COLOMBO – Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa announced 17 new ministerial appointments on Monday – but notably omitted some members of his family following protests over the government’s handling of devastating economic crisis.
The president and his brother, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, will stay despite demands from protesters and the opposition asking them to give up. Rajapaksa has run the South Asian island nation since 2019 along with many other family members holding top government positions.
The island nation of 22 million people is experiencing prolonged power cuts and fuel and medicine shortages as a drop in foreign exchange reserves has halted imports of essential goods, leading to protests. everyday love in the commercial capital Colombo.
The government will begin talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on Monday over a loan program, and analysts have assessed political instability as a risk that will prompt Sri Lanka to find a way out. its financial turmoil.
In a speech to his new cabinet, President Rajapaksa said he would seek solutions to Sri Lanka’s problems, including through possible constitutional changes, according to a statement by his office.
“I am ready to support parliament on the constitutional changes that need to be made,” he said.
Thousands of Sri Lankans have been protesting outside the presidential office in Colombo for more than a week, demanding the resignation of Rajapaksas.
Faced with growing unrest, Rajapaksa dissolved his previous cabinet earlier this month and invited all parties in parliament to form a unity government, but opposition groups and members of the governing coalition rejected the idea.
On Monday, only five members of the previous cabinet were sworn in again, while most other portfolios were allocated to members of Sri Lanka’s ruling Podujana Peramuna party.
Among those not reappointed from the previous cabinet were the president’s two brothers, Basil and Chamal, and the prime minister’s son Namal.
“Government has a responsibility to put the economy on the right track and build a country that can achieve the aspirations of the young generation,” the president said.
The economic mismanagement by successive governments has undermined Sri Lanka’s public finances, but the situation was exacerbated by the introduction of deep tax cuts by the Rajapaksa government shortly after taking power. rights in 2019.
Key sectors of the economy, especially tourism, were then battered by the COVID-19 pandemic, while the government struggled to reach out to the IMF for help.
Last week, the country’s central bank said it had unilaterally suspended foreign debt payments, instead using its tiny foreign exchange reserves of about $1.93 billion to import essential commodities. feebleness.
(Reporting by Uditha Jayasinghe and Devjyot Ghoshal; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Hugh Lawson)