Time not right for Gota’s return – President

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It is not the right time for former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to return to Sri Lanka, President Ranil Wickremesinghe said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, adding that if the latter returns, it could inflame political tensions in the country.

“It isn’t the right time for former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to return to Sri Lanka as it could inflame political tensions among tens of thousands of protesters who rallied to oust him over his management of the economy. I don’t believe it’s the time for him to return. I have no indication of him returning soon,” he said.

Rajapaksa left the country on a military aircraft bound for the Maldives on 13 July, before travelling onward to Singapore from where he sent his resignation via email.

Cabinet Spokesperson Bandula Gunawardena said last week that Rajapaksa wasn’t in hiding and was expected to return. 

However, Wickremesinghe, who said he remains in contact with Rajapaksa to deal with administrative handover issues and other government business, said the latter hadn’t told him he planned to return to Sri Lanka soon. 

Meanwhile, commenting on the economic crisis, the President said, the country has experienced the worst of its economic crisis and that restoring political stability will allow Sri Lanka to begin turning a corner, starting with finalising negotiations for an International Monetary Fund bailout.

“I think we have already hit the bottom. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, it’s how fast we can get to it,” Wickremesinghe said.

The President also has acknowledged that it will take months before most Sri Lankans, who have faced runaway inflation and long queues for fuel and cooking gas, will begin to see their economic circumstances improve markedly.

Furthermore, Wickremesinghe expected the IMF staff-level agreement to be reached by the end of August, the report said, adding that Sri Lanka will have to secure upwards of USD 3 billion from other sources next year to support essential imports including fuel, food and fertilisers.

He also told the WSJ it would be months before Sri Lankans would see any marked improvement in their economic circumstances.