Sri Lanka may struggle to form government

New Sri Lankan president Gotabaya Rajapaksa may have difficulty forming government.
New Sri Lankan president Gotabaya Rajapaksa may have difficulty forming government.

Sri Lanka's newly-elected president, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, may struggle to consolidate his victory, with many executive powers clipped and the opposition in control of a powerful parliament.

The former defence official who inspires respect but also fear comfortably won Saturday's presidential election with about 52 per cent of the ballots.

But minorities largely voted for his opponent, fearing his return to power because of allegations of wartime human rights violations.

When Rajapaksa was sworn in as Sri Lanka's seventh president on Monday, he said he would form his own government.

"I am the executive president of this country. I will not hesitate to use my executive power for the benefit of the country," he said.

"I will form a new government that can implement my policies."

But that depends on whether Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe loses a no-confidence vote or resigns, allowing parliament to choose a new prime minister.

Rajapaksa faces legal barriers in appointing a government because of a 2015 constitutional amendment that curtails the powers of the presidency that followed an unsuccessful bid for re-election by his brother, ex-President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The president can appoint or fire ministers only on the advice of the prime minister - whom the president has no power to remove - and can't hold any ministry portfolios.

Rajapaksa can legally dissolve parliament only next March, six months before its term ends.

Wickremesinghe's party is in discussions on its future course and says it recognises the mandate Rajapaksa received but it has not yet decided whether to clear the way.

"The mandate is so overwhelming that it is difficult for the Ranil Wickremesinghe government to survive anymore," said analyst and independent journalist Kusal Perera.

Several cabinet ministers have already resigned after the governing party's defeat.

The parliamentary speaker's office said in a statement party leaders and MPs were discussing different options including a voluntary dissolution of parliament with the support of two-thirds of its members or allowing Rajapaksa to appoint a caretaker government to function until March.

Australian Associated Press