Crisis-hit Sri Lanka set for uneasy 'economic war Cabinet' ahead of new PM's first address

COLOMBO (AFP, REUTERS) – Sri Lanka was set to form a new Cabinet on Monday (May 16) as bitter political rivals make common cause to tackle a worsening economic crisis after last week’s deadly violence, party leaders said.

Protesters remained camped outside President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s residence demanding that he resign meanwhile, as troops continued to patrol the streets while ordinary Sri Lankans queued up for scarce supplies.

Mr Ranil Wickremesinghe, appointed prime minister for a sixth time last Thursday, has struggled to form a “unity government” after the main opposition insisted that Rajapaksa should follow his brother Mahinda who quit as premier last week.

However, two stalwarts from the main Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) opposition party agreed to break ranks and join an “economic war Cabinet”, party sources told AFP.

Opposition leader Sajith Premadasa said his party would not block in Parliament any legitimate “solutions to the economic problems”.

Another opposition group, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), said they will also offer conditional support to Mr Wickremesinghe, overturning their earlier decision not to.

“We will support any correct decisions taken by the new government to address tour grave economic crisis,” SLFP leader Maithripala Sirisena said in a letter to the premier.

Sri Lanka’s new prime minister will address the crisis-hit nation later on Monday.

Mr Wickremesinghe said he would give a “full explanation” of the financial crisis that has devastated the strategic Indian Ocean island nation, where China and India are battling for influence.

“There is a lot to be done and undone. We are prioritising matters, rest assured they shall be addressed as early as possible,” he said in a series of tweets on Sunday.

Official sources said the full Cabinet was likely to be sworn in ahead of Tuesday’s parliamentary session, the first since 73-year-old Wickremesinghe’s appointment.

Four ministers were sworn in on Saturday, all from Rajapaksa’s Sri Lanka Podu Jana Peramuna (SLPP) party.

However, there is no finance minister yet, and it is widely expected that the prime minister will retain the crucial portfolio to lead ongoing negotiations with the IMF for an urgent bailout.


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