Missing Sri Lankan Govt And A Restive Street
As protests continue, Sri Lanka is sliding into a greater catastrophe. Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was sworn in as acting president after his predecessor Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled to Singapore & resigned following months of protests over the country's financial meltdown but the turmoil is far from over. The new president will be elected through an internal vote on July 20 by the parliament. In a secret vote, each of the 225 members of parliament will rank the candidates in order of preference. The chosen candidate will serve out the remainder of Gotabaya Rajapaksa's term as president of Sri Lanka.
The coronavirus pandemic started Sri Lanka's financial problems, but Rajapaksa's mismanagement made them worse. The country has been unable to finance even the most essential imports since late last year & has since defaulted on its debt. Discontent had been mounting for months over severe fuel & food shortages, lengthy power cuts & record inflation. Even Rajapaksa's closest allies began abandoning him, & when protesters overran his official residence in Colombo last weekend, he was forced to flee to a navy base in fear for his life. He first made his way to the Maldives before continuing to Singapore.
Apart from their differences, Sri Lanka's political parties are united in their support for ongoing talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), with Ranil Wickremesinghe saying a bailout is urgent need of time. Sri Lanka had to declare itself bankrupt in mid-April after the government defaulted on its US$51 billion foreign debt. But the political crisis has interrupted the negotiations, & the IMF hoped the unrest would be resolved soon so they could resume. No political party in the current parliament has a clear majority, & even if the country could afford to hold a fresh election, a strong mandate was not always a guarantee of stability or success.
The announcement of Ranil Wickremesinghe as acting president was greeted with frustration & anger on the streets. Wickremesinghe, who has now been prime minister six times, stands accused of protecting & propping up the Rajapaksa family dynasty for years, shielding them from corruption charges & enabling their return to power. His decision to agree to become a caretaker PM two months ago was seen by many as the reason Rajapaksa stayed in power for weeks longer than he would have otherwise. Wickremesinghe has been the target of numerous public outrages, including the burning down of his private residence and the Wednesday protester invasion of his offices. But apart from the lucid message from protesters that he is not supposed to be the leader they have been calling for, on Friday Wickremesinghe declared that He would be one of those who put forward his name as a candidate for president. Violent protests, a debt-laden economy, a President who fled the country & citizens staring at a grim future - that's Sri Lanka today, plunging into deeper economic as well as social crisis with no improvement in sight. As the country is striving to pay for essential imports, everyday essentials like fuel & food prices are soaring high, enraging the already angry Sri Lankans. Long known for its dreamy landscape, vibrant history & rich culture, the country is now witnessing a tumultuous present as thousands of protesters storm streets & occupy government buildings holding the government responsible for the deepening economic crisis. With internal political dysfunction & external economic disturbance, the situation is only getting worse even as PM Wickremesinghe took charge as the interim President. Given how unpredictable the future is right now, Rajapaksa's removal might cause an even worse political catastrophe. Both, Gotabaya Rajapaksa & Ranil Wickremesinghe, are missing & left with no political leverage or legitimacy to call for calm & peace even from the safety of their hiding places, Colombo is now effectively without a government.
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