts have shown promise, with much-needed fertilizer distributed to farmers for next season’s crops, and the first batch of orders for cooking gas arrived in the country on Sunday.
“This kind of unrest can create confusion among international organizations such as the IMF and the World Bank,” said political analyst Ranga Kalansuria, adding that the new administration should agree on a common economic recovery program.
He said that while Mr. Wickremesinghe was on the right track, his administration’s weakness was that it did not implement a long-term plan to focus on day-to-day problems.

It is unlikely that a one-party government will agree to IMF-backed economic reforms without some parties losing their political support.

Leaders step down amid Sri Lankan political drama

Mr Wickremesinghe said on Saturday that he should not leave without the government.
“Today there is a fuel crisis in this country, food shortages, the head of the World Food Program is visiting us, and we need to discuss several issues with the IMF,” Mr. Wickremesinghe said.
“So if this government goes, there must be another government.”
Thousands of protesters entered the Colombo capital on Saturday and broke into the fortified residence of Mr Rajapaksa. Crowds of people splashed in the garden pool, lounged on their beds and used their cell phone cameras to capture the moment.

Some were making tea or going to the gym, while others made statements from the conference room demanding that the president and prime minister leave.

Thousands of protesters entered the capital of Colombo and broke into the fortified residence of Mr. Rajapaksa.

Chief of Defense Staff Shavendra Silva urged the public to support law and order after thousands of protesters marched into the Colombo capital and stormed Mr Rajapaksa’s fortified residence. Source: EPA / Chamila Karunaratne

Although both Mr. Wickremesinghe and Mr. Abeywardena, Speaker of Parliament, stated in their speeches that they had spoken to the Resident, they did not say anything about his whereabouts.

Later, protesters broke into the prime minister’s private residence and set it on fire, Mr Wickremesinghe’s office said. It was unclear if he was there when the invasion took place.
The country is relying on help from India and other countries as leaders try to negotiate a bailout with the IMF.
Mr Wickremesinghe recently said negotiations with the IMF have been difficult as Sri Lanka has become a bankrupt state.
Sri Lanka announced in April that it was suspending foreign loan repayments due to a shortage of foreign exchange. Its total external debt is $51 billion, of which it must repay $28 billion by the end of 2027.
Months of demonstrations have all but wiped out the Rajapaksa political dynasty that has ruled Sri Lanka for most of the past two decades but is accused by protesters of mismanagement and corruption.

The president’s older brother resigned as prime minister in May after violent protests forced him to seek safety at a naval base. He later moved to a house in Colombo.