COLOMBO: The beleaguered Rajapaksa family received a much-needed shot in the arm as two dissident members who had resigned over the government’s handling of the current economic crisis have returned to the party fold, even as widespread anti-government protests continued for the fourth day in Sri Lanka on Tuesday.
The members, including Shantha Bandara who is from former President Maithripala Sirisena’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), took oaths as state ministers, days after they had resigned from their positions to protest the government’s economic mismanagement.
Last week the entire Sri Lankan cabinet resigned apart from Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa at a time when the country was facing its worst economic crisis since gaining independence from the UK in 1948.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his elder brother, Prime Minister Mahinda, continue to hold power in Sri Lanka, despite their politically powerful family that has been in power for most of the past two decades being the focus of public ire. Five other family members are lawmakers, three of whom resigned as ministers last Sunday.
As part of a group, the dissident members had held talks with President Rajapaksa to form an all-party unity cabinet and had urged the entire Rajapaksa family to step down from positions. The talks held on Sunday night ended inconclusively.
According to sources, with dissidents softening their stance, Rajapaksa may appoint his cabinet on Tuesday. He has appointed only four members so far following the resignation of the cabinet.
Rohana Lakshman Piyadasa, the SLFP Vice President said, disciplinary action would be taken against Bandara, who has returned to the Rajapaksa fold.
“He has violated the party’s central committee decision to leave the government,” Piyadasa said.
The independents had also expressed unwillingness to side with the main Opposition’s no-trust vote against the government.
Meanwhile, the street protests, which started on Saturday, continued for the fourth day opposite the presidential secretariat in Colombo on Tuesday.
They were entertained last night by local musicians and it was reported in the morning that a rap artiste named Shiraz Shiraz had died at the protest site, collapsing from a heart attack.
Prime Minister Rajapaksa’s televised address last night during which he asked people to be patient until the government resolved the economic crisis has failed to soothe frayed tempers as people criticised the government on social media platforms.
“We came here because the people we elected have let us down. We will continue until they leave,” a protestor said.
In a televised address to the nation, Mahinda, who is under growing pressure to quit due to the worst economic crisis facing the island nation, said that he understands the people’s sufferings.
“We have to strengthen the economy. We will take the responsibility to resolve the economic issue in the same way we ended the 30-year war,” the Prime Minister said, referring to his military victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 2009.
The LTTE, which led to a separatist war for a separate Tamil homeland, was crushed by the Lankan military in 2009 after the death of its supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran.
Sri Lanka is facing its worst economic crisis since gaining independence from the UK in 1948.
People have been protesting for weeks over lengthy power cuts and shortage of fuel, food and other daily essentials. They are demanding the resignation of the President.
The President has defended his government’s actions, saying the foreign exchange crisis was not his making and the economic downturn was largely pandemic driven by the island nation’s tourism revenue and inward remittances waning.