Protesters demand resignation of Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa

Protesters, consisting of mainly young people, have camped out outside the president’s office for more than 50 days. They are demanding the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, holding him and his family responsible for the country’s economic crisis.

They also want a governance overhaul, saying successive administrations since independence from Britain in 1948 have misruled the country leading to economic and social crises.

Sri Lanka’s new prime minister says the protesting youth groups will be invited to be a part of governance under political reforms he is proposing to solve the country’s political crisis triggered by an unprecedented economic collapse.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe went on national television  offering protesters an olive branch: a greater say in how the country is administered.

He said the powers of the president will be clipped and those of parliament strengthened under the proposed constitutional reforms. He said the governance will be broad-based through parliamentary committees where legislators, youth and experts will work together.

“The youth are calling for a change in the existing system. They also want to know the current issues. Therefore, I propose to appoint four youth representatives to each of these 15 committees,” Wickremesinghe said. There has been no immediate comment from youth groups on his proposal.

According to Wickremesinghe’s proposal, one of the youth representatives will be appointed by the so-called “youth parliament” and the other three will come from protesting groups and other activist organisations. “The methodology used to choose these individuals can be decided by the youth organisations themselves,” he said.

Setting up new broad-based parliamentary committees apparently can be done under the current constitution, but broader reforms such as reducing presidential powers would need the approval of the Supreme Court and a two-thirds parliamentary majority. It is not clear when the bill will be introduced for debate.

Wickremesinghe is not from Rajapaksa’s party, but was given the job after the president’s elder brother Mahinda resigned as prime minister on May 9 following weeks of protests, and when no other legislator agreed to step in.

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