the reluctant one resignation of Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, Monday came three days after his brother President Gotabaya Rajapaksa reportedly asked him to resign during a cabinet meeting, paving the way for an interim government with the participation of opposition parties.
His decision to stop in the wake of the shocking violence unleashed by his supporters on peaceful protesters in Colombo and its suburbs has not resolved the political deadlock.
The violence, which killed a MP from Sri Lanka’s ruling Podujana party and another person and injured more than a hundred anti-Rajapaksa protesters, is likely to harden political positions and keep the country on a boil.
It’s been exactly a month since the protests started at Galle Face Green, Colombo’s scenic boulevard. The mostly young protesters, made up of students, professionals and others, protested the ill-treatment of the economy by the government of Rajapaksa, which has left Sri Lanka without enough dollars to import essential goods, including essential foodstuffs, medicines and fuel.
Despite the daily gathering of thousands, with many camping at the site, the protests were peaceful, and their slogan Go Gota Go captured national anger against their government, led by a close clique of Rajapaksa relatives and their friends. Protests intensified last Friday as 1,000 unions joined the protests with a general strike, which threatened to launch an indefinite strike starting this week.
Although President Rajapaksa re-declared a state of emergency on Friday (he first declared a state of emergency in early April, but lifted it after it became unclear whether the government had enough people in parliament to ratify the state of emergency, as required), he has tried to find a way out of the political deadlock that would not require him to resign, as the protesters demand. His efforts to form an interim government with the participation of all political parties have proved futile.
The main opposition party, Samagi Jana Balawegaya, has filed two motions of no confidence against the government. The president is directly elected and a parliamentary impeachment of the government would not strictly affect his position, but would certainly undermine his authority. Last week, Sri Lankan media reported that Gotabaya had asked Mahinda to resign so that an interim government could be formed.
Amid rumors that Mahinda would resign Monday, a pro-Mahinda group of SLPP workers met for the first time this morning at the prime minister’s residence, about 2 miles from the protest site, and begged him not to resign. They then marched to Galle Face Green, where a group of police officers and other security forces did not stop them as they started burning down the campsite.
The parliamentarian, Amarakeerthi Athukorale of Polonnnaruwa, is said to have opened fire on protesters on a highway to Kandy, seriously injuring two people. He fled for shelter in a nearby building, where he was later found dead from a gunshot wound.
The violence is likely to amplify street calls for President Rajapakse to step down. And it could further harden the SJB’s decision not to be part of an interim government headed by a Rajapaksa (Sri Lanka has an executive presidency), in which the ruling SLPP, and its former partner in the ruling coalition , the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (which claims to have left the coalition) will also play a role.
The SJB is the largest opposition party in parliament, but does not have enough members of its own to form the government. Its leader Sajith Premadasa has made it clear that he does not want to form a government in conjunction with the ruling SLPP, nor does he want to be accountable to an executive president.
SJB has demanded that all parties opposing the SLPP come together to pass the no-confidence vote against the government, and start a process to abolish the executive presidency, as well as to impeach the incumbent.
But unity of the opposition is a question mark, as became painfully clear last week with the election of a deputy chairman. The SLFP candidate for the position did not receive support from the SJB, which drafted its own candidate. But he was elected with votes from the SLPP.
With confusion over the way forward, and the president himself clearly unwilling to resign, no one is ruling out Mahinda’s resignation and return as prime minister.
Meanwhile, Sri Lanka’s economic situation has not improved. The shortages continue. The country’s negotiations with the IMF are ongoing. India added another $200 billion dollars to the $2.4 billion it had already given to Colombo. The Sri Lankan government is also asking for additional funding from China, but it is not known whether Beijing will provide this assistance.