Sri Lanka lifted a government curfew Sunday for the Buddhist holiday of Vesak on May 16. The curfew was put in place on May 9 after violence broke out amid protests against current Sri Lankan President, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, and former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The curfew was instituted under Sri Lanka’s Public Security Ordinance Part III.
The curfew was lifted days after Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was sworn in and appointed a new cabinet. Wickremensinghe takes power after a month of protests that were met with violence by supporters of Mahinda Rajapaksa and police forces, leading to the death of at least 9. Wickremesinghe has held office as the prime minister five times previously and was the only member of Sri Lankan parliament from the United National Party. All of the newly appointed cabinet members are from current President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s party, drawing ire from protestors and the opposition.
Wickremensinghe has stated his intentions to focus on repairing Sri Lanka’s faltering economy, which has been toppled by inflation, tax income reduction, fuel shortages, and the current Covid-19 Pandemic. According to Wickremensinghe:
We will build a nation without queues for kerosene, gas, and fuel; a nation free of power outages, a nation with plentiful resources where agriculture can freely flourish; a nation where the future of the youth is secure; a nation where people’s labour need not be wasted in queues and in struggles; a nation where everyone can lead their lives freely with three square meals a day. I am undertaking a dangerous challenge…. My goal and dedication is not to save an individual, a family, or a party. My objective is to save all the people of this country and the future of our younger generation. I will undertake this task willingly risking my life if needed and will overcome the challenges facing us.
Wickremensinge has also shared his support for the proposed 21st amendment to the Sri Lankan constitution, which would rein in the power of the presidency. According to opposition leader Suren Fernando, the 21st amendment would allow the parliament to elect the President and allow parliament to remove the cabinet with a vote of no confidence.
Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa, has called not only for the passage of the 21st amendment but swift action to punish those responsible for the violent crackdown, saying “[t]he Rajapaksa’s are fully responsible for the destruction they have unleashed. They have to be held accountable for their criminal acts.”