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Sri Lanka’s new prime minister struggles to form national unity government MIGMG News

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Colombo (AFP) – Sri Lanka’s new prime minister struggled Friday to form a unity government and thwart an imminent economic collapse as opposition lawmakers refused to join his government and demanded fresh elections.

Ranil Wickremesinghe was sworn in late Thursday to commute his country during the worst downturn in its history as an independent nation, with months of shortages and blackouts angering the public.

The 73-year-old insists he has enough support for the government and has approached several lawmakers to join him, but four opposition parties have already said his premiership lacks legitimacy.

Opposition MP Harsha de Silva publicly rejected an offer to take over the finance ministry and said he would instead push for the government’s resignation.

“People are not asking for games and political deals… they want a new system that safeguards their future,” he said in a statement.

De Silva said he was joining the “people’s struggle” to oust President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and would not support any political settlement that would leave the leader in place.

Weeks ago, huge public demonstrations condemned Rajapaksa for his mismanagement of the deepening economic crisis.

Hundreds remain outside his seaside office in the capital, Colombo, at a protest camp that has campaigned over the past month for his resignation.

De Silva is a member of Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB), the largest opposition party in Parliament, which appeared willing to split over Wickremesinghe’s support.

But the head of the potential renegade faction, Haren Fernando, said on Friday he was back in the fold.

“I will not support the Wickremesinghe government,” Fernando told AFP.

Three smaller parties have also indicated that they will not join any unity government, with the leftist People’s Liberation Front (PFLP) demanding new elections.

However, it is unlikely that a cash-strapped government will be able to afford to vote, or even print ballot papers, at a time when a national paper shortage has forced schools to postpone exams.

with the job:

Paikiasothi Saravanamoto of the Colombo-based Center for Policy Alternatives Research said Wickremesinghe would likely still be able to govern with the support of lawmakers allied with Rajapaksa.

“He will appoint a government and take office,” Saravanamoto told AFP.

Sri Lankans have endured months of severe shortages of food, fuel and medicine – as well as prolonged power cuts – after the country burned the foreign exchange reserves needed to pay for vital imports.

“We need at least three hours a day to queue and fill up,” said Mangalanadhan Sachin, a frustrated driver waiting at a gas station in Colombo.

“We don’t eat anything during the day. When we go home, there is no electricity.”

The central bank chief warned this week that the economy is just days away from an “irreversible collapse” unless a new government is urgently appointed.

Three meals a day:

Wickremesinghe warned Thursday that the dire situation could worsen in the coming months and called for international help.

“We want to put the nation back in a situation where our people will once again have three meals a day,” he said.

Mahinda Rajapaksa, the president’s brother, resigned as prime minister on Monday after his supporters attacked peaceful anti-government protesters.

At least nine people were killed and more than 200 injured in the ensuing clashes, as angry mobs set fire to dozens of homes loyal to Rajapaksa.

Mahinda has since been banned by a court from leaving the country and has taken refuge in the Trincomalee Naval Base in eastern Sri Lanka.

Forces restored order and a nationwide curfew was imposed for most days of the week.

Foreign diplomats in Colombo were among the first to recall Wickremesinghe after he officially took office on Friday.

The prime minister’s office said envoys from China, India and Japan all pledged to continue providing assistance to Sri Lanka during the crisis.

Wickremesinghe is seen as a pro-Western and free-market reformer, likely to make bailout negotiations with the International Monetary Fund and creditor countries smoother.

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