popular uprisingThe political opposition parties in Sri Lanka met on Sunday to discuss the formation of a new government. The meeting followed an offer from the country’s president and prime minister to resign after a mob stormed their official homes on Saturday in anger over the unprecedented economic crisis.
Protesters occupy the palace of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa (76) in the capital Colombo, his office by the sea and the residence of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe (73). The latter private home was also set on fire. The protesters said they would stay until both leaders officially resign. Parliament Speaker Mahinda Abeywardana said on television on Saturday that the president would resign on Wednesday.
Rajapaksa fled on Saturday with the help of the army. He is said to have been taken by military ship to a military base in the northeastern part of the island. His whereabouts are not yet known, but a statement from his office said he has ordered officials to immediately begin distributing a shipment of cooking gas to the population, suggesting he is still at work.
If the president resigns as promised on July 13, parliament legally has one month to appoint a replacement. A very big delay given the crisis in the country. According to the President of Parliament, Parliament wants to appoint a functioning president within a week, after which a new prime minister, an interim government and ultimately elections. At present, no candidates for the presidency appear to have secured a majority of the vote.
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Prime Minister Wickremesinghe ‘worked in the right direction’
Prime Minister Wickremesinghe has already shown willingness to step down to make room for a national unity government, but does not rule out taking over the presidency temporarily. The politician took office as prime minister two months ago after the president’s brother resigned. Rajapaksa appointed Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister in an attempt to address the shortage of food, medicine and energy and initiate economic recovery.
Wickremesinghe had participated in key talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on a rescue program and with the UN World Food Program to prepare for a predicted food crisis. The government, which defaulted on its debt, is due to submit a debt sustainability plan to the IMF in August. It said Sunday it hoped for “rapid regulation” of the situation to allow for “resumption of our dialogue.”
Analysts say it is doubtful any new leader can do more than Wickremesinghe. His government’s efforts have been promising, as evidenced by much-needed fertilizer being distributed to farmers for next season’s crops and cooking gas orders arriving in the country on Sunday.
“This kind of unrest can cause confusion among international organizations such as the IMF and the World Bank,” said political analyst Ranga Kalansooriya, adding that a new government should agree on a joint economic recovery program. Wickremesinghe said he was working in the right direction, but his government’s weakness was in implementing a long-term plan aimed at solving everyday problems.
Rajapaksa Brothers incompetence and corruption
Saturday’s events are the culmination of incessant and sometimes violent protests in recent months against the lack of food, medicine and energy in the island nation. Residents attribute the economic crisis in part to the incompetence and corruption of the Rajapaksa clan, which shared power for more than fifteen years.
All officials, both in Sri Lanka and abroad, hope that the political crisis will be resolved as soon as possible so that the country, the size of Belgium and the Netherlands combined, can cope with the economic crisis. This was mainly caused by loss of income from tourism following a series of jihadist terrorist attacks in April 2019 and the corona pandemic.
A splash in the president’s pool
Army Chief of Staff Shavendra Silva urged the population to calm down and assured that it was possible to “resolve the crisis peacefully and constitutionally”. Soldiers have been deployed to maintain law and order around Colombo, but troops watched from a distance Sunday as crowds of people splashed into the president’s pool, lay on beds and used their mobile phones to capture their moment in Rajapaksa’s palace. In the prime minister’s residence on Sunday, protesters cooked in an outdoor kitchen, played carrom – a popular board game – and slept on large sofas.
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