Wednesday will see four MPs, among a total of 225 contesting for the Presidency as at yesterday. They are UNP Leader, Premier and acting President Ranil Wickremesinghe, Opposition and SJB Leader Sajith Premadasa, Jathika Jana Balawegaya (JJB)/JVP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake and SLPP MP Dullas Alahapperuma.
The SLPP commands the majority in the House. These four will vie for the votes of the remaining 221 MPs, who will vote by secret ballot to elect the new President to serve the remainder of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s term which ends in 2024.
Rajapaksa resigned on Thursday after mass protests calling for his ouster following record high inflation and cost of living, queues for ‘essentials’, shortages, bribery, corruption, a black market, nepotism, cronyism, record daily power cuts and the closure of schools due to the lack of US dollars brought about by a mix of corruption and mismanagement during his tenure of office.
Rajapaksa was elected to power for a five-year term on 16 November 2019 among 34 other contenders. Therefore, the above four contestants for Wednesday’s Presidency are equal to 11 per cent of candidates when compared with the original 35 who contested at the 2019 Presidential Poll, vying for the votes of 16 million electors, where Rajapaksa emerged victorious.
The onerous task of the new President, after Wednesday’s Poll, will be to make ‘essentials’ once more freely available to the masses at the earliest, bereft of queues, shortages, a black market, nepotism, power cuts, schools closures and a host of other negativisms brought about by the lack of dollars in the country.
Such dollars are with the international community led by the West and Japan, who will provide them without the island having to mortgage itself, only after Sri Lanka ensures that it will be transparent in its actions and be governed by the rule of law. That the country will take action against those responsible for its current economic state and, finally, accountability vis-à-vis acts of omission and commission committed by the State in respect of that which took place during the closing stages of the war with the LTTE in May 2009. The war in May 2009 was fought when Rajapaksa’s elder brother Mahinda (MP) was President.
Amidst these developments, yesterday, the Foreign Ministry reported that Japan’s Southeast and Southwest Asian Affairs Department Director-General / Assistant Minister Takehiro Kano and Foreign Ministry Secretary Aruni Wijewardene had bilateral consultations in Colombo on Friday. Among others who participated were Central Bank of Sri Lanka Governor Dr. P. Nandalal Weerasinghe and Treasury Secretary Mahinda Siriwardena.
The significance about the timing of these discussions was that it took place a day after Rajapaksa resigned, on Thursday, after having had fled the country amidst protests over corruption and mismanagement on the previous day Wednesday.
For no rhyme or reason, Rajapaksa, when in power, cancelled two Japanese funded infrastructure development projects. One was the concessional Yen 30.04 billion (Rs 77.80 billion) light rail project to ease Colombo’s traffic congestion available at a 0.11 per cent interest rate, repayable over 40 years with a 12 year grace period and the other, the concessional East Container Terminal port project to have had been built at a cost of $ 400 million, repayable over 40 years at a 0.1 per cent interest rate, to the chagrin of the Japanese.
The pivot of Sri Lanka’s lack of dollars to import ‘essentials’ is visible to the naked eye by witnessing the miles and days long fuel and cooking gas queues seen islandwide, having also led to the deaths of several, since last year.
To make essentials once more freely available and rid the country of queues, thereby easing the frustration of the masses, preventing more queue deaths and to assure socioeconomic stability, only foreign aid can pull Sri Lanka through.
The MP elected to power as President on Wednesday, should be cognizant of this reality. Otherwise, it may be assured, that further chaos and much worse, anarchy, will rule the roost, in the country once known as the island of serendipity, in the days to come.