Sri Lankan opposition leaders meet to discuss formation of all-parties government

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July 10 (UPI) — Opposition politicians in Sri Lanka met on Sunday to discuss forming an all-party government after the nation’s president and prime minister offered their resignations amid nationwide protests.

House Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena convened a meeting of party leaders to discuss the formation of a new government with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa expected to resign Wednesday, although neither he nor Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe have officially tendered their resignations.

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“We agreed in principle to form a government of unity with all parties participation for an interim period,” said Wimal Weerawansa, a member of the breakaway group of the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna Party. “This will be a government where all parties are represented.”

The president and prime minister announced on Saturday that they planned to step down amid protests over their handling of an economic crisis that left millions of residents struggling to afford essentials including food, medicine and fuel.

The leaders on Sunday agreed that House Speaker Mahinda Yapa Adeywardena will be made acting president as dictated by the constitution in the interim period. Parliament will then convene to elect a president from among its members to pave the way for the all-party government.

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Peter D’Alimeida, one of the leaders of the protest movement, criticized the prime minister while denouncing the plans for an all-party government as “a joke” as protest groups worry the president and prime minister will not follow through on their pledge to resign.

“The speaker represents a failed institution, the parliament, which has failed the people of this country,” he said.

Rajapaksa’s party still holds a majority in Parliament and the leftist Janata Vimukthi Peramuna Party has yet to agree to be part of the all-party government, complicating the path for the main opposition party Samagi Jana Balawegaya.

“We are speaking to various parties and independent groups in parliament,” SJP legislator Harsha de Silva said. “We are looking at how the top two positions of president and prime minister could be shared amongst us.”

SJB has also reached out to the Tamil Nation Alliance about joining the all-party government, spokesman M.A. Sumanthiran said.

“We have been consulted and the SJB has invited us,” he said. “We have asked them to go ahead with a new government if they have the numbers. However, if they need our support, we said we will then talk about the conditions on which we might be able to support them.”

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U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka Julie Chung on Sunday said the United States is “closely following” the political developments while urging Parliament to exercise “restraint and respect” and approach the formation of a new government “with a commitment to the betterment of the nation — not any one political party.”

“We call on all parties to cooperate to achieve a peaceful, democratic transition of power, and urge any new, constitutionally-selected government to work quickly to identify and implement solutions that will achieve long-term economic stability and address the Sri Lankan people’s discontent over the worsening economic conditions, including power, food and fuel shortages,” she said.