Sri Lanka’s main Opposition party, Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB), on Monday said it would offer conditional support to the interim all-party government headed by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to help tackle the country’s crippling economic and political crisis.
Wickremesinghe, the United National Party (UNP) leader, was appointed as Sri Lanka’s 26th prime minister on Thursday as the country had been without a government since Monday when President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s elder brother and prime minister, Mahinda Rajapaksa, resigned after violence erupted following an attack on anti-government protesters by his supporters.
“As a responsible political party, Samagi Jana Balawegaya believes saving the country from the current crisis is of the utmost importance,” the SJB said in a statement.
“Accordingly, without taking any portfolio and on behalf of the betterment of the country, SJB in its parliamentary group discussion today decided to fully support the current government in its efforts at economic recovery,” it said.
But the support came with certain riders.
“If the government groups try to accommodate defections from SJB or connect SJB parliamentarians for activities that are against the SJB principles, the parliamentary group has decided to unconditionally withdraw this support,” it added.
The SJB had earlier declined to support Wickremesinghe as the Prime Minister of the interim all-party government, saying the 73-year-old had no mandate since he was a solo representative of his party in the 225-member Parliament.
Following his appointment last week, Wickremesinghe wrote to SJB leader Sajith Premadasa, urging bipartisanship.
“We all know very well that Sri Lanka is facing a colossal economic, social, and political crisis. It is irrefutable that we must all unite to end this crisis that’s intensifying every day and to establish a stable economy. All of us have a historical responsibility to secure the future of the next generation, given that our actions at this moment will decide the path of this country,” Wickremesinghe wrote.
SJB’s conditional support notwithstanding, Wickremesinghe on Monday said that the 21st Amendment to the Constitution to curb presidential powers will be discussed with the Attorney General’s Department on Monday so that it can be submitted to the Cabinet for approval.
The 21st Amendment is expected to annul the 20A, which gave unfettered powers to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa after abolishing the 19th Amendment, which had made Parliament powerful over the president.
“21st Amendment: This will be taken up for discussion with the Attorney General’s Department tomorrow [Monday] and then be presented to the Cabinet for approval,” Wickremesinghe tweeted.
The powerful Rajapaksa family tightened their grip on power after their massive victory in the general elections in August 2020, which allowed them to amend the Constitution to restore presidential powers and install close family members in key positions.
In his 2019 presidential bid, Gotabaya Rajapaksa won a convincing mandate for the presidency during which he sought full presidential powers over Parliament.
Meanwhile, Wickremesinghe, who on Sunday held discussions with representatives of the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank on the current economic crisis in the country, said the two financial institutions have pledged support to assist in procuring essential items like medicine, food, and fertilisers.
Sri Lanka has been grappling with unprecedented economic turmoil since its independence from Britain in 1948.
A crippling shortage of foreign reserves has led to long queues for fuel, cooking gas and other essentials, while power cuts and soaring food prices have heaped misery on citizens.
The economic crisis has also triggered a political crisis in Sri Lanka and a demand for the resignation of the powerful Rajapaksas from all government positions.