Sri Lanka’s beleaguered government has won a key vote in Parliament as a ruling coalition-backed candidate was elected deputy speaker – despite growing public pressure amid the worst economic crisis in decades.
The vote was seen as crucial to demonstrate that the government still has majority support in the 225-member Parliament after 40 governing coalition politicians said last month they would no longer vote according to coalition instructions.
It was feared that their move would significantly weaken the government and that it might also lose a majority.
Ranjith Siyambalapitiya, who was backed by the ruling coalition led by President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, defeated opposition candidate Imithiyaz Bakeer Marker.
Mr Siyambalapitiya received 148 votes and Mr Marker got 65 votes.
Mr Siyambalapitiya previously held the post of deputy speaker before resigning last month when his Sri Lanka Freedom Party defected from the government.
But his party has agreed to work with the government to try to resolve the economic situation.
The comfortable victory for Mr Siyambalapitiya comes as Mr Rajapaksa’s government faces nationwide protests over its failure to resolve the country’s economic woes.
For several months, Sri Lankans have endured long queues to buy fuel, cooking gas, food and medicine, most of which come from abroad.
Shortages of hard currency have also hindered imports of raw materials for manufacturing and worsened inflation, which surged to 18.7% in March.
As oil prices soar during the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the island nation’s fuel stocks are running out.
Authorities have announced countrywide power cuts extending up to seven-and-a-half hours a day because they cannot supply enough fuel to power stations.
Sri Lanka is on the brink of bankruptcy and has suspended payments on its foreign loans.
Its economic miseries have brought on a political crisis, with the government facing protests and a no-confidence motion in Parliament.
The opposition United People’s Force handed over the motion to Parliament on Tuesday, saying the government had failed in its constitutional duty to provide decent living standards.
Officials say the country’s foreign reserves have plummeted to a record low of less than £40.4 million.
The country has been holding talks with the International Monetary Fund about possible rescue programmes, including a rapid financing instrument needed to urgently resolve shortages of essential goods.
The country is due to repay £5.7 billion this year of the £20.2 billion in foreign loans it is scheduled to pay by 2026.
Protests have spread demanding the resignations of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, who heads an influential clan that has held power for most of the past two decades, and his younger brother, the President.
An occupation of the entrance to the President’s office by protesters demanding the Rajapaksas resign was in its 27th day on Thursday.
So far, the Rajapaksa brothers have resisted calls to resign, though three other Rajapaksas who are politicians stepped down from their Cabinet posts in mid-April.