Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa will not resign and instead will face the country’s political and economic crisis, a key government minister said Wednesday despite the continuing huge protests that are demanding his resignation.
Despite public anger against the Rajapaksa family, President Gotabaya will not resign, Chief Government Whip and Highways Minister Johnston Fernando asserted Wednesday.
“May I remind you that 6.9 million people voted for the President. As a government, we are clearly saying the president will not resign under any circumstances. We will face this,” he said.
Late Thursday, Rajapaksa had revoked the state of Emergency with immediate effect on his island nation. In a gazette notification number 2274/10, the President said he has withdrawn the Emergency rule ordinance which gave security forces sweeping powers to curb any disturbance in the country.
Rajapaksa has resisted the calls for him to resign even after members of his own coalition made them this week, with governing party lawmakers saying an interim government should replace his and failing to do so would make them responsible for violence.
Rajapaksa “will not resign. We will face this. We have the strength to face this. We are not afraid,” Minister of Highways Johnston Fernando told parliament Wednesday.
The declaration defies calls from the public and political opponents for Gotabaya Rajapaksa to step down amid the country's economic crisis. Crowds have protested for weeks over lengthy power cuts and shortages of gas, food and other basic goods.
The public anger has prompted nearly all Cabinet ministers to quit, and scores of MPs to leave his government. Opposition MPs have also rejected his invite to form a national unity government, saying voters want the president and entire government to resign.
The government estimates the COVID-19 pandemic cost Sri Lanka’s economy $14 billion in the last two years. Protesters also allege fiscal mismanagement — Sri Lanka has immense foreign debt after borrowing heavily on infrastructure and other projects that don’t earn money. Its foreign debt repayment obligations are around $7 billion for this year alone.
The debts and dwindling foreign reserves leave it unable to pay for imported goods.
For several months, Sri Lankans have endured long lines to buy fuel, foods and medicines, most of which comes from abroad and is paid for in hard currency. The fuel shortage, along with lower hydropower capacity in dry weather, has caused rolling power cuts lasting hours each day.
Rajapaksa last month said his government was in talks with the International Monetary Fund and turned to China and India for loans while he appealed to people to limit the use of fuel and electricity.