Colombo: Sri Lanka’s beleaguered President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Sunday urged all political parties to set aside their differences and appealed to the protesting citizens to join hands to steer a “pro-people struggle”, amidst growing demands for his government’s immediate resignation over its failure to tackle the country’s worst economic crisis.
His message to the people on International Workers’ Day came a day after the powerful Buddhist clergy in the island nation warned that people would be influenced to reject all politicians if Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, Gotabaya’s elder brother, did not resign to make way for an interim government to resolve the political and economic crisis in the country.
“On this #InternationalWorkersDay, I once again invite all political party leaders in #lka to come to a consensus on behalf of the people. It’s my sincere wish to call on the people to join hands to steer a pro-people struggle setting aside political differences,” Gotabaya tweeted.
Sri Lanka is currently in the throes of unprecedented economic turmoil since its independence from Britain in 1948. The crisis is caused in part by a lack of foreign currency, which has meant that the country cannot afford to pay for imports of staple foods and fuel, leading to acute shortages and very high prices.
On Thursday, nearly 1,000 trade unions staged a one-day nationwide strike, demanding the immediate resignation of the government, including President Gotabaya and Prime Minister Mahinda.
The unions from a number of sectors, including the state service, health, ports, electricity, education and postal joined the strike under the theme Bow to the people – government go home’, urging the President, the Prime Minister and the government to go home’.
In his May Day message, Gotabaya said instead of following up on who is responsible for the current problematic situation, what is needed is to focus on what action can be taken to provide immediate relief to the public, online portal newsfirst.lk reported.
Pointing out that in the past three years, the group that faced the most serious challenges in the country are the working class, the president said they are also the ones who were resilient in the face of all these challenges and made great commitments to strengthen the national economy.
“As the day-to-day challenges they face are even more intense today, the government is taking various approaches to liberate the people from this situation and alleviate the oppressive nature of the situation,” he said.
Thousands of demonstrators have hit the streets across Sri Lanka since April 9, as the government ran out of money for vital imports; prices of essential commodities have skyrocketed and there are acute shortages in fuel, medicines and electricity supply.
Gotabaya emphasised that the loss of foreign exchange has created many issues, and managing all these factors is the way to solve the current problems.
“Bearing the responsibility of creating a better future for the people of this country, as the Head of State and on behalf of the people I invited the leaders of all political parties to work together,” the Daily Mirror online newspaper quoted the president as saying.
Each second, our goal is to find solutions to existing crises by resorting to methods that can alleviate the suffering of the people, he said.
“On this year’s Workers’ Day, I once again invite the leaders of all political parties to come to a consensus on behalf of the people to overcome the challenge we face. I respectfully call on the working people to put politics aside and join to steer the struggle in a positive direction with a pro-people revolutionary transformation on behalf of the working people.
“It is with these aspirations that I join with you in celebrating the International Workers’ Day that embodies the Workers’ Brotherhood, the global labour force,” the report quoted the president as saying in his message.
A senior leader from Sri Lanka’s Opposition party Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB), Lakshman Kiriella, on Saturday said his party will prove their majority in Parliament this week for the no-confidence motion against the government led by the Rajapaksa family.
President Gotabaya has asked the Opposition to show their majority by garnering the support of 113 lawmakers in the 225-member Parliament to form the interim government.
Everyone will be able to see that we command a majority next week and I will not reveal how we are going to do it as of now, the Daily Mirror newspaper had quoted SJB MP and Chief Opposition Whip Kiriella as saying.
Sri Lanka needs at least USD 4 billion to tide over its mounting economic woes, and talks with international institutions such as the World Bank as well as countries like China and Japan for financial assistance have been going on.
Sri Lankan officials were in Washington last week to negotiate with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout.
India has agreed to extend an additional USD 500 million credit line to help Sri Lanka import fuel.
India has already agreed to defer USD 1.5 billion in import payments that Sri Lanka needs to make to the Asian Clearing Union.