The main opposition party and two other formations considered that Mr. Wickremesinghe, 73, invested Thursday in the post of Prime Minister, lacked legitimacy to exercise his new functions.
After taking the oath, the latter assured that he wanted to “bring the nation back to a situation in which our people will again have three meals a day”. “Our youth must have a future,” added this politician, who has already held this position five times since 1993.
But Harsha de Silva, a prominent member of the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) party, the largest opposition party in Parliament, refused the finance portfolio and announced that he would campaign for the resignation of the government.
“People are not asking for political games and deals, they want a new system that secures their future,” he said in a statement.
The country of 22 million inhabitants, in the grip of the worst economic crisis since independence in 1948, lacks dollars to finance the import of basic necessities (foodstuffs, fuel, medicines).
The population is overwhelmed by months of widespread shortages that have sparked daily protests across the island. Bloody clashes left nine dead and more than 225 injured this week, but also prompted the resignation of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Mr de Silva has warned he is joining “the people’s struggle” to overthrow President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, refusing to back any political deal that would keep the leader in office.
-Call for elections-
Mr de Silva’s party is divided over support for a unity government under President Rajapaksa after weeks of protests demanding his resignation.
Hundreds of anti-government protesters have camped outside his seaside office in the capital Colombo for a month.
A dozen SJB MPs have pledged to support Mr. Wickremesinghe, seen as a pro-Western reformist, supporter of free trade.
Harin Fernando, an SJB MP on the brink of dissent, backtracked. “I will not support the government of Wickremesinghe,” he told AFP on Friday.
“We have wasted too much time in Parliament without addressing the central issue of the economy,” he said the day before, arguing that Sri Lanka “needs at least $85 million a week to finance the essential imports”.
On April 12, Sri Lanka declared itself in default of payment of its external debt estimated at more than 51 billion dollars. Talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), to obtain a possible bailout, are due to conclude on May 27.
The Tamil National Alliance will not join the government either, because according to it, the administration of President Rajapaksa has “completely lost its legitimacy” with the appointment of Mr. Wickremesinghe.
The left-wing People’s Liberation Front (JVP) said a general election was the only way out of the current stalemate.
“We cannot solve the economic crisis by having an illegitimate government”, judged the leader of the JVP, Anura Dissanayake, in front of the press, “we demand new elections”.
However, the state is unlikely to have the means to organize elections and be able to print ballots, while a national shortage of paper has forced schools to postpone exams. Legislative elections are not scheduled before August 2025.
The Indian and Japanese ambassadors in Colombo were among the first to visit Wickremesinghe shortly after he took up his official duties on Friday.