Sri Lanka's cabinet ministers all tender resignation amid protests

All of Sri Lanka's cabinet ministers have tendered their resignation amid growing public outrage over the country’s economic crisis and shortages of food, fuel and medicines. The entire Cabinet submitted letters offering to resign, but Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa notably did not.

On Sunday, Sri Lankan professionals, students and even mothers with small children defied an emergency decree and curfew to demand President Gotabaya Rajapaksa resigns.

The prime minister's own son, Namal Rajapaksa, was among the ministers who resigned on Sunday.

“I have informed the secretary to the president of my resignation from all portfolios with immediate effect,” Namal Rajapaksa tweeted, saying he hopes his decision helps President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is his father, in establishing stability for the people and the government.

Namal held the portfolio of youth affairs.

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Education minister Dinesh Gunawardena said the president and the prime minister will take appropriate action on the Cabinet’s offer to resign. The moves appear to be efforts to pacify the people, who are protesting countrywide to hold the president and the entire Rajapaksa family responsible.

Sri Lanka’s political power is concentrated in the Rajapaksa family. In addition to brothers being president and prime minister, two other brothers are ministers of finance and irrigation. Namal was also a Cabinet minister until he resigned. Police fired tear gas and water canons at hundreds of university students who were trying to break through barricades near the town of Kandy in the tea growing region. Near Colombo, students demonstrated and dispersed while armed soldiers and police stopped opposition lawmakers from marching to the iconic Independence Square. “This is unconstitutional,” opposition leader Sajith Premadasa told the troops who blocked their path.

“You are violating the law. Please think of the people who are suffering. Why are you protecting a government like this?” For several months, Sri Lankans have endured long lines to buy fuel, foods and medicines, most of which comes from abroad and is paid for in hard currency. The first to disappear from shops was milk powder and cooking gas, followed by a fuel shortage disrupting transport and causing rolling power cuts lasting several hours a day at the end of February. The extent of the crisis became clear when Sri Lanka couldn’t pay for imports of basic supplies because of its huge debts and dwindling foreign reserves. The country’s usable foreign reserves are said to be less that $400 million, according to experts, and it has nearly $7 billion in foreign debt obligations for this year alone.

Anti-government protesters defy the curfew

President Rajapaksa last month said his government was in talks with the International Monetary Fund and turned to China and India for loans while he appealed to people to limit the use of fuel and electricity and “extend their support to the country.” As protests grew and calls increased for him to step down, President Rajapaksa doubled down and at midnight on Friday assumed emergency powers by decree. The government also declared a countrywide curfew until Monday morning. It did little to quell the anger of thousands, many first-time protesters, who felt fed up and exhausted by the crisis. “In this country it is so difficult,” said Inoma Fazil, a fashion designer who brought her 18-month-old daughter to a protest in Rajagiriya, a Colombo suburb.

“We don’t want to leave the country and go, and we want to give our child a good future, but everyone is stealing our money. So we came here for her and the rest of the children.” On Sunday, authorities blocked access for nearly 15 hours to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, WhatsApp and other social media platforms that were used to organise protests. The emergency declaration by President Rajapaksa gives him wide powers to preserve public order, suppress mutiny, riot or civil disturbances or for the maintenance of essential supplies. Under the decree, the president can authorise detentions, seizure of property and search of premises. He can also change or suspend any law except the constitution.