Sri Lanka opposition chief says he’s ‘cautiously optimistic’ about vote to oust government

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Opposition parties in crisis-wracked Sri Lanka are “cautiously optimistic” about winning enough votes to oust the government appointed of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the Leader of the Opposition, Sajith Premadasa, told CNBC.

“I’m cautiously optimistic that we will obtain the numbers. It all depends on our power to persuade,” said Premadasa, who heads the Samagi Jana Balawegaya, the country’s main opposition party.

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

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

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

This economic catastrophe is manmade, engineered by the president. The country is united on changing the presidency, changing family politics.
Sajith Premadasa
Leader of the Opposition, Sri Lanka Parliament

Asked if the president would respect the verdict of a no-confidence vote going against him, Premadasa said he wasn’t sure.

“Time has run out for our country, time has run out for this government. But it continues to ignore the wishes of the people. That is very, very dangerous. That is a very imprudent act,” he said.

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

Premadasa’s comments come soon after the president dropped three members of the Rajapaksa family but retained his elder brother Mahinda Rajapaksa as prime minister.

The South Asian nation has been reeling from months of widespread protests, as the economy struggles with mounting debt and falling foreign currency reserves. Prolonged power cuts, as well as shortages in food, fuel and medicines have triggered mass protests calling for the president to step down.

Mounting frustration over inflation, scarcity and lengthy power cuts brought demonstrators in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo on Monday. Angry protestors called for the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his brother, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Buddhika Weerasinghe | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The unrest claimed its first fatality on Tuesday, when police opened fire at a group of people protesting new fuel price increases, killing one and injuring a dozen others, according to Reuters.

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

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

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

Premadasa blamed the president for the economic crisis.

“This economic catastrophe is manmade, engineered by the president. The country is united on changing the presidency, changing family politics,” he said.

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

“I think it’s quite appropriate that President Rajapaksa, his brother Prime Minister Rajapaksa take into serious consideration the views of the people,” Premadasa said.

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

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