Sri Lankan lawmakers fail in no-confidence motion bid
Posted on May 17th, 2022

Courtesy Deutsche Welle (DW)

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has said his country only has enough gasoline to last one more day, and is $74 billion short of funds to pay for essentials.

Ruling party lawmakers in Sri Lanka blocked quicker debate of a no-confidence motion against President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Tuesday, as the country’s economic crisis intensified.

Opposition members of parliament had called the vote on fast-tracking the motion after new Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said in a speech on Monday that there was only about a day’s worth of petroleum and diesel left in the country.

He had said the country needed $75 billion (roughly €70 billion) to pay for essential supplies, but had less than a billion available.

“The next couple of months will be the most difficult ones of our lives,” he said in the speech. 

The bid to expedite the motion of no-confidence failed by 119 votes to 68, but it can be debated at a later stage as a normal proposal.

Any no-confidence motion passed by legislators would be non-binding, but would have a symbolic effect given the scale of the crisis.

Protesters have demonstrated for weeks over the crisis, with worsening shortages of food, fuel and medicine affecting the entire country and some protesters attacking lawmakers’ homes.

Ongoing protests, as president tries to hold on

After the vote failed, Wickremesinghe wrote on Twitter that he had opposed the move as members of parliament in the ruling party wanted to debate attacks on their homes by protesters before any confidence motion. 

“I advised M.P. Sumanthiran on the 16th that this would be self-defeating, as government MPs who were wanting to debate the attacks on their houses would not vote in favor to immediately debate the Motion of Displeasure,” tweeted Wickremesinghe. 

Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, founder and executive director of the Center for Policy Alternatives in the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, told DW that protests will continue if the protesters’ core demands are not met.

“A time frame has to be set. The executive presidency has to be abolished and a definite date for new elections will have to be found,” said Saravanamuttu.

“There are people that don’t have three meals a day. There is a shortage of drugs. They [people] are constantly standing in queues for fuel and for gas. It is very grim and as the prime minister said, it is going to get worse.”

The ongoing protests have roiled the governing party, with Rajapaksa’s brother resigning as prime minister to be replaced last week by Wickremesinghe, who is a member of the opposition.

Rajapaksa has let go almost every one of his relatives in prominent positions in recent weeks, including his other brother and until recently his finance minister, Basil Rajapaksa. However the president himself seems to be hoping to ride out the storm while keeping his post.

New Prime Minister Wickremesinghe said Monday that some of the supply problems would be resolved to some extent through shipments from India.

Three ships carrying crude oil have been anchored off Sri Lanka for more than a month, according to Wickremesinghe. But the country needs to source US dollars to pay for them. The country defaulted on its foreign debts in April.

The protests have become serious enough to prompt authorities to impose curfews late at night.

Sri Lanka had aimed to become the first country in the world to bring in fully organic farming, banning imports of chemical fertilizers.

The government abandoned that effort late last year as crop yields plunged and prices of staple products increased.

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