Sri Lanka's president
Sri Lanka's Parliament readies to accept names for president
Sri Lanka's Parliament was preparing Tuesday to accept nominations to elect a successor to its ousted president, amid political turmoil that threatens to worsen instability as the country endures its most severe economic crisis in recent memory. Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled the country last week after protesters outraged by the crisis stormed his official residence and occupied other key public buildings. He later submitted his resignation via an email to the speaker of the parliament. Three lawmakers— the leader of the main opposition Sajith Premadasa, former government minister Dallas Alahapperuma and Marxist party leader Anura Dissanayake have said they will contest Wednesday's parliamentary vote. Also read: Sri Lanka's political turmoil sows worries for recovery Acting President and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has not said he will run, but statements from Rajapaksa's party, which still holds a majority in Parliament, expressed backing for him. This has angered many who see his possible election as an extension of the Rajapaksa rule and a potential comeback for the beleaguered political family. Separately on Tuesday the Supreme Court was set to decide whether Wickremesinghe's appointment as acting president last week by the speaker of the parliament was legal. If it is pronounced illegal, Wickremesinghe may become ineligible to run for president. Students and political activists said they planned protests Tuesday. Some intimidating posts circulating on social media warned lawmakers against returning to their constituencies if they vote for Wickremesinghe. Parliament was heavily guarded by hundreds of soldiers, its entry points barricaded. Staff at parliament and reporters were thoroughly searched before they were allowed to enter. Sri Lanka's economy has collapsed, its foreign exchange reserves depleted, and it has suspended repayment of foreign loans. Its population is struggling with shortages of essentials like medicine, fuel and food. Also read: Is the pro-Chinese Left behind the Sri Lanka agitation? The government is in talks with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout package and is preparing a loan restructuring plan as a prelude to that. Rajapaksa's exit last week marked at least a temporary dismantling of the Rajapaksa dynasty that had ruled Sri Lanka for most part of the past two decades. Before the recent upheavals, six family members held high positions including president, prime minister and finance minister. All have lost their positions after public protests started in late March.
Sri Lankan president admits mistakes led to economic crisis
Sri Lanka's president acknowledged Monday that he made mistakes that led to the country's worst economic crisis in decades and pledged to correct them. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa made the admission while speaking to 17 new Cabinet ministers he appointed Monday as he and his powerful family seek to resolve a political crisis resulting from the country’s dire economic state. Sri Lanka is on the brink of bankruptcy, with nearly $7 billion of its total $25 billion in foreign debt due for repayment this year. A severe shortage of foreign exchange means the country lacks money to buy imported goods. People have endured months of shortages of essentials like food, cooking gas, fuel and medicine, lining up for hours to buy the very limited stocks available. “During the last two and a half years we have had vast challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the debt burden, and some mistakes on our part,” Rajapaksa said. “They need to be rectified. We have to correct them and move forward. We need to regain the trust of the people.” Also Read: Sri Lankan Cabinet reshuffled to counter economic crisis He said the government should have approached the International Monetary Fund early on for help in facing the impending debt crisis and should not have banned chemical fertilizer in an attempt to make Sri Lankan agriculture fully organic. Critics say the ban on imported fertilizer was aimed at conserving the country's declining foreign exchange holdings and badly hurt farmers. The government is also blamed for taking out large loans for infrastructure projects which have not brought in any money. “Today, people are under immense pressure due to this economic crisis. I deeply regret this situation," Rajapaksa said, adding that the pain, discomfort and anger displayed by people forced to wait in long lines to get essential items at high prices is justified. The Cabinet appointments follow weeks of protests over shortages of fuel and food and demands that Rajapaksa, his politically powerful family and his government resign. Much public anger has been directed at Rajapaksa and his elder brother, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. They head an influential clan that has held power for most of the past two decades. Thousands of protesters occupied the entrance to the president’s office for a 10th day on Monday. Also Read: Sri Lankan protesters mark new year near president’s office The president and prime minister remain in office, but some other relatives lost their Cabinet seats in what was seen as an attempt to pacify the protesters without giving up the family's hold on power. Many senior politicians and those facing corruption allegations were excluded from the new Cabinet in line with calls for a younger administration, though the finance and foreign affairs ministers retained their positions to assist with an economic recovery. Most of the Cabinet resigned on April 3 after protests erupted across the country and demonstrators stormed and vandalized the homes of some Cabinet ministers. Opposition parties rejected an offer by President Rajapaksa to form a unity government with him and his brother remaining in power. Opposition parties have failed, meanwhile, to gain a parliamentary majority. Last week, the government said it was suspending repayment of foreign loans pending talks with the International Monetary Fund. Finance Minister Ali Sabry and officials left for talks with the IMF on Sunday. The IMF and World Bank are holding annual meetings in Washington this week. Sri Lanka has also turned to China and India for emergency loans to buy food and fuel.
