Political vacuum in Sri Lanka persists amid economic crisis


Protesters watch the President’s official residence a day after he was stormed in Colombo, Sri Lanka on Sunday, July 10, 2022. Sri Lanka’s opposition political parties will meet on Sunday to agree a new government a day after the president and prime minister of the country. offered to step down in the country’s most chaotic day in months of political unrest, with protesters storming the homes of the two officials and torching one of the buildings in anger over the country’s economic crisis. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)


Sri Lanka is in a political vacuum for a second day on Monday, as opposition leaders have yet to agree who should replace its outright rejected leaders, whose residences are occupied by protesters, angry at economic hardship. from the country.

Protesters remained at President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s residence, his seaside office and the prime minister’s official residence, which they took possession of on Saturday, demanding the resignation of the two leaders. It was the largest and most eventful day of protests in the past three months around the administrative district of the capital, Colombo.

They stayed there on Monday saying they would stay until the resignations were official.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said on Saturday he would step down once a new government was in place, and hours later the speaker of parliament said Rajapaksa would step down on Wednesday.

Wickremesinghe’s office said Monday that President Rajapaksa confirmed his earlier decision to step down on Wednesday.

The president has not been seen or heard from publicly since Saturday and his location is unknown, but his office said on Sunday he had ordered the immediate distribution of a batch of cooking gas to the public, suggesting he was still at work. The pressure on both men had increased as the economic crisis triggered severe shortages of essential items, leaving people struggling to get food, fuel and other necessities.

Opposition party leaders discussed the formation of an alternative multi-party government, an urgent requirement of a bankrupt country to continue talks with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout package.

Lawmaker Udaya Gammanpila said the main opposition United People’s Front party and lawmakers who defected from Rajapaksa’s ruling coalition had discussions and agreed to work together. Main opposition leader Sajith Premadasa and Dullas Alahapperuma, who was a minister under Rajapaksa, were proposed for president and prime minister and they were asked to decide how to share positions ahead of a meeting with the Speaker of Parliament later. Monday.

“We cannot be in an anarchic condition. We have to somehow come to a consensus today,” Gammanpila said.

Opposition parties are also concerned about statements by military leaders about public security in the absence of a civilian administration.

Lawmakers discussed the public statement by the Chief of the Defense Staff, General Shavendra Silva, calling for the cooperation of the people to maintain law and order, said Kavinda Makalanda, spokesperson for Premadasa.

“A civilian administration is necessary, not the army in a democratic country,” Makalanda said.

If the opposition parties fail to form a government by the time Rajapaksa steps down, Wickremesinghe as prime minister will become interim president under the constitution. However, as demanded by protesters, opposition parties are keen not to allow him to take over, even as interim president.

They say Wickremesinghe should step down quickly and allow President Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena to take over as interim president – next in line according to the constitution.

Rajapaksa appointed Wickremesinghe as prime minister in May in a bid to address shortages and kickstart economic recovery. But delays in addressing the shortages have turned public anger against him, with protesters accusing him of protecting the president.

Wickremesinghe had been involved in crucial talks with the International Monetary Fund for a rescue package and with the World Food Program to prepare for an expected food crisis. The government must submit a debt sustainability plan to the IMF in August before reaching an agreement.

Sri Lanka is counting on help from India and other countries as leaders try to negotiate a bailout package with the IMF. Wickremesinghe said recently that negotiations with the IMF were complex as Sri Lanka was now a failed state.

Sri Lanka announced in April that it was suspending foreign loan repayments due to a shortage of foreign exchange. Its total external debt stands at $51 billion, of which it must repay $28 billion by the end of 2027.

Months of protests have all but dismantled the Rajapaksa political dynasty, which has ruled Sri Lanka for most of the past two decades but is accused by protesters of mismanagement and corruption.

Lynn A. Saleh