Last week, July 9, 2022, was an important day in the annals of recent Sri Lankan history as months of protests against President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government gathered momentum. Hundreds of thousands of protesters filled the streets of Colombo and occupied the executive branch of Sri Lanka’s government, the Rashtrapati Bhavan, the presidential office and the official residence of the first prime minister.
On 13 July, he took over the prime minister’s office, taking control of major government institutions and offices.
President Rajapaksa and his family were to be evacuated by Sri Lankan state security forces, reportedly aboard a naval vessel that then went to sea but was not outside Sri Lankan territorial waters. Three cabinet ministers also resigned, most notably the recently appointed investment promotion minister, business magnate Dhammika Perera, who is the richest man in the country.
A meeting of party leaders was presided over by the Speaker of the Parliament and demanded the resignation of the President and the Prime Minister. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa agreed to resign on 13 July, while Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe agreed to resign in the event that a divided parliament could first agree on his successor.
On 13 July, the self-set deadline for his resignation came and went, and it is clear that President Rajapaksa has little or no intention of resigning. Instead, he fled the country aboard a Sri Lankan Air Force plane for the Maldives, from where he appointed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe as acting president. Leaders of parties represented in parliament again demanded that Wickremesinghe also resign, while the speaker’s office confirmed that it is investigating whether the president’s actions to flee the country post status leave.
Meanwhile, in Colombo, new concerns are being expressed by both political elements and the security establishment that the protest or ‘aragalaya’, which means struggle in Sinhalese language, is being kidnapped and captured by left-wing extremists and neo-fascists. . Army to capture the power of the state through protest movement.
trigger for deadlock
The impasse in the democratic political structure is very evident as Rajapaksa or his governing party, the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), controls almost a majority in parliament, even after breakaways and defection. Short of an actual resignation by Rajapaksa, or at least retirement to the opposition benches, it creates a complete impasse in the democratic process.
The relatively young, 50-something Leader of the Opposition, Sajith Premadasa, himself the son of former President Ranasinghe Premadasa, has consistently called for parliamentary elections for a variety of purposes, from street protests to campaigning. Re-establishing the legitimacy of the people’s mandate and government and securing public support for the painstaking fiscal and state reforms that are necessary for the Sri Lankan economy to become a viable, functional and sustainably growing entity. It probably helps that he and his party, Samagi Jana Balvegaya (SJB), are confident of winning the election, not least because the government has crashed along with the economy.
Possible scenario for Colombo
So, what are the possible options and scenarios for Sri Lanka? Most likely in the short term, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe will continue to play his preferred role as “acting president”, resulting in the country being unable to make reforms so necessary for economic change, and at worst leading to chaos. The government, seen as completely illegitimate, wants to put people in misery through an iron fist.
The alternative is for a fragmented and divided opposition to start simultaneously at least for the limited purpose of ousting the Rajapaksa regime, but the hindrance to the same is that stronger parties in parliament are less prevalent on the streets and those who do not. But are not actually present or important in Parliament. Therefore, street protesters said the priority for extra-constitutional regime change and becoming more attractive as a constitutional regime change has been made impossible by Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe’s inaction.
A third option that may not be off the table is a military-backed regime, a type of hybrid government where a civilian mask of political personalities constitutes a government that is largely considered illegitimate, and where the bare regime It requires military might and strength.
In the above three scenarios, the only appeal for the opposition is to unite enough for an interim or transitional regime, followed by elections in a clearly defined short period of three to six months. Even Rajapaksa hopes it is in his best interest to lift Sri Lanka out of the quagmire of sinking and, if he favors his chances of an early return, join the fray in the upcoming election. This would be in the best interest of Sri Lanka.
Economic Challenges and India’s Role
Sri Lanka’s main challenges are economic. Political instability stems from the economic collapse caused by poor governance and poor policies. Accordingly, in order to get Sri Lanka’s economy back on track, crucially making it sustainable national and especially foreign debt, all it takes is fiscal and economic policy reforms, which only a stable government can implement. Is. India has done a lot more than it can, and more than Sri Lanka has expected.
Extending more than two billion dollars in currency swaps and credit lines to Sri Lanka, India stepped into the gap created by other lenders, bilateral and multi-lateral, all stalled when repayments became doubtful. But India also has to ensure that there are economic reforms, at least not so much that the loans it has given to Sri Lanka can be repaid over a longer period and on a concessional period.
(The author is a former advisor to the Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka)
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