Sri Lankan PM Ranil Wickremesinghe survives no confidence vote

Wickremesinghe and his wife Maitree offer prayers at a temple in Colombo on April 4, 2018.
Wickremesinghe and his wife Maitree offer prayers at a temple in Colombo on April 4, 2018.PHOTO: AFP

COLOMBO (REUTERS) - Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Wednesday (April 4) survived a no confidence vote in parliament after a majority of legislators voted to support his coalition government but the instability caused may damage its reform agenda.

The opposition, eyeing fractures within the ruling alliance, had sponsored the trust vote against Wickremesinghe blaming him for failing to prevent an alleged scam in the bond market, and for failing to stop anti-Muslim riots that occurred last month.

Wickremesinghe, who leads Sri Lanka's United National Party (UNP), won the support of 122 members of the 225-member parliament, with 76 voting against him.

President Maithripala Sirisena's Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) was split over the vote, with the only 16 of its 42 lawmakers who support the government voting for the prime minister. Some 26 legislators, many from the SLFP, were absent.

"We can have a fresh start from tomorrow," Harin Fernando, a minister with the UNP told the parliament during the debate.

But many UNP legislators urged Wickremesinghe to sack the SLFP ministers who had expressed no confidence in him - suggesting the unity of the coalition was fraying.

Sacking the ministers would dent the government's stability in parliament and affect Wickremesinghe's plans to pass key laws aimed at attracting more foreign investment.

The SLFP and UNP agreed on a coalition government after the last parliamentary elections in August 2015. But the centre-left SLFP had opposed many liberal economic policy measures proposed by the centre-right UNP.

Wickremesinghe has faced criticism for failing to deliver on economic growth which slumped to a 16-year low of 3.1 per cent last year, its worst pace since a recession in 2001. The rupee currency is hovering at a record low.

The government is also under pressure as it tries to manage China's expanding infrastructure push in Sri Lanka, located near key shipping lanes in the Indian Ocean. Over-dependence on China for borrowing, however, has raised fears that this may push the tiny country deeper into debt.

Foreign direct investments doubled to US$1.6 billion (S$2.1 billion) last year, but more than 40 per cent of that was from China, for two key projects that have dragged on for more than a year.