Protests demand Sri Lanka leader resign over economic crisis
Police fired tear gas and a water cannon at thousands of protesters outside the home of Sri Lanka's president Thursday, demanding he resign over the nation's worst economic crisis. Police later enforced a curfew in suburbs of the capital because the protests wouldn't subside. The protesters blamed President Gotabaya Rajapaksa for long power outages and shortages of essentials and shouted, “Go home, Gota go home.” The crowds demonstrating along the roads leading to his private residence at Mirihana, on the outskirts of Colombo, stoned two army buses that police were using to block the protesters from entering the road leading to Rajapaksa’s residence. They set fire to one of buses and turned back a fire truck that rushed to douse it. At least one person was severely injured in the leg when police fired tear gas cannisters directly at protesters to stop their attack on the bus. Also read: Pakistan's parliament adjourns debate on embattled premier Armed soldiers with assault rifles were stationed near the protest. Angry protesters also gathered around the Mirihana police station accusing the police of trying to protect the corrupt. Police there deployed tear gas. Sri Lanka has huge debt obligations and dwindling foreign reserves, and its struggle to pay for imports has caused the shortages. People wait in long lines for fuel, and power is cut for several hours daily because there's not enough fuel to operate generating plants and dry weather that has sapped hydropower capacity. Lamenting the power cuts that are up to 13 hours a day, protester Dulaj Madhushan, 30, asked: “How can people earn a living?” “This is not a political one, but a protest led by people. They took people for granted. Now you can see peoples' power,” he said. The protesters appeared voluntary and without a leader. Residents of a middle-class neighborhood including many women who would normally not participate in street protests were seen telling police that they were fighting for them, too. Protester Asanka Dharmasinghe, 37, said he has been running a carpentry shed, employing four people and paying them each about $12 a day, but he is unable to cover the costs because he only has two hours of electricity to work. “My daughter is sitting for exams, but there is no paper,” he said. The curfew imposed in parts of Colombo and suburbs after the protests ended will last until further notice, police spokesman Nihal Thalduwa said. Also read: Protest in India's capital on 2nd day of nationwide strike He asked people in the areas where the curfew was imposed to remain at home, warning that violations will be dealt with strictly according to the law. He also said motorists will not be allowed to travel through those areas. Sri Lanka’s economic woes are blamed on successive governments not diversifying exports and relying on traditional cash sources like tea, garments and tourism, and on a culture of consuming imported goods. The COVID-19 pandemic dealt a heavy blow to Sri Lanka’s economy, with the government estimating a loss of $14 billion in the last two years. Sri Lanka also has immense foreign debt after borrowing heavily on projects that don’t earn money. Its foreign debt repayment obligations are around $7 billion for this year alone. According to the Central Bank, inflation rose to 17.5% in February from 16.8% a month earlier. Its expected to continue rising because the government has allowed the local currency to float freely. Separately on Thursday, the country's Catholic bishops called for unity among politicians, warning that the island is fast becoming a failed state. All governments to date are responsible in varying degree for the crisis, the Catholic Bishops' Conference in Sri Lanka said in a statement, adding that the government and the opposition must adopt a conciliatory approach without blaming each other. The bishops called on Catholic institutions and individuals to provide assistance to the most affected groups.
Sri Lankan Parliament dissolved, elections set for April
Sri Lanka's president dissolved Parliament ahead of schedule on Monday and set new elections for April in which he aims to secure a strong majority allowing him to push for constitutional changes to increase presidential powers.