COLOMBO: Embattled Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Saturday appointed four members of the ruling party to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's Cabinet, including G L Peiris as the Foreign Minister, even as the new premier reached out to the Opposition for bipartisanship to tackle the country's crippling economic and political crisis.
Dinesh Gunawardena has been sworn in as the Minister of Public administration, Peiris as the Foreign Minister, Prasanna Ranatunga as the Minister of Urban Development and housing and Kanchana Wijesekara as the Minister of Power and Energy, the President's Office said.
It was the first appointment of an all-party interim government announced by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa who is still facing demands for his resignation for mishandling the island nation's economy. He has already sacrificed his elder brother Mahinda Rajapapaksa by forcing his resignation on Monday.
All four appointees came from Rajapaksa’s Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna Party(SLPP).
Peiris was also the Foreign Minister in the Cabinet of former prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. By retaining him as the country's top diplomat, Colombo wants to keep continuity in foreign policy affairs at a time when the debt-ridden country is seeking more assistance from countries like India.
The SLPP has decided to offer crucial support to Wickremesinghe, who has just one seat in Parliament, to help him prove a majority in the House.
Most of the Opposition parties in Sri Lanka announced that they would not be joining the interim government led by Wickremesinghe.
Wickremesinghe in a letter to the main Opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) leader Sajith Premadasa asked him to help in tackling the economic crisis by supporting the Wickremesinghe premiership.
“We all know very well that Sri Lanka is facing a colossal economic, social, and political crisis. It is irrefutable that we must all unite to end this crisis that’s intensifying every day and to establish a stable economy. All of us have a historic responsibility to secure the future of the next generation, given that our actions in this moment will decide the path of this country,” wrote Wickremesinghe.
The prime minister said he took the job to open up a new political path for the country to take by establishing a government free of party differences and has the support of all parties that represent parliament.
“Embarking on this new path and working to the best ability of each of us to bring stability to the country is the only option left in order to save the country from the prevailing crisis,” he said.
“Every day that passes, the future of this country is put at greater risk. I expect a speedy and positive response from you for this request,” he added.
Premadasa had made a last-ditch effort to be the prime minister ahead of Wickremesinghe.
Wickremesinghe asked Premadasa to forget political differences in the task of rebuilding the economy to stabilise the country.
Responding to the letter, Premadasa assured the Prime Minister that as a responsible Opposition they would be supporting the government in its efforts to tackle the economic crisis.
Premadasa said his party will support ''correct decisions'' taken by the new government to resolve economic issues faced by people as a responsible Opposition. He has reiterated that his party would press for a government without the Rajapaksa brothers.
Premadasa’s SJB had resolved not to be part of the government claiming that Wickremesinghe lacked public approval to be the premier.
Meanwhile, the lawyers' body, BASL in a statement has called on Wickremesinghe to demonstrate his ability to establish consensus among all political parties in parliament.
It has called for a timeline to implement constitutional reforms - the 21st Amendment and the abolition of the executive presidency.
The 21st Amendment is expected to annul the 20A which gave unfettered powers to President Rajapaksa after abolishing the 19th Amendment which made parliament powerful over the president.
Wickremesinghe, the 73-year-old United National Party (UNP) leader, was appointed as Sri Lanka's 26th prime minister on Thursday as the country was without a government since Monday when President Gotabaya Rajapaksa's elder brother and prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned after violence erupted following an attack on the anti-government protesters by his supporters.
Sri Lanka is going through the worst economic crisis since independence in 1948. A crippling shortage of foreign reserves has led to long queues for fuel, cooking gas and other essentials while power cuts and soaring food prices heaped misery on the people.
The economic crisis also triggered a political crisis in Sri Lanka and demand for the resignation of the powerful Rajapaksas.
President Rajapaksa sacked his Cabinet and appointed a younger Cabinet as a response to the demand for his resignation. A continuous protest opposite his secretariat has now gone on for well over a month.
On Monday, Gotabaya Rajapaksa's elder brother Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned as the prime minister to make way for the president to appoint an interim all political party government. Wickremesinghe was appointed the country's new prime minister on Thursday. Meanwhile, Police Media Spokesman Nihal Thalduwa said that nearly 90 people have been arrested in connection with the violence that took place island wide on Monday. He added that nearly 100 people have been arrested for instigating acts of violence through social media networks.