New Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe has formally invited MPs to join a multi-party unity government to revive the bankrupt economy by undertaking painful reforms, his office announced on Sunday.
Wickremesinghe took office earlier this month after public anger over the island nation’s worst economic crisis forced his predecessor Gotabaya Rajapaksa to flee the country and resign.
In a meeting on Saturday with influential monks from the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, one of Buddhism’s holiest shrines, Wickremesinghe laid out his plans.
“As president, I want to start a new journey,” Wickremesinghe told the monks during his first meeting with the powerful Buddhist clergy since taking office.
“I would like to bring all parties together and continue this journey and form a multi-party government.”
He wrote to all lawmakers asking them to join a unity government.
Former opposition MP Wickremesinghe, 73, took over as prime minister for the sixth time in May after Rajapaksa’s older brother Mahinda resigned and there were no other takers for the job. job.
Wickremesinghe became president after fleeing Gotabaya on July 9, when tens of thousands of protesters angry over the economic crisis stormed the presidential palace.
He fled to Singapore from where he resigned five days later and Wickremesinghe became interim president and later won a vote in parliament confirming his ascension.
Sri Lanka’s 22 million people have endured months of long power cuts, record inflation and shortages of food, fuel and medicine.
Since the end of last year, the country has been short of foreign exchange to finance even the most essential imports.
In April, Sri Lanka defaulted on its $51 billion foreign debt and opened bailout talks with the International Monetary Fund.
Wickremesinghe told the monks the economy would continue to decline this year with a 7% contraction but expected a recovery next year.
“I am working to re-stabilize this economy and build the economy so that the country can be developed by 2023, 2024.
“It’s a difficult task. But if you don’t do it now, it will be more difficult. We should think about whether we should try to cure the patient by giving him medicine or let him die without giving him medicine.” , he added. .
He said inflation currently at 60.8% could rise further.
After his election as president, Wickremesinghe, while ordering security forces to clear protest sites, appointed an interim cabinet leaving the door open for others.
He called a new session of parliament from Wednesday and is expected to expand the 18-member cabinet to accommodate members of opposition parties.