“The swearing-in should take place today (Thursday), unless there is a last-minute hitch,” a senior official close to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa told AFP.
The country of 22 million inhabitants, in the grip of the worst economic crisis since independence in 1948, lacks dollars to finance the import of basic necessities (foodstuffs, fuel, medicines). Widespread shortages have prompted daily protests across the country.
On Wednesday evening, during his first statement to the country since the start of the protests, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, 72, pledged to form a unity government.
“I will appoint a prime minister who will lead a majority in parliament and inspire confidence in the people,” he said.
He did not name the ex-prime minister’s successor, his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa, who resigned on Monday after his supporters, armed with sticks and truncheons, attacked peaceful demonstrators who had been protesting for several weeks.
The assaults sparked clashes that have left at least nine people dead and more than 225 injured since Monday, police said.
– Negotiations continue –
A curfew, in force throughout the territory since that day, was lifted Thursday morning to allow the population to go out to get supplies but it will be imposed again in the afternoon.
A court on Thursday banned the ex-prime minister, his son Namal and 15 of his allies from traveling abroad due to violence against anti-government protesters.
Ranil Wickremesinghe, 73, is tipped to take up the post of Prime Minister, which he has already held five times since 1993.
He is the only member of the United National Party (UNP) since his defeat in the legislative elections of August 2020. Mr. Rajapaksa then won a two-thirds majority in the assembly.
He will have to form a “unity government” with the support of all the parties in parliament with 225 deputies.
Since the flood of defections suffered by the presidential camp in April, no political group has enjoyed an absolute majority.
President Rajapaksa was due to meet the leaders of his party, the SLPP, later on Thursday, as other names were proposed for the post of prime minister, an official close to the negotiations told AFP.
Wickremesinghe has worked closely with Mr. Rajapaksa over the past two months to overhaul the Ministry of Finance and Central Bank for sweeping fiscal and monetary reforms, the source said.
According to officials, it was in this context that the governor of the Central Bank, Nandalal Weerasinghe, barely appointed, had announced on April 12 the default on the payment of the foreign debt of 51 billion dollars of Sri Lanka.
It is still within this framework that he almost doubled interest rates and allowed the devaluation of the rupee to ensure better liquidity of foreign currencies in commercial banks.
On Wednesday, a few hours before the presidential address, Mr. Weerasinghe had warned that the economy was on the verge of reaching a point of no return.
“If there is no government in the next two days, the economy will collapse and no one can save it,” he warned.
The main opposition party, the SJB, had initially been invited to lead a new government, but its leader Saith Premadasa refuses to govern under the authority of the president, whose resignation he demands beforehand.
– “the central question of the economy” –
A dozen SJB MPs have pledged to support Mr. Wickremesinghe, seen as a pro-Western reformist, supporter of free trade.
“We have wasted too much time in Parliament without addressing the central issue of the economy,” said opposition MP Harin Fernando. According to him, the country “needs at least 85 million dollars a week to finance essential imports”.
Sri Lanka is currently in talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a possible bailout.