Crisis-stricken Sri Lanka begins to form ‘unitary government’ with opposition boycott

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka on Saturday appointed the prime ministers of a “unitary government” tasked with saving the country from its crippling economic crisis but failed to win opposition support.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, appointed on Thursday, has sought to assemble a cross-party coalition that can begin to restore the island’s decimated finances. But opposition parties have called his premiership illegitimate and some lawmakers have demanded new polls. Wickremesinghe has instead been forced to rely on the support of lawmakers allied to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, whose government is accused by many of leading Sri Lanka’s economy to the brink of collapse.
Rajapaksa’s office announced on Saturday the appointment of four ministers, including Gamini Peiris, who will return to the foreign ministry just days after he lost his job when the previous cabinet was dissolved. Peiris and the other 3 appointees – for public administration, urban development and energy – are all members of Rajapaksa’s Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) party. The all-important post of the Ministry of Finance remains vacant at a time when Sri Lanka is negotiating a much-needed bailout from the IMF.
Earlier on Saturday, SLPP lawmakers held a closed-door meeting where they decided to support the new prime minister. “We have doubts about Wickremesinghe, but in the national interest to get the country out of the economic mess, we have decided to support the prime minister,” a party lawmaker told AFP. The main opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) and four other parties have refused to support the government as long as Rajapaksa remains president.
Massive public demonstrations have condemned the president for weeks for the mismanagement and alleged corruption of his government. Hundreds remain outside his seaside office in the capital Colombo in a protest camp that has demanded the leader resign for the past month.
Mahinda Rajapaksa, the president’s older brother, resigned as prime minister on Monday after his supporters attacked peaceful protesters. At least nine people were killed and more than 200 were injured in the ensuing clashes, in which dozens of Rajapaksa loyalist homes were set on fire by angry mobs. AFP

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