Sri Lanka opposition leader in no-confidence vote to topple government

Opposition parties in crisis-ridden Sri Lanka are “cautiously optimistic” about winning enough votes to topple the government appointed by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, opposition leader Sajith Premadasa told CNBC.

“I am cautiously optimistic that we will get the numbers. It all depends on our powers of persuasion,” said Premadasa, who heads Samagi Jana Balawegaya, the country’s main opposition party.

The opposition plans to bring a no-confidence motion against the government, and needs a simple majority of 113 lawmakers in the 225-seat chamber to succeed.

Premadasa’s party has 54 seats in parliament and some other parties have said they will support the vote.

Crucial to the move will be the support of the 42 ruling party deputies who have formed an independent bloc and so far have not joined the opposition, according to opposition lawmaker Harsha de Silva.

This economic catastrophe is man-made, engineered by the president. The country is united in changing the presidency, changing family politics.

Sajith Premadasa

Leader of the Opposition, Parliament of Sri Lanka

Asked if the president would respect the verdict of a no-confidence vote against him, Premadasa said he was not sure.

“Time is up for our country, time is up for this government. But he continues to ignore the wishes of the people. That is very, very dangerous. It is a very reckless act,” he said.

The Sri Lankan High Commission in Singapore did not respond to CNBC’s request for comment on those comments.

Premadasa’s comments come shortly after the president sacked three members of the Rajapaksa family but kept his older brother, Mahinda Rajapaksa, as prime minister.

The South Asian nation has been recovering from months of widespread protests as the economy struggles with mounting debt and falling foreign exchange reserves. Prolonged power outages as well as shortages of food, fuel and medicine have sparked mass protests calling for the president to step down.

Growing frustration over inflation, shortages and prolonged power cuts drew protesters in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo on Monday. Angry protesters called for the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his brother, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Buddhika Weerasinghe | Mayor Bloomberg | fake images

The riots claimed their first death on Tuesday, when police opened fire on a group of people protesting new fuel price increases, killing one person and wounding a dozen others, according to Reuters.

The opposition leader has branded the new cabinet, appointed by the president on Monday, as a “hoax.”

“I would say it’s kind of a political game of musical chairs. I just think it’s a hoax, a drama,” he said.

Last week, Sri Lanka declared that it will default on its foreign debt, the country’s first since independence from colonial Britain in 1948. It owes a total foreign debt of $35 billion, with $7 billion due this year. Several Sri Lankan officials are meeting with International Monetary Fund officials this week to seek a bailout.

Premadasa blamed the president for the economic crisis.

“This economic catastrophe is man-made, engineered by the president. The country is united to change the presidency, to change family politics,” he said.

Premadesa warned that there was a state of anarchy in the country.

“I think it is very appropriate that President Rajapaksa, his brother, Prime Minister Rajapaksa, take people’s views seriously,” Premadasa said.

“Those are serious concerns that, if ignored, will be detrimental to the government itself. In fact, I would say that right now, what exists is an anarchic society.”

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