COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lanka’s opposition political parties were meeting Sunday to agree on a new government a day after the country’s president and prime minister offered to step down during the day. month’s most dramatic political unrest, with protesters storming the two leaders. houses and burning down one of the buildings in anger over the economic crisis.
The protesters remained at President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s home, his seaside office and the prime minister’s residence, saying they will stay until they officially step down. The president’s whereabouts remain unclear, but a statement from his office said he ordered authorities to begin immediately distributing a batch of cooking gas to the public, suggesting he was still at work.
Troops have been deployed to the city and Chief of Defense Staff Shavendra Silva has called on the public to support maintaining law and order. But troops simply watched from afar as throngs of people splashed in the garden pool, lounging on beds and used their cellphone cameras to capture the moment at Rajapaksa’s sprawling residence.
On Sunday, the occupants of the Prime Minister’s official residence cooked in an outdoor kitchen, played carrom – a popular table game – and slept on large sofas.
Ranjith Madduma Bandara, a senior member of the main opposition United People’s Force party, said separate discussions had been held with other parties and lawmakers who had broken away from Rajapaksa’s ruling coalition and that further meetings were planned. He did not say when a deal could be done, although it was expected to be finalized on Sunday.
Another opposition MP, MA Sumanthiran, said earlier that all opposition parties combined could easily muster the 113 members needed to show a majority in parliament, in which case they will ask Rajapaksa to install the new government, then resign.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said he would step down once a new government was in place, and hours later the speaker of parliament said Rajapaksa would step down on Wednesday. The pressure on both men had increased as the economic crisis triggered severe shortages of essential itemsleaving people struggling to get food, fuel and other necessities.
If the President and the Prime Minister resign, President Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena will take over as temporary president, in accordance with the constitution.
Rajapaksa appointed Wickremesinghe as prime minister in May in a bid to address shortages and kickstart economic recovery.
Wickremesinghe had been involved in crucial talks with the International Monetary Fund for a rescue package and with the World Food Program to prepare for an expected food crisis. The government must submit a debt sustainability plan to the IMF in August before reaching an agreement.
Analysts say it is doubtful a new leader could do more than Wickremesinghe. His government’s efforts have shown promise, with much-needed fertilizer distributed to farmers for next season’s crop and cooking gas orders arriving in the country on Sunday.
“These kinds of unrest could create confusion among international organizations like the IMF and the World Bank,” said political analyst Ranga Kalansooriya, adding that a new administration should agree on a common economic stimulus package.
He said while Wickremesinghe was working in the right direction, his administration’s weakness was not in implementing a long-term plan to focus on solving day-to-day problems.
A multi-party government is unlikely to agree on IMF-backed economic reforms without some parties losing political support.
Wickremesinghe said on Saturday it was not appropriate for him to leave without a government in place.
“Today in this country we have a fuel crisis, a food shortage, we have the head of the World Food Program coming here and we have several issues to discuss with the IMF,” Wickremesinghe said. “Therefore, if this government leaves, there should be another government.”
Four Cabinet ministers have resigned since protests on Saturday.
Although Wickremesinghe and Abeywardena, the speaker of parliament, said in their speeches that they had spoken with the president, they said nothing about his whereabouts.
Protesters also broke into the Prime Minister’s private residence and set it on fire during Saturday’s melee. His party leader, Ruwan Wijewardena, said Wickremesinghe was inside when protesters gathered, but security guards took him to another location.
Wijewardena said such acts will only polarize society and political parties.
“If these kinds of incidents continue, we can say goodbye to the IMF and any international aid that will come to the country. If there is anarchy, if there is no rapprochement between political groups, there is no way for the international community to intervene and help this country,” he said. .
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington was following developments in Sri Lanka and urged parliament to work quickly to implement solutions and address popular discontent.
Speaking at a press conference in Bangkok, Blinken said the United States condemns the attacks on peaceful protesters while calling for a full investigation into any violence related to the protests.
Sri Lanka counts on help from India and other nations as leaders attempt to negotiate a bailout with the IMF. Wickremesinghe said recently that the negotiations with the IMF were complex because Sri Lanka was now a failed state.
Sri Lanka announced in April that it was suspending foreign loan repayments due to a shortage of foreign currency. Its total external debt stands at $51 billion, of which it must repay $28 billion by the end of 2027.
Months of protests have all but dismantled the Rajapaksa political dynasty, who has ruled Sri Lanka for most of the past two decades but is accused by protesters of mismanagement and corruption. The president’s older brother resigned as prime minister in May after violent protests led him to seek refuge at a naval base. He then moved into a house in Colombo.