Sri Lanka’s beleaguered government won a key vote in parliament as a candidate backed by the ruling coalition was elected vice president – despite mounting public pressure amid the worst economic crisis in decades.
The vote was seen as crucial in demonstrating the government still has majority support in the 225-member parliament after 40 ruling coalition politicians said last month they would no longer vote under coalition instructions .
It was feared that their decision would significantly weaken the government and also lose a majority.
Ranjith Siyambalapitiya, who was backed by the ruling coalition led by President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, defeated opposition candidate Imithiyaz Baker Marker.
Mr. Siyambalapitiya received 148 votes and Mr. Marker received 65 votes.
Mr Siyambalapitiya previously served as vice-president before stepping down last month when his Sri Lanka Freedom Party defected from government.
But his party agreed to work with the government to try to resolve the economic situation.
Mr Siyambalapitiya’s comfortable victory comes as Mr Rajapaksa’s government faces nationwide protests over its failure to address the country’s economic problems.
For several months, Sri Lankans have endured long queues to buy fuel, cooking gas, food and medicine, most of which come from abroad.
Hard currency shortages have also hampered imports of raw materials for manufacturing and worsened inflation, which jumped to 18.7% in March.
As oil prices soar during the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the island nation’s fuel stocks are running low.
Authorities have announced nationwide power cuts of up to seven-and-a-half hours a day because they cannot supply enough fuel to power stations.
Sri Lanka is on the verge of bankruptcy and has suspended repayments of its foreign loans.
Its economic miseries caused a political crisis, with the government facing protests and a no-confidence motion in parliament.
The opposition United People’s Force delivered the motion to parliament on Tuesday, saying the government had failed in its constitutional duty to ensure a decent standard of living.
Officials say the country’s foreign exchange reserves have fallen to a record low of less than £40.4m.
The country has held talks with the International Monetary Fund on possible bailout packages, including a rapid financing instrument needed to urgently address shortages of essential goods.
The country must repay £5.7bn this year of the £20.2bn in foreign loans it must repay by 2026.
Protests have spread demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, who heads an influential clan that has held power for most of the past two decades, and his younger brother, the president.
The occupation of the entrance to the president’s office by protesters demanding the resignation of the Rajapaksas was in its 27th day on Thursday.
So far, the Rajapaksa brothers have resisted calls to resign, although three other Rajapaksa who are politicians resigned from their cabinet posts in mid-April.