Sri Lanka crisis: No-trust vote against Lankan govt on the cards as SJB claims it has numbers in Parliament
Colombo, Apr 26: A Sri Lankan dissident lawmaker, fired by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa from the Cabinet for his critical views, claimed on Monday that the Opposition has crossed the 113-mark required to win a no-trust motion against the government in the 225-member Parliament.
President Gotabaya, facing fierce public protests against his government's mishandling of the country's worst economic crisis, had said that he would hand over the government to any group that could muster 113 seats but would not step down from the presidency.
Udaya Gammanpila, who held the energy ministry portfolio before being sacked by Gotabaya Rajapaksa along with industry minister Wimal Weerawansa for openly criticising then finance minister and the president's younger brother Basil Rajapaksa, is advocating an all-party interim government with the resignation of prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Gammanpila said that with enough numbers of MPs breaking away from the government and with support from the main Opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB), Marxist Janatha Vikmuthi Peramuna (JVP) and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), they are assured of winning the no-trust vote.
"We told the SJB to wait till we could get 113, now we have 120," he claimed. The SJB, which started collecting signatures to move a no-confidence motion against the government in early April, appeared to have abandoned the effort due to uncertainty of numbers.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa has not informed any groups that he will resign from the premiership as he still has the majority in Parliament, senior officials from the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) told the Daily Mirror newspaper. Mahinda Rajapaksa, in his discussions with Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) members, independent and religious groups, had not discussed his resignation as he still has over 100 seats in Parliament, the PMO said, responding to claims by Gammanpila that 120 MPs were now supporting the no-confidence motion against the premier after he informed that he was ready to step down.
Meanwhile, in a letter to the powerful Buddhist clergy, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said that while he respects the advice of the clergy, the changes, if any, in the system of governance must be made in line with the specified constitutional provisions. The committee he had appointed to formulate a draft Constitution had given its report after two years of work, he told the monks.
Although the monks claimed that Rajapaksa had agreed to form an interim government, the letter makes no direct reference to the monks' request to do so. Rajapaksa told the monks that he had formed a younger Cabinet after the Opposition failed to respond to his invitation to form a unity Cabinet.
Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa on Monday made it clear that he will not join the interim government where President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa would continue to remain in those positions. The four Buddhist chapters - Malwathu, Asgiri, Amarapura and Ramanya chapters - wield power to influence Sri Lanka's political leaders. Thousands of demonstrators have hit the streets since April 9, as the government ran out of money for vital imports; prices of essential commodities have skyrocketed and there are acute shortages in fuel, medicines and electricity supply.
The street protest opposite the presidential secretariat entered its seventeenth day on Monday, demanding the resignations of Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Mahinda Rajapaksa, his 76-year-old elder brother.
Sri Lanka needs at least USD 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 USD 500 million credit line to help Sri Lanka import fuel.
India has already agreed to defer USD 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 USD 35.5 billion in foreign debt as the pandemic and the war in Ukraine made it impossible to make payments to overseas creditors.