Country At A Crossroads

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Today’s Presidential Poll by secret ballot among the island’s 225 MPs including the Speaker boils down to a two-horse race. They are between UNP leader, Premier and Acting President Ranil Wickremesinghe and SLPP MP Dullas Alahapperuma. 

Alahapperuma’s name was proposed by SJB and Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa in Parliament yesterday when nominations were called, after previously being one of four original contenders to this post, the other being JVP/Jathika Jana Balavegaya (JJB) leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake. JJB has only three seats in Parliament.

Alaapperuma’s name was seconded by SLPP Chairman and External Affairs Minister Professor (emeritus) G.L. Peiris. SLPP, with 145 MPs, according to the Parliament website, commands the majority in the House. Some of the other party compositions being SJB (54), TNA (10), EPDP and Ahila Ilankai Thamil Congress (two each), SLFP and UNP (one each), while the balance seven seats in Parliament being spread among seven “smaller” parties, which, ipso facto, share one seat each.

Wickremesinghe’s name was proposed by Public Administration Minister (SLPP) Dinesh Gunawardena and seconded by SJB renegade MP Manusha Nanayakkara. A simple majority of 113, including the vote of the Speaker, will decide who will be Sri Lanka’s next President at today’s vote.

The new President will serve the remaining two years of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s (SLPP) term, who fled the country last Wednesday amidst mass protests due to record high cost of living (CoL) and inflation led by the lack of US dollars in the country, robbed and squandered during his and elder brother Mahinda’s tenure as President, shortages, rationing,  miles and days and months long fuel and cooking gas queues resulting in the deaths of several, record daily power cuts also running for months, schools  and partial Government closures due to lack of transport because of the fuel shortage, bribery, corruption, nepotism and corruption, among several other woes.

Incidentally, elder brother Mahinda Rajapaksa is also the SLPP leader, with Mahinda behind Wickremesinghe’s candidature, ditching supporting his own party MP Alahapperuma for this top post.

Meanwhile, the much needed dollars to rescue Sri Lanka from this socioeconomic mire are with the West and Japan. They will once more make such dollars freely available, like they did 45 years ago on 21 July 1977 after a regime change in the island, without the country having to mortgage itself to them, only if a future Government, led by the new President, pursues the path of transparency and accountability, not only for acts committed post today, but more importantly in the past as well, ending with Sri Lanka’s conduct in the war with the LTTE, especially in its last few weeks, before the Government’s triumph on 18 May 2009.

With reference to Japan, the new President will have to explain why Gotabaya cancelled two concessional loans during his tenure? They are the Yen 30.04 billion light rail project to ease Colombo’s traffic congestion at a 0.11 per cent interest rate, repayable over 40 years with a 12-year grace period and the USD 400 million East Container Terminal project, repayable over 40 years at a 0.1 per cent interest rate. And to the Americans, he will have to explain, what led Gota to cancel the USD 480 million grant, also to ease traffic congestion in Colombo, whilst developing the road network in the Central and Uva provinces?

Debt restructuring, an IMF condition for a bailout package, is currently on board, with China recently agreeing to such. But an IMF loan takes time, in the interim, testing Sri Lankans’ patience. The masses need their fuel and their cooking gas freely as an immediate remedy, followed by the reopening of schools, with their other needs, such as the treatment for the high CoL and inflation being tertiary.

But, if the new President doesn’t take immediate steps to publicly apologise to Japan and the USA for the cancellation of the above infrastructure projects, and, if possible, to try to restore such projects, thereby ensuring the much needed dollars to the country, getting Sri Lanka out of the current socioeconomic mire will only be a pipe dream with disastrous consequences to the nation.