Will participate in meeting only in absence of PM Mahinda Rajapaksa and Cabinet: Sri Lankan political leaders


A crucial meeting called by Sri Lanka’s embattled President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his ruling coalition’s estranged members on Friday has run into trouble with parties emphasising that they will only participate if it will be held without the presence of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Cabinet. On Wednesday, President Gotabaya convened a meeting of 11 political parties in the ruling coalition to discuss the possible formation of an all-party government to end the protracted political impasse in the country.

Among the invitees are over 40 members who had declared independence from the ruling Sri Lanka People’s Party (SLPP) coalition.

“We will be going for the meeting but under one condition that it has to be without the presence of the prime minister (Mahinda Rajapaksa) and the Cabinet,” Vasudeva Nanayakkara, one of the party leaders, told reporters on Thursday.

Mahinda Amaraweera from the former President Maithripala Sirisena’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) said they had written a letter to Gotabaya on Thursday with two conditions which he didn’t disclose.

Gotabaya in a letter to all party leaders in the ruling coalition had said that the government was in principle in agreement to form an all-party government from parties represented in Parliament. He fixed the meeting for Friday.

Gotabaya said in the letter that an all-party government can be made after the resignation of the prime minister, his older brother Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The senior Rajapaksa was firm that he would not resign and any interim all party governments could only be formed only under his leadership.

He had dismissed the prospect of an all-party government with leaders from other parties who did not meet eye on policy with the SLPP.

Asked if Mahinda Rajapaksa would resign to make way for the new arrangement, the dissident Nanayakkara said “it is the president who appoints and removes prime ministers”.

The move comes as the Rajapaksa family has faced protests throughout the country to step down for their inability to handle the unprecedented economic crisis.

The public is being made to wait in long lines for fuel and cooking gas while enduring power cuts.

The protest near Rajapaksa secretariat entered its twentieth consecutive day with trade unions carrying out a crippling island-wide work stoppage.

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 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. New Delhi has also 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.



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