Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa became the only member of the family to retain a Cabinet position in his younger brother Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s new Cabinet of 17 ministers appointed on Monday, as the island nation was facing the worst economic crisis.
Earlier this month, Sri Lanka’s entire Cabinet — aside from President Gotabaya and his elder brother, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa — resigned from their posts after thousands of people defied a countrywide state of emergency and curfew and joined street protests denouncing the government.
The previous Cabinet had to make way for the president to form a unity cabinet with the Opposition members. The Opposition, however, declined the offer.
Rajapaksa swore in a 17-member Cabinet on Monday in addition to the three ministers he had earlier appointed. That meant no place for the oldest member of the family Chamal Rajapaksa, Mahinda’s son Namal Rajapaksa, both of whom were Cabinet ministers and the nephew Shasheendra who was a state minister.
The Cabinet appointment came as the island-wide protests continued to force the resignation of the president and his family for mishandling the economy.
Sri Lanka is facing its worst economic crisis since gaining independence from the UK in 1948. The economic crisis also triggered a political turmoil in the island nation with citizens holding nationwide street protests for weeks over lengthy power cuts and shortage of fuel, food and other daily essentials and demanding the ouster of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
People continued to be in fuel and gas queues while the power cuts which were not imposed during the weekend on account of the traditional Sinhala and Tamil new year returned on Monday. The state power entity said there will be four and a half-hour power cuts on Monday.
Adding to public woes is the Lanka Indian oil company (LIOC) announcement of further price hikes for petrol and diesel with effect from Sunday midnight. The LIOC raised fuel prices for the fourth time since February. A spokesman for the LIOC said the price hike was necessary due to the depreciation of the Sri Lankan rupee.
Sri Lanka rupees had fallen by over 60 per cent till March 7 when the flexible exchange rate was announced. The price of Octane 92 has been raised by over 10 per cent to a record high of 338 rupees per litre while diesel at 289 rupees per litre has seen a 35 per cent increase.