COLOMBO, April 27: Sri Lanka’s embattled President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Wednesday convened a meeting of political parties on April 29 to discuss the possible formation of an all-party government to end the protracted political impasse in the country, amidst mounting pressure on Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa to resign to and make way for an interim government.
A letter to all party leaders in the ruling coalition said the government was in agreement to form an all-party government comprising parties represented in Parliament, according to a statement.
The meeting has been fixed for April 29 to discuss the new arrangement after the resignation of prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, it said.
This comes in the background of pressure mounted within the ruling coalition on the prime minister to resign to make way for an interim government.
However, the statement from the president is in contrast to the position taken by his elder brother and the country’s Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, who has said he will not resign and any interim government can be formed only under his leadership.
Both the President and the Prime Minister are under mounting pressure from fierce public protests demanding his resignation for mishandling the country’s worst economic crisis.
Debt-ridden Sri Lanka is grappling with an unprecedented economic turmoil since its independence from Britain in 1948. The crisis is caused in part by a lack of foreign currency, which has meant that the country cannot afford to pay for imports of staple foods and fuel, leading to acute shortages and very high prices.
Sri Lankan election commission on Tuesday urged all political parties to come together to form an all-party government or a similar body to end the political impasse prevailing in the country.
President Rajapaksa is coming under pressure to set up an interim administration as an immediate step to resolve the economic and political turmoil in the country. Mass anti-government protests demanding the resignation of the entire Rajapaksa family have been going on for more than two weeks.
The public is being made to wait in long lines for fuel and cooking gas amid power cuts.
In recent weeks, prominent businesses and other professional organisations have repeated the call for an interim government.
A senior Buddhist monk claimed on Monday that President Rajapaksa had agreed to form an interim government to tackle the unprecedented economic crisis.
Rajapaksa has said his offer for the opposition parties to join him in a unity government did not yield any results and therefore he was compelled to form a cabinet of his own.
The ongoing street protest opposite the presidential secretariat entered its nineteenth day on Wednesday. The protests are now also being held opposite the residence-cum-office of the prime minister.
The country’s trade unions threatened on Wednesday that they will boycott work from Thursday in solidarity with the protests that call for the resignation of the Rajapaksa family. The parliamentarians have also joined in, urging Mahinda Rajapaksa to resign as the prime minister.
The railway trade union has said the train services would be halted for 24 hours from Wednesday midnight.
Railway trade union spokesman SP Withanage told reporters if the government did not respond positively to the call for resignation, the union members would lead a strike with bus unions to cripple the transport services on May 6.
The ruling dispensation had reached out to the opposition parties and protesters for talks, but all efforts were rebuffed. The agitators say they want the government to resign.
A group of over 40 parliamentarians from the ruling coalition has declared independence and demanded the formation of an interim government comprising all political parties to tackle the economic crisis.
Sri Lanka needs at least $4 billion to tide over its mounting economic woes, and talks with international institutions such as the World Bank as well as countries like China and Japan for financial assistance have been going on.
Sri Lankan officials were in Washington last week to negotiate with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout.
India has agreed to extend an additional $500 million credit line to help Sri Lanka import fuel. New Delhi has also already agreed to defer $1.5 billion in import payments that Sri Lanka needs to make to the Asian Clearing Union.
Last week, the Sri Lankan government said it would temporarily default on $35.5 billion in foreign debt as the pandemic and the war in Ukraine made it impossible to make payments to overseas creditors. (PTI)