Sri Lanka crisis: Cabinet ministers resign en masse but under-fire president and PM refuse to go

Of 26 ministers who have resigned, three were members of powerful Rajapaksa family

Stuti Mishra
Monday 04 April 2022 20:01
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Sri Lankans try to storm home of president amid spiralling economic crisis

Sri Lanka’s entire cabinet of ministers has resigned amid widespread protests over the government’s handling of the worst economic crisis in decades.

Only prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brother, president Gotabaya Rajapaksa, continue to cling to power.

Twenty-six ministers tended their resignations following a late night meeting on Sunday, education minister Dinesh Gunawardena told reporters.

“All the ministers submitted their letters of resignation so that the president can constitute a new cabinet,” Mr Gunawardena said.

Of the ministers who resigned, three were members of the powerful Rajapaksa family, which returned to power in November 2019. Many members of the family have held lucrative roles in the country. This included the sports portfolio, which was held by the prime minister’s son, Namal Rajapaksa.

Namal Rajapaksa said he hoped his resignation would help the government’s “decision to establish stability for the people and the government”.

The youngest Rajapaksa brother, finance minister Basil, and the eldest, Chamal, who held the agricultural portfolio, have also resigned.

While the resignations are believed to be attempts to pacify the country as demonstrations escalate, the protesters have demanded that the prime minister and the president also step down.

Opposition leaders snubbed the resignations on Monday, calling them “melodrama”, and renewed their call for larger protests against the government. The coalition of opposition parties has been demanding that a caretaker cabinet be appointed to pull the country out of the crisis.

The country is grappling with what is said to be its worst economic crisis since independence from the UK in 1948. The crisis was sparked partly due to a foreign exchange deficit, which has led to a food, fuel, power, and gas shortage for several months now.

Many Sri Lankans have been living without electricity for as long as 12 hours a day. These power cuts have impacted industries and production of essentials such as medicines.

The currency has also been devalued by almost 90 Sri Lankan rupees against the US dollar since 8 March as the country seeks assistance from the international community.

Sri Lanka’s usable foreign reserves are said to be less that $400m (£365m), according to experts, and it has nearly $7bn (£638bn) in foreign debt obligations for this year alone.

Meanwhile, demonstrations continued in many parts of the country, with protesters demanding accountability from the Rajapaksa government despite harsh curbs in place, including curfews, social media blackouts and arrests of the dissenters.

Sri Lanka imposed a state of emergency after a crowd attempted to storm the president’s home in capital Colombo on Thursday and imposed a 36-hour nationwide curfew over the weekend following calls for heavier demonstrations, which remained in effect until Monday morning.

Streets of the capital remained deserted following a special notification banning anyone from being on any public road, in a park, on trains or on the seashore unless they have written permission from the authorities as troops armed with automatic assault rifles patrolled the streets of Colombo.

However, it did not deter several small protests. A demonstration led by opposition lawmakers and hundreds of their supporters marched towards the capital’s Independence Square but security forces eventually dispersed them.

The police also fired tear gas and water canons at hundreds of university students who were trying to break through barricades near the city of Kandy.

Over 600 protesters were arrested for violating the curfew between 10pm Sunday night and 6am on Monday in the western province, Colombo Gazette reported.

Meanwhile, access to social media sites was resumed after nearly 13 hours of ban.

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