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Sri Lanka’s ruling party decides to back PM Ranil Wickremesinghe

By PTI

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s ruling SLPP party has decided to offer crucial support to new Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who has just one seat in Parliament, to help him prove a majority in the House.

The 73-year-old United National Party (UNP) leader was appointed as Sri Lanka’s 26th prime minister on Thursday as the country was 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 the anti-government protesters by his supporters.

“We have political differences with him, but he is known as someone with international support to pull this country out of the economic problems we are facing,” S M Chandrasena, a former minister and a senior leader of ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) party, told reporters.

“We see queues everywhere as we go about, we have to end this. I will support Ranil Wickremesinghe as he tries to handle the economic crisis,” Premanath Dolewatta, another ruling party parliamentarian said.

However, the main Opposition Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) and most opposition parties have claimed that his appointment was illegal. Most Opposition parties have said they would not take positions in the interim government led by Wickremesinghe but would support his moves to tackle the economic crisis.

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The ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) claims to have 114 seats, one more than the 113 required for a majority in the 225-member Parliament. There are 42 independent members. The SJB has 54 seats. The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) has 3 seats while Tamil National Alliance has 10 seats.

In the last election, Wickremesinghe’s UNP managed to win just one parliamentary seat, leaving him its sole representative in Parliament. Meanwhile, street protests continued in the country as people angered by fuel and cooking gas shortages blocked busy roads.

The ruling party members are meeting President Gotabya Rajapaksavto discuss the future of the government. President Rajapaksa himself has faced calls to resign. Wickremesinghe has pledged to revive the economy and to end the current queues for essentials. The government sources said at least four Cabinet ministers may be appointed later on Saturday. Wickremesinghe’s Cabinet is expected to be limited to under 20.

The Prime Minister has asked for the public’s patience as he tries to talk with international partners to set up an international aid consortium to help Sri Lanka out of the crisis.

Sri Lanka’s worst economic crisis has provoked widespread protests calling for political reform and the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. On April 1, President Rajapaksa imposed a state of emergency, lifting it five days later.

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The government reimposed a state of emergency on May 6 after police fired teargas and arrested students protesting near parliament, which was adjourned until May 17.

Although the protests have been overwhelmingly peaceful, the police fatally shot a protester on April 19, and on several occasions have used teargas and water cannons against protesters.

The authorities have made numerous arrests and repeatedly imposed curfews. The political crisis was triggered in late March when people hurt by long hours of power cuts and essential shortages took to the streets demanding the resignation of the government.

President Rajapaksa sacked his Cabinet and appointed a younger cabinet as a response to the demand for resignation. A continuous protest opposite his secretariat has now gone on for well over a month.

On Monday, his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned as the prime minister to make way for the president to appoint an interim all political party government. Wickremesinghe was appointed the country’s new prime minister on Thursday.

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