Apart from the president and his sibling prime minister, Sri Lanka’s entire cabinet resigned from their roles on Sunday as the governing political kin seeks to tackle a mounting economic crisis, with a social media ban failing to stop another day of anti-government protests.
The South Asian country is experiencing catastrophic food, gasoline, and other necessary shortages, as well as record inflation and crippling power outages, in its worst downturn since gaining independence from Britain in 1948.
Apart from President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his elder brother Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, all 26 members in the cabinet presented resignation papers during a late-night meeting, education minister Dinesh Gunawardena informed reporters.
The president will be able to form a new cabinet on Monday as a result of the move, and some of those who are standing down may be reappointed.
It came as the country was under martial law, with a statewide curfew in place until Monday morning, after a crowd attempted to attack the president’s mansion in the city, Colombo.
Earlier, Sri Lanka’s biggest opposition alliance, the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB), decried a social media block aimed at quelling rising public protests and said it was time for the government to go.
“President Rajapaksa should know that the tide against his authoritarian administration has already changed,” SJB lawmaker Harsha de Silva told AFP.
Opposition MPs and hundreds of their supporters attempted to march to the capital’s Independence Square, but troops armed with automatic assault rifles intervened.
A few hundred meters from the residence of opposition leader Sajith Premadasa, the road was closed, and the throng fought security officers for over two hours before dispersing peacefully.
Another SLB politician, Eran Wickramaratne, spoke out against the state of emergency declaration and the presence of troops on city streets.
He stated, “We cannot tolerate a military takeover.” “They should be aware that we are still a democratic country.”
Although internet service providers were forced to ban access to Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, and a number of other social media platforms, the blackout did not stop a number of local protests across Sri Lanka.
In the central town of Peradeniya, police used tear gas to disperse university students, although protests in other parts of the country went off without incident.
After the ban order went into effect, the chief of Sri Lanka’s Internet regulator resigned, according to private media reports.
The censorship was lifted later that day after the country’s Human Rights Commission concluded that the military ministry lacked the authority to impose it.
Apart from the opposition protest and huge lines of vehicles queuing for fuel, Colombo’s streets were mostly deserted on Sunday.
However, authorities informed AFP that one man died after climbing a high-tension pylon near Rajapaksa’s residence and was electrocuted. He was allegedly protesting rolling power outages, according to locals.
Before the social media shutdown, mass protests were planned for Sunday, but organizers have postponed the rallies until after the curfew is lifted on Monday.
The growing protests have created schisms within the administration, with President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s nephew Namal Rajapaksa criticizing the partial Internet ban.
“Blocking social media is something I will never condone,” said Namal, the sports minister.
Along with finance minister Basil and the eldest brother Chamal, who had the agricultural portfolio, he was one of three Rajapaksa family members to quit later.
In addition, a minor party has hinted that it may depart the current coalition in the next week.
The action would not jeopardize the government’s survival, but it would jeopardize its ability to extend the country’s state of emergency lawfully.
Western diplomats in Colombo have expressed worry over the use of emergency legislation to suppress democratic protest and have stated that they are closely following events.
The powerful Bar Association of Sri Lanka has urged the government to lift the state of emergency, which empowers security personnel to arrest and hold suspects without charge for long periods of time.
Over the weekend, solidarity marches were held around the world, notably in Melbourne, Australia, which has a strong Sri Lankan diaspora.
Sri Lanka is struggling to service its mounting $51 billion international debt due to a catastrophic lack of foreign cash, with the pandemic jeopardizing essential revenue from tourism and remittances.
The import-dependent country is now unable to pay even for basic necessities due to the crisis.
Diesel shortages have prompted controversy across Sri Lanka in recent days, resulting in protests at empty pumps and the imposition of 13-hour blackouts by energy providers to conserve fuel.
Many economists also believe that government incompetence, years of accumulated debt, and ill-advised tax cuts have exacerbated the issue.
Sri Lanka is negotiating a bailout with the International Monetary Fund.