Authorities in Sri Lanka removed the nationwide curfew for 12 hours on Saturday amid fresh signs of political stability in the country hit by a severe economic-crisis as new prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe took charge of the administration.
Curfews from 6am were eased till 6pm on Saturday after days in the country. Sri Lanka slipped under a 24-hour curfew on Monday after weeks-long peaceful protests — over administrative failure to prevent an economic crisis — turned violent.
The lockdowns across the country were eased briefly on Thursday and Friday to allow people to purchase essential goods.
The new prime minister-elect, who has served the country in the same seat six times in the past, also made his first cabinet appointments on Saturday.
He has included at least four ministers from his predecessor Mahinda Rajapaksa’s political outfit Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), which is likely to draw flak as many will not consider the move as a removal of the party from office.
Other members include GL Pereis, the chairman of the political party SLPP who held the post before tendering his resignation on Monday.
Sole legislator from his United National Party, Mr Wickremesinghe is set to run the administration by launching a coalition government in the country. Ousted prime minister Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s SLPP has also backed the new prime minister.
Shortly after his swearing-in, Mr Wickremesinghe said: “We are facing a crisis, we have to get out of it.”
On being asked if there was a possible solution to the crisis faced by the country, the PM-elect said: “Absolutely”.
However, he is not considered a popular choice as many fear that he can protect the powerful political family of Rajapaksa, similar to the allegations against him from 2015 to 2019.
Sects of Buddhist and Catholic clergy have objected to Mr Wickremesinghe’s elevation to the PM seat.
A senior Buddhist monk Rev Omalpe Sobitha said: “This decision has been taken totally disregarding the aspirations of the people who are protesting today. The protests can only get worse by this decision.”
This comes just days after the governor of Sri Lanka’s central bank Dr Nandalal Weerasinghe had warned that the country’s economy will collapse completely if the political stability is not restored at the earliest.
Sri Lanka has been gripped by demonstrations since early April which turned violent last week as public anger against unaffordable cost of living spilled onto streets. At least nine people died and more than 300 were injured in the unrest.
With a depleted cash flow in the economy, Sri Lanka is nearly bankrupt and faultering on its payments. The authorities have barred the repayments of $7 billion temporarily in foreign loans due this year.
In order to come out of its current total foreign debt of $51bn, Sri Lanka must repay around $25 billion worth of foreign loans.