Ranil Wickremesinghe was sworn in Thursday night to lead his country through the worst recession in its history as an independent nation, with months of shortages and blackouts inflaming public anger.
The 73-year-old insists he has enough support to govern and has approached several lawmakers to join him, but three opposition parties have already said his tenure as prime minister lacks legitimacy.
Leading opposition lawmaker Harsha de Silva has publicly rejected a proposal to take over the finance ministry, saying he would instead push for the government to resign.
“People are not asking for political games and deals, they want a new system that safeguards their future,” he said in a statement.
Huge public demonstrations have for weeks condemned Rajapaksa for his administration’s mismanagement of the worsening economic crisis.
Hundreds stand outside his waterfront office in the capital, Colombo, in a protest camp that has campaigned for him to resign for the past month.
But the head of the possible dissident faction, Harin Fernando, said on Friday that he had returned to the fold.
“I will not support the Wickremesinghe government,” Fernando told AFP.
Two smaller parties have also signaled that they will not join any unity government.
The Tamil National Alliance said the Rajapaksa administration had “completely lost legitimacy” with the appointment of Wickremesinghe, a five-time former prime minister who last held the post in 2019.
Meanwhile, the leftist Popular Liberation Front (JVP) said new national elections were the only way out of the current deadlock.
“We cannot solve the economic crisis by having an illegitimate government,” JVP leader Anura Dissanayake told reporters in Colombo. “We demand new elections.”
However, the cash-strapped government is unlikely to be able to pay for the surveys, or even print the ballots, at a time when national paper shortages have forced schools to postpone exams.
Parliamentary elections are not scheduled until August 2025.
‘Three meals a day’
Sri Lankans have suffered months of severe shortages of food, fuel and medicine, as well as prolonged power cuts, after the country depleted foreign exchange reserves needed to pay for vital imports.
The central bank chief warned this week that the island nation’s economy was just days away from “irreparable collapse” unless a new government was urgently appointed.
Wickremesinghe warned on Thursday that the dire situation could worsen in the coming months and called for international assistance.
“We want to get the nation back to a position where our people are back to having three meals a day,” he said.
Mahinda Rajapaksa, the president’s brother, resigned as prime minister on Monday after his supporters attacked peacefully protesting anti-government protesters.
At least nine people were killed and more than 200 injured in the ensuing clashes, with dozens of Rajapaksa loyalist homes torched by angry mobs.
Mahinda has since been barred from leaving the country by a court and has taken refuge at the Trincomalee naval base in eastern Sri Lanka.
Troops have largely restored order and a nationwide curfew has been in effect for most of the week.
The Indian and Japanese envoys in Colombo were among the first to call on Wickremesinghe shortly after he officially took up his duties on Friday.
The new prime minister is seen as a pro-Western free-market reformer, which could ease bailout negotiations with the International Monetary Fund and others.
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