Challenges Before New President

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Sri Lanka’s eighth Executive President, UNP leader and Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe (MP) was sworn in before Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya (PC) at Parliamentary premises, Sri Jayewardenepura, Kotte, yesterday.

However, his election to this high office was not by winning a majority vote by Sri Lanka’s 15 million+ population eligible to vote, but by a majority vote in Parliament among its 225 legislators, including Wickremesinghe and the Speaker on Wednesday
(20 July).

This happened after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa (SLPP) fled the country following mass public protests that culminated on 9 July, over record high cost of living and inflation; shortages; rationing;  miles, days and months long fuel and cooking gas queues causing  deaths to several; sharp losses in agriculture output led by rice because of a ban on imported chemical fertiliser, subsequently rescinded, but too late to reverse its harm; fishers being unable to go to sea due to lack of fuel; record daily power cuts running for months because of fuel shortages; schools  and partial Government closures due to lack of transport because of the fuel shortage; bribery; corruption; nepotism and cronyism among several other woes.

A prime cause for this misery is the lack of US dollars in the country to make these imports, robbed and squandered during Rajapaksa’s and previously, during elder brother Mahinda’s (SLPP leader) Presidency.

Wickremesinghe, at the time Rajapaksa fled the country, was the Premier. According to the Constitution and, subsequent to Rajapaksa’s resignation, Wickremesinghe was made acting President, followed by being constitutionally elected as President by Parliament to serve Rajapaksa’s balance two-year Presidency. Wickremesinghe was elected with the support of the
SLPP MPs who command the majority in the House.

Countries/regions having the capacity to bailout
Sri Lanka s are China, USA, EU and Japan. However, USA’s CIA Chief Bill Burns speaking at an event in Washington D.C. on Wednesday was quoted by foreign media as having said, “Nations should look at ‘a place like Sri Lanka today – heavily indebted to China – which has made some really dumb bets about their economic future and are suffering pretty catastrophic, both economic and political, consequences as a result. Beijing worked closely with former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and landed Colombo in a dragon debt trap.”

Meanwhile, the Chinese Embassy in Sri Lanka in a “tweet” yesterday said that two batches of 500 metric tons (mts) of rice under RMB 500 million emergency humanitarian assistance arrived in Colombo 0n 16 & 19 July. So far 3,000 mts of rice has been handed over to the Education Ministry for 1.1. million children in 7,900 schools.

But, Sri Lanka needs not only rice but, also fuel and cooking gas urgently to tide over this crisis. And the US Embassy on its website on Wednesday instead of aid warned its citizens, “Reconsider travel to Sri Lanka due to fuel and medicine shortages. Exercise increased caution in Sri Lanka due to civil unrest. 

Protests over the economic situation and queues at gas stations, grocery stores, and some pharmacies have been occurring recently throughout the country. Fuel for backup generators is increasingly scarce.”

So, there is no aid from the USA, widely considered as being the “voice” for the rest of the West and Japan as well, either.

But, going back 44 years to 7 February 1978, Senator Charles MCC Mathias (junior), addressing the US Senate said, “Sri Lanka’s, this year’s Independence Day celebration was a particularly special occasion since its Prime Minister,  J.R. Jayewardene, assumed office as the country’s first Executive President under the new Constitution.  Jayewardene has been committed for the last 10 years to the establishment of a strong Executive elected directly by the people, as opposed to the previous parliamentary form of Government, where the Executive was chosen from among the members of the majority party in the Legislature. I commend the people of Sri Lanka.”