MUMBAI, India – Sri Lanka’s leading Catholic prelate is calling on the president and prime minister to resign in the face of the South Asian country’s growing economic crisis.
Two weeks ago, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told lawmakers the economy had “collapsed,” with inflation rising nearly 55 percent in June, while food inflation topped 80 percent.
In the capital, Colombo, protesters have been occupying the entrance to the president’s office for more than two months to demand President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s resignation. They accuse him and his family, which includes several siblings who until recently held top government positions, of precipitating the crisis through corruption and misrule.
Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo issued a statement calling for both the president and prime minister to “accept responsibility for this sad situation and step down from their positions, since they have no moral right to continue in office anymore under these circumstances and hand the power back to the people without causing further suffering to them.”
The cardinal said that if the government resigns, then a “multiparty interim government” could implement “the desired total and structural system change” needed in the country.
Christians make up just 7.5 percent of the population, which is 70 percent Buddhist, 12.6 percent Hindu, and 9.7 percent Muslim. However, the Catholic Church is overrepresented in the education, health care, and social services sector. Also, since members of the church bridge the country’s Sinhalese and Tamil ethnic divide, church leaders are respected as independent voices in the country.
Ranjith blamed the “level of suffering heaped upon our people” on the “short-sighted and arbitrary decisions” of the government over the past two and a half years.
“Still we notice that no serious attempt is being made or any plans or vision prepared to solve the problems this country is facing in the matter of the ongoing severe economic crisis, the acute shortage of fuel, electricity supplies, medicines, needs of the agro industry, education services or any other of the essential services,” he wrote.
“The biggest obstacle to liberating this country from this sad situation is the fact that the Rajapaksa family continues to stay in power in spite of a majority of the people in this country not reposing any trust in them in any way,” the cardinal continued.
“This blatant neglect of duty on the part of the ruling Rajapaksas to serve them, has made it very clear to the people that this family considers their political power as being more important than the wellbeing of the people, thus proving that everything done so far amounted only to political jugglery.”
In addition to Ranjith, the Church of Ceylon – the Anglican body in the country – also issued a statement calling for the government’s resignation.
“We call on the police and armed forces to act with discernment and restraint in the next few days as the people are agitating for their lives and livelihood to be restored,” the Anglican statement said.
“The suffering masses will have no option but to intensify their struggle since they are not heard by those selfishly clinging on to power.”