Following the resignation of the country’s prime minister, the opposition said on Wednesday that it was prepared to create a new government, as the country descended into political chaos.
Protesters have been marching to the streets across the country for over a month, demanding that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa stand down as the country faces its worst economic crisis in decades. While the president remains in office, Mahinda Rajapaksa, the president’s prime minister and brother, resigned on Monday as once-peaceful rallies turned deadly, killing at least seven people.
As acts of burning and vandalism persisted despite a statewide curfew, troops were dispatched to the streets of Colombo on Wednesday with orders to shoot individuals judged to be involved in the unrest.
Sajith Premadasa, the leader of the opposition in parliament, has been nominated by the largest opposition alliance, Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB), to create a new government.
“We are prepared to establish a government with Sajith Premadasa as Prime Minister if the president resigns,” the SJB said in a statement.
Ranasinghe Premadasa, the country’s president from 1989 to 1993, is Premadasa’s father. He ran in the 2019 presidential election, but was defeated by Rajapaksa.
The Sri Lanka Freedom Party, a previous governing coalition member, has also endorsed Premadasa’s campaign for the country’s premiership.
In a statement, Dayasiri Jayasekara, the party’s secretary general, declared that if Premadasa is “ready to take the Premiership, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) is prepared to assist him.”
To avoid the situation degrading further into a “state of chaos,” he urged the opposition leader to take the role without waiting for the president to step down.
The opposition does not have the required two-thirds majority in parliament to impeach the president, who has rejected the president’s requests for a unity government.
The current lack of a prime minister exacerbates the situation, as the country’s constitution requires that a president’s resignation be followed by a takeover by the prime minister before a new person is nominated to finish the remaining presidential term.
As it continues talks with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout, Sri Lanka is expected to confront challenges in negotiating for foreign funding without a prime minister.
“After Rajapaksa leaves office, the legislature may appoint the president,” Hussein Mohamed, a former Colombo mayor and ex-ambassador to Saudi Arabia, told Arab News.
“Any delay in Sajith Premadasa taking over as Prime Minister would plunge the country into chaos.”
Sri Lankans blame the Rajapaksas, the country’s most influential political dynasty, for a meltdown in the island nation that reduced reserves to around $50 million, stalling most imports and bringing massive shortages of fuel and key food items and medicines.