Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Sri Lanka bankrupted by wrong-headed agricultural policies

Sri Lanka declares state of emergency after president flees

Sri Lanka declared a state of emergency after President Rajapaksa and his wife fled to the Maldives hours before he was due to resign. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has become acting president.

Hours after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled Sri Lanka early on Wednesday, the country's prime minister's office announced a state of emergency. 

The move came even as thousands of protesters stormed the office compound of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe — who has been appointed acting president — calling again for his resignation, while police responded with tear gas.

Protesters chanted "Ranil go home!" as they gathered near the prime minister's compound. State-run TV station Rupavahini was also forced to cease transmission after protesters broke into the premises.

"I have ordered military commanders and the police chief to do what is necessary to restore order," Wickremesinghe said in a TV address. "Those who stormed into my office want to stop me from discharging my responsibilities as acting president."

"We can't tear up our constitution. We can't allow fascists to take over. We must end this fascist threat to democracy," he added.

Rajapaksa flees

Earlier on Wednesday, an immigration official said Rajapaksa and his wife, along with two bodyguards, left the country in a Sri Lankan Air Force plane. The aircraft landed in the Maldivian capital of Male, a government source said. This was later confirmed by the Sri Lanka Air Force.

Rajapaksa's early morning escape follows months of protests in the island nation, which has been battling a severe economic crisis, and culminated in protesters storming the official residences of the president and the prime minister on Saturday.

The  display of public anger forced Rajapaksa to go into hiding and led to him agreeing to step down on Wednesday clearing the way for a "peaceful transition of power."

Rajapaksa is facing several criminal charges and it is believed he left the country before stepping down and losing his presidential immunity.

What happens next?

After fleeing, Rajapaksa appointed the prime minister as acting president, in line with the section of the constitution that addresses when the president is unable to fulfill his duties.

Wickremesinghe has said he would step down as prime minister if consensus is reached on forming a unity government.

It is likely that the parliamentary speaker, Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, will take charge of the country until a new president is elected. The vote is to take place on July 20.

The leader of the main opposition party, Sajith Premadasa, who lost the 2019 presidential election to Rajapaksa, has said he will run for the position. Some members of the current ruling party have also floated the idea of Wickremesinghe officially running for president.  

People want accountability, DW correspondent says

"People I spoke to say they are happy that Gotabaya Rajapaksa has finally decided to step down from the post of the president but also they do want him to be held accountable for all the charges of corruption and mismanagement of funds," DW correspondent Manira Chaudhary in Colombo said.

But "the public mood is very much against Wickremesinghe," who is taking control in line with the constitution.

The new government will have to deal with Sri Lanka's historic economic crisis, but "economic stability will not come until the political stability does," Chaudhary said. "The road ahead is going to be very difficult, but they do need a stable government."

Chaudhary said the government needs to arrange the bailout conditions with the IMF and restructure the country's massive debt, we well as reduce inflation. "Very importantly, as people are suggesting, they do need a very transparent model to show where all the aid which is going to come in is to be utilized because the public faith in the administration has gone down a lot," she explained.

The Rajapaksa family's fall from grace

On Tuesday, immigration officials prevented former finance minister Basil Rajapaksa, the president's brother, from flying out of the country.

This highlighted the waning influence of the Rajapaksa family that had dominated local politics in their rural southern district for decades.

The family managed to consolidate their hold on power when Mahinda Rajapaksa won the presidency in 2005.

Mahinda led the country during the brutal end of a civil war that lasted 26 years, which saw the crushing of Tamil Tiger insurgents in 2009. Gotabaya Rajapaksa served as the defense secretary then.

Since the war, Gotabaya has faced allegations of war crimes and torture, which he has consistently denied.

Mahinda remained in power till 2015, when he lost unexpectedly to the opposition led by his former aide.

The family returned to power in 2019 following the deadly Easter Sunday bombings promising increased security. Gotabaya Rajapaksa was elected president.

In August 2020, his party increased its majority to two-thirds in parliament, allowing for a repeal of laws limiting presidential power, including the two-term limit. He reappointed Mahinda as prime minister and other relatives into ministerial roles.

Mahinda stepped down as prime minister after a mob of his supporters attacked anti-government protesters on May 9.

Before his flight, Gotabaya was the last of six members of the family to cling to power.

Sri Lanka's economic crisis

The country's economy has been battered by the global pandemic, which led to the shutdown of its tourism industry.

The drying up of remittances, along with a host of tax cuts drove Sri Lanka to its worst economic crisis seen since the end of colonial rule in 1948.

The government has used foreign exchange reserves to finance essential imports.

Shortages of food, cooking gas, fuel and medicine have stoked public anger with the government with claims of mismanagement, corruption, and nepotism.

Rating agencies, concerned about government finances and the inability to repay large foreign debt, downgraded Sri Lanka's credit ratings from 2020 onwards. This froze the country out of international financial markets.

Runaway inflation reached 54.6% last month and could rise to 70%, the central bank has said.

ab, ss/sms (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)

No comments: