Stability, Sine Qua Non

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President Gotabaya Rajapaksa officially resigned as President effective from Thursday (14), Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena said on Friday (15). Within a week, Parliament will elect a new President, he said. Until then, UNP leader and Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe will be the acting President, the Speaker added.

Rajapaksa’s resignation is a first in the annals of Sri Lanka’s 44-year history of the Executive Presidency which came into being in 1978. During this period, other than Rajapaksa and Ranasinghe Premadasa, all other Presidents served their full terms. Premadasa, more than half way through his term, was killed by an LTTE suicide bomber on 1 May 1993.

In the case of Rajapaksa who had another two years to go, he was however driven out of office by ‘People’s Power’ on Saturday (9 July), before fleeing to the Maldives on Wednesday (13 July) and subsequently to Singapore the following day, from where he sent his resignation letter.

Wickremesinghe addressing the nation on Friday, said two important things; he will work towards re-establishing the 19th Amendment to the Constitution which seeks to regain the supremacy of Parliament over the Executive President, nullified by the 20th Amendment passed during Rajapaksa’s tenure.

The other important aspect of Wickremesinghe’s speech was where he said that rioters have hijacked the protesters, the latter being responsible for Rajapaksa’s ouster. He said these rioters have seized two automatic weapons from the Army at Battaramulla and are threatening MPs due to vote for a new President to serve Rajapaksa’s remaining term in office. Wickremesinghe implied that the Police and the Security Forces are fully empowered to deal with such a situation to ensure that both democracy and the economy were safeguarded.

On the economy, the US Treasury on Thursday reported that US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told reporters in Indonesia that China is a very important creditor of Sri Lanka’s. “Sri Lanka is clearly unable to repay that debt. And it’s my hope that China will be willing to work with Sri Lanka to restructure the debt — it would likely be both in China and Sri Lanka’s interest.”

Hers was a response to a question posed by a reporter who asked, “Just this week, or in these last few days, we’ve seen quite dramatic developments in Sri Lanka, which is not a low-income country. China until now has been very reluctant to extend any debt restructuring efforts to countries that are not the lowest-income countries. Can you say what your response is to that, what China’s role is in terms of dealing with Sri Lanka’s massive problems?”

Meanwhile, the IMF on the same day, quoting its media spokesman Gerry Rice from Washington D.C., responding to reporters’ questions said that the IMF is closely monitoring political and social developments in Sri Lanka.

“We hope for a resolution of the current situation that would allow for our resumption of a dialogue on an IMF supported programme. In June 2022 an IMF staff team in Colombo had constructive discussions with the authorities on a set of economic policies and reforms that could be supported potentially by an IMF programme. The political and ‘social’ emergency situation has interrupted those discussions and we hope to resume as soon as possible.

An important part of those discussions is the debt situation. Sri Lanka’s public debt is assessed as unsustainable and as is the case with every IMF programme, not just the case of Sri Lanka, for approval by the Board. And we are not at that stage. But for approval by the Board, a programme would require adequate assurances on debt sustainability.”

The long lines of fuel queues and cooking gas queues, running for a number of days, in the case of the former, just for a few litres of rationed fuel only, is proof of Sri Lanka’s bankrupt state, having insufficient US dollars to import fuel, among other essentials. Those much-needed dollars to make such imports are however with the IMF. Therefore, Sri Lanka needs to return to normality at its earliest to obtain those dollars, thus ensuring socioeconomic stability, needed urgently at this hour!