Sri Lanka’s ruling party on Tuesday blocked a no-confidence motion against President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, whose removal from office has been central to nationwide protests triggered by the worst economic crisis in the country’s history.
The South Asian island nation is on the brink of bankruptcy, with the government seeking an economic lifeline from other countries and institutions in order to continue importing basic supplies, medicines and fuel.
Mass protests across the island nation have been demanding Rajapaksa’s ouster for over a month, with demonstrators blaming him for leading the country to bankruptcy.
Tuesday’s motion, tabled by M.A. Sumanthiran of the opposition Tamil National Alliance party, sought to bypass procedure to censure the president for the crisis. It was defeated by the ruling party with a 119-68 vote.
“Your names have been displayed on the board today. The country now knows who is protecting the president, who does not protect you,” Sumanthiran told parliamentarians after the vote.
Sri Lankan protesters have been demanding that the Rajapaksas, the nation’s most influential political dynasty, be removed from the country’s politics.
The family faces accusations of corruption and mishandling the economy, as the country of 22 million suffers from increasing shortages of essential goods, along with record inflation and lengthy blackouts.
Tuesday’s outcome appears to have strengthened protesters’ demands for the president to quit.
“We are thoroughly disappointed about the appointment of a prime minister who is another stooge of the Rajapaksa family,” Anuruddha Bandara, an activist behind the #GotaGoHome campaign on social media, told Arab News.
“We will not let this go until the president steps down.”
It is unclear whether the no-confidence motion will be taken up again.
The parliamentary session on Tuesday was the first since clashes between protesters, government supporters and police left nine dead and hundreds injured last week. It was also the first with new PM Ranil Wickremesinghe, who took office after Mahinda Rajapaksa, the president’s brother, quit in the wake of the deadly confrontations.
On Monday, Wickremesinghe offered a somber assessment of the nation’s dire outlook, saying that about $75 billion is needed urgently to help provide essential items, while the country’s treasury is struggling to find even $1 billion.
“At the moment, we only have petrol stocks for a single day,” he said in a televised speech. “The next couple of months will be the most difficult ones of our lives.”