COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lanka’s ruling party on Tuesday defeated a move in Parliament to urgently debate a motion censuring President Gotabaya Rajapaksa for the nation’s worst economic crisis, which the prime minister said has left enough gasoline stocks for only a day.
It’s unclear when the motion will be taken up again.
It doesn’t legally bound Rajapaksa to quit, but his refusal to do so has already roiled Sri Lanka, which is on the brink of bankruptcy as it negotiates with other countries and institutions an economic lifeline to be able to import basic supplies, medicines and fuel.
M.A Sumanthiran, a lawmaker from the opposition Tamil National Alliance, proposed that Parliament bypass the usual procedure to take up the motion against Rajapaksa urgently. But the ruling party defeated the motion with a 119-68 vote.
Protesters have occupied the entrance to the president’s office for more than a month calling for Rajapaksa’s resignation. Months of anti-government rallies have led to the near-dismantling of the once powerful ruling family with the president’s one brother resigning as prime minister, and other siblings and a nephew leaving their Cabinet posts.
Protesters accuse the Rajapaksas of triggering the crisis through corruption and misrule.
On Monday evening, the new prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, offered a somber assessment of the country’s dire situation. He said that about $75 billion is needed urgently to help provide the nation with essential items, but the country’s treasury is struggling to find even $1 billion.
“At the moment, we only have petrol stocks for a single day,” he said in a televised speech.
“The next couple of months will be the most difficult ones of our lives,” he said. “I have no desire to hide the truth and to lie to the public. Although these facts are unpleasant and terrifying, this is the true situation. For a short period, our future will be even more difficult than the tough times that we have passed.”
Attacks on peaceful protests last week sparked countrywide violence that left nine people, including a lawmaker, dead and 200 wounded. Many homes of lawmakers and their supporters were burnt down.
The motion accuses Rajapaksa of being responsible for the economic crisis by introducing untimely tax cuts and prohibiting the use of chemical fertilizers, which resulted in crop failures. It also says that the president mismanaged the COVID-19 pandemic using it for militarization, promotion of non-scientific solutions and making unfavorable deals on vaccines.
Sri Lanka has suspended repayment of about $7 billion in foreign loans due this year out of $25 billion to be repaid by 2026. The country’s total foreign debt is $51 billion. The finance ministry says the country currently has only $25 million in usable foreign reserves.
The foreign currency shortage has limited imports resulting in long lines for milk, fuel, cooking gas and medicines.
Wickremesinghe said Monday that the lack of diesel will be resolved to some extent with shipments from India.
“For over 40 days, three ships with crude oil and furnace oil have been anchored within the maritime zone of Sri Lanka. We are working to obtain dollars in the open market to pay for these shipments,” he said.