Cabinet resigns en masse after food and fuel shortages and protests

Virtually the entire cabinet of the Sri Lankan government – with the exception of the country’s President and Prime Minister – resigned from their posts on Sunday as Sri Lanka’s economic crisis worsened, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported on Monday.

“All 26 ministers in the cabinet except President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his elder brother Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa submitted letters of resignation at a late night meeting,” Sri Lanka Education Minister Dinesh Gunawardena told reporters on April 3.

Sunday’s cabinet reshuffle paved the way for the Sri Lankan President to appoint new cabinet ministers on Monday or simply appoint incumbent members to new positions. Al Jazeera reported on April 4 on the changes Rajapaksa made in Sri Lanka’s cabinet following Sunday’s mass resignations, writing:

Two other Rajapaksa brothers, Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa and Irrigation Minister Chamal Rajapaksa, were among those wanting to step down, along with the Prime Minister’s son, Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa. …

[T]The President has already reappointed four of the outgoing ministers – three of them to their old positions – and replaced Brother Basil Rajapaksa as finance minister with the former justice chief. Former Ministers for Foreign Affairs, Education and Highways retained their positions.

A mob of hundreds of anti-government protesters tried to storm President Rajapaksa’s residence in the capital Colombo on March 31. on April 1st. The Sri Lankan government reinforced the state of emergency on April 2 when it imposed a 36-hour curfew on Sri Lankans amid threats of further protests.

Protesters have rallied across Sri Lanka for weeks to denounce the country’s government’s role in Sri Lanka’s unfolding financial crisis. The people of Sri Lankans have been suffering severe food, fuel and medicine shortages since at least early March, after the island nation essentially ran out of foreign exchange reserves to pay for imported essentials.

“Since early March, the Sri Lankan rupee has fallen nearly 45% against the US dollar and its foreign exchange reserves have fallen to crisis levels,” Sky News noted on March 29.

Sri Lanka relies almost entirely on the island’s tourism sector and remittances from Sri Lankan workers abroad to boost its import-heavy economy. The Chinese coronavirus pandemic has negatively impacted both of these sources of foreign revenue, leaving Sri Lankan traders with a foreign exchange deficit. Sri Lanka, unable to pay for imports, has buckled under extreme levels of shortages, leaving the island’s population of around 22 million frustrated.

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