Sri Lanka’s prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa said on Tuesday that the Constitution will be changed to clip presidential powers as demands for his resignation over the handling of a crippling economic crisis continued to grow.
“While looking for solutions to the economic problems, it is important that we have political and social stability in the country,” he said while proposing to restore the 19th amendment to the Constitution to curb presidential powers and empower Parliament.
He noted that the power transfer will be one of the quick steps that can be taken to politically stabilize the country and help talks with the International Monetary Fund for an economic recovery plan.
Addressing parliament on the first day after the traditional Sinhala and Tamil New Year, Mr Rajapaksa said it is important that a solution to the multiple crises is found on a solid economic, political and social foundation.
“I believe a constitutional change must take place. As a start, I believe implementing the 19th amendment with necessary and timely changes is the best short-term solution to the current situation in the country.”
He continued: “It is my hope that the amended constitution will be able to achieve the aspirations of the people.”
Sri Lanka is on the brink of bankruptcy, with nearly $7bn of its total $25bn in foreign debt due for repayment this year.
Thousands of Sri Lankans have taken to the streets in protest against the Rajapaksas after struggling with a month-long shortage of food, fuel, medicines and long power cuts due to dwindling foreign reserves.
As the island nation battled its worst economic crisis since independence in 1984, the cabinet resigned on 3 April after irate demonstrators vandalized the homes of some ministers.
Protesters continued to occupy the entrance to the president’s office for the 11th straight day on Tuesday. Demonstrators had shouted “Go Gota Go” and projected messages on Sunday night. The agitation spiraled last week when President Gotabaya Rajapaksa refused to step down from power and offered to hold talks with protesters, which was met with rejection.
Last week, Sri Lanka announced a pre-emptive default on all its foreign debt, estimated to be about $51bn, as a “last resort” to avoid financial meltdown. It said the country would divert its foreign reserves to importing essentials. It urged its citizens overseas to send money home to “support the country at this crucial juncture by donating much-needed foreign exchange”.
President Rajapaksa, the younger brother of prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, had earlier said that his government should have opted to go for an International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout much earlier. “It was a mistake not to go.”
On Tuesday, it was reported by the finance ministry of Sri Lanka that the International Monetary Fund will consider providing quick financial assistance to Sri Lanka following representations by India.
A delegation kicked off formal talks with the IMF in Washington on Monday.
Additional reporting by agencies