By Chandani Kirinde
The main Opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) and the independent group of over 40 MPs in Parliament yesterday stepped-up calls for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the Government to step-down first for an-all party interim arrangement to be set up to resolve economic and political crises.
Lawmakers of the two groups intensified their attacks on both the President and the Government amidst reports that several more ruling party MPs have decided to sit in opposition which would result in the SLPP losing its majority in the House.
Three SJB/SLMC MPs who had joined the Government to support the 20th Amendment to the Constitution moved to opposition benches yesterday which leaves the Government which once commanded the support of two thirds of the members of the 225 legislature at around 117 MPs. Digamadulla District MP Faisal Cassim announced in Parliament yesterday that he along with MPs M.S. Thowfeek (Trincomalee District) and Ishak Rahuman (Anuradhapura District) have decided to function as independent MPs.
The harshest criticism of the Government came yesterday from MP Anura Priyadharshana Yapa who along with nine others moved to opposition benches on Tuesday.
“I would like to request this Government to resign. Enough is enough. Today people are scared. People are on the road. Please hand over the administration to an interim Government. There are more qualified people on this side (Opposition) than on your side) and they can help take the country out of this perilous situation,” Yapa said in Parliament.
He said that appointing new Cabinet Ministers is not the need of the hour but the setting up of an interim Government and Cabinet that has the confidence of the public that can bring about necessary constitutional amendments and stabilise the economy.
“This is our country. This is not the President’s, or the Prime Minister’s or the Rajapaksa’s country. Please understand that,” Yapa emphasised.
SLFP MP Dayasiri Jayasekera said they have discussed proposals to set up the interim Government as well as an advisory council consisting of leaders of all political parties in Parliament and what was needed is for the Prime Minister and the Cabinet to resign.
“We cannot have a Government side and an Opposition side in this Parliament if we are to deal with the economic crisis. We have to work together as one big group. The Cabinet will be made up of MPs of all parties, there must be a time frame to overcome this problem and once there is political stability, we can stop the county from sliding further on the economic front,” Jayasekera said.
He said there are varying views among the groups who are now in opposition with some insisting that the President step down while others want to bring an impeachment motion against him while others want a no-confidence motion against the Government.
“First, we have to bring the 21st Amendment to the Constitution and correct the mistake that was made by repealing the 19th Amendment. We urge the Prime Minister to listen to the voice of the people and step down,” he added.
SJB Manusha Nanayakkara said his party is willing to assist in implementing a program to build the country but for that to happen the President must go home. “We cannot join hands with thieves and murders and rebuild the country,” he said.
SJB MP Nalin Bandara also said that by resigning the President will make the way for all parties in Parliament to work together. “Our leader Sajith Premadasa is willing to make sacrifices for the sake of the country. We will talk to all the groups that have chosen to sit in the opposition and come to a compromise,” he said.
“For a year we are ready to work without any privileges. We are ready to take over this responsibility but the President who bankrupted this county must go first. The queues will not end as soon as we take over but people will give us a chance for a few months to stabilise the situation. With commitment we can put the country on track in six months to a year,” Bandara added.
SJB Parliamentarian S.M. Marikkar yesterday said President Gotabaya Rajapaksa cannot wash his hands from the current serious economic crisis by merely saying sorry but needs to make amends.
“From the fertiliser crisis to foreign currency and reserves crisis, the President must be held accountable. Amidst severe foreign currency shortage, the President forced the country to pay $ 69 million for questionable consignment of organic fertiliser from China. Will the President repay this from his personal funds?” queried Marikkar.
“President gave Cabinet rank status to economic hit man Nivard Cabraal as Central Bank Governor who deceived the country saying no need to go to the IMF and wasted scarce reserves whilst increasing borrowing. The President is responsible for this,” Marikkar alleged.
“Though the President sought forgiveness from farmers for his organic fertiliser only policy blunder, he didn’t say sorry to poor city dwellers who were burdened with exorbitant vegetable prices as a result of misguided policy,” the SJB MP said.
He also said people have taken to streets in protest against economic hardships and their cry for “Gota go home” is justifiable. “This is an inhuman Government,” he alleged.
It was pointed out that the Government has forced Sri Lanka to bankruptcy. He said to resolve fuel, electricity and LPG shortage the Government needs only to spend $ 2 billion but the bankrupt and corrupt Government is unable to source the required funds.
Marikkar warned that at a time when Sri Lanka is discussing an IMF bailout amidst temporary suspension of repayment of all external debt, the killing of a protester in Rambukkana by the police was a serious violation of human rights.
“The President cannot defeat the anti-Government protests countrywide by the bullet,” SJB MP said adding that the Government is hell-bent on clinging on to power whilst masses are suffering.
Noting that people’s demands are not only “Gota Go Home” and “Rajapaksa’s go home” but also against unprecedented corruption and recovery of stolen wealth of the people. “I will assure that a Government, formed by SJB leader Sajith Premadasa, will take legal action against all corrupt persons and recover their ill-gotten gains,” Marikkar added.