MUMBAI, India – Sri Lanka’s Catholic cardinal is calling on the government to resign and elections to be called amid an ongoing economic crisis.

Sri Lankan health, railway, port and other state workers were on a daylong strike Wednesday to protest against sharp increases in income taxes and electricity charges, as the island nation awaits approval of an International Monetary Fund package to aid its bankrupt economy.

Most government hospitals around the country suspended their outpatient clinics because doctors, nurses and pharmacists were on strike. The railways operated fewer trains and armed soldiers guarded carriages and train stations fearing sabotage.

On March 13, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo said a new government should be elected.

“Those who rule the country today have created a sorry state of affairs where the nation is concerned and therefore, the MPs [members of Parliament] and the Ministers who represent the government should resign from their posts if they have a backbone and pave the way for the people to elect a new administration,” Ranjith said at a press conference.

Sri Lanka announced last year it was suspending repayment of its foreign loans amid a severe foreign currency crisis that resulted in shortages of fuel, food, medicines and cooking gas, along with long power cuts. The crisis led to street protests that forced then-President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to flee the country and resign.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe, since taking over last July, has managed to end the power cuts and reduce shortages.

The Central Bank has said the country’s reserves have improved and Sri Lanka’s rupee has started to strengthen after crashing last year. The Central Bank has wrested back control of foreign currency trade from the black market, the monetary authority says.

Ranjith also called for action against MPs whom he alleged have undermined the authority of judiciary.

Earlier this month, Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court ordered the Secretary of Finance Ministry and the Attorney General to release funds earmarked for the 2023 local government elections, which the officials say the economic crisis prevents them from doing.

“No one has the authority to interfere in the decision of the Supreme Court. It is clear that the judgment given on March 3, 2023, by the Supreme Court binds on the President, government and Parliament in equal measure. So, they need to follow the decision faithfully. Else they would be belittling the authority of the Supreme Court and undermine the basis of democracy,” he said.

“It was reported that two Members of Parliament have spoken concerning the judgment given by the Supreme Court over the local government elections. The MPs have called this decision, a violation of their parliamentary privileges by Courts. This matter is to be viewed with great concern. This request by the two MPs is not in keeping with the dignity and freedom of Supreme Court and any interference with courts on the basis of parliamentary privileges is unacceptable. I appeal that action be taken against these MPs to ensure that freedom of judiciary is maintained,” Ranjith added.

This article incorporated material from the Associated Press.