Indian, Japanese: Sri Lanka Crisis LIVE Updates: Ranil Wickremesinghe will be taking charge of a bankrupt nation in default of its $51-billion foreign debt and without money to import essential good
Sri Lanka Crisis LIVE Updates: Sri Lanka’s new prime minister struggled Friday to forge a unity government and forestall an imminent economic collapse as opposition lawmakers refused to join his cabinet and demanded fresh elections. Ranil Wickremesinghe was sworn in late Thursday to navigate his country through the worst downturn in its history as an independent nation, with months of shortages and blackouts inflaming public anger.
The 73-year-old insists he has enough support to govern and approached several legislators to join him, but three opposition parties have already said his premiership lacks legitimacy. Senior opposition lawmaker Harsha de Silva publicly rejected an overture to take charge of the finance ministry and said he would instead push for the government’s resignