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President Rajapaksa agrees to replace brother Mahinda, to form all-party cabinet

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa at the Sacred Bo Tree in Anuradhapura (Photo: @GotabayaR/Twitter)

Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has agreed to replace Mahinda Rajapaksa–current Prime Minister and elder brother, and form an all-party interim government under a new prime minister.

This was announced by Maithripala Sirisena–former president and the chairman of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) on Friday after a meeting with President Rajapaksa. Earlier in April, Sirisena was in talks with the President to convince him to quit and hand over the country to an all-party administration in a bid to pull the country out of the economic morass.

Sirisena's SLFP was an ally of President Rajapaksa's Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) till it withdrew support in the first week of April after the country's economic crisis blew up into a full-fledged socio-economic problem and people poured on to the streets.

The top two Rajapaksa brothers have been withstanding political pressure to step down, bolstered by a simple majority in parliament. On the other hand, the opposition parties have been trying hard to cobble the support of a simple majority with 113 members to oust the Rajapaksas through a no-confidence motion.

The tussle seems to have finally ended today with Sirisena's announcement that Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa will step down. This would also pave the way for consensual governance, bringing together differing views and political opinions to pull out the country from its worst-ever crisis.

India Narrative spoke with Dhananjay Tripathi, Associate Professor in the Department of International Relations at South Asian University about the developments in Sri Lanka.
Tripathi says: "There has been immense public pressure on the Rajapaksas. Also, somehow they have not been able to achieve what they wanted to, therefore President Rajapaksa has taken this decision that the Prime Minister steps down."

He adds that even with this change, "President Rajapaksa will still be at the centre of power. It is a win-win situation for him under the present circumstances. I think it is a smart move that the position of the president is retained with him".

The Sri Lankan economy has witnessed a free fall owing to its steadily accumulating foreign debt for over a decade. The Easter Sunday bombings, the spread of coronavirus along with numerous other factors depleted the island's foreign exchange reserves to rock bottom, leading to a stoppage of imports of food and oil.

Fast friend China has been sleeping over Colombo's urgent requests to restructure pending loans and give it an emergency bail-out. Initially loath to accept a International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan, Colombo eventually opened discussions to seek urgent funds.

The pro-China Rajapaksa government also rubbed the US the wrong way after it rejected the $480 million Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) grant offer from Washington. The same MCC grant offer amounting to $500 million was recently accepted by Nepal after a debate in its parliament, despite warnings by China.

The IMF has indicated clearly that Sri Lanka needs economic restructuring, which could be a polite way of saying that Sri Lanka needs a new set of people to bring about economic reforms.

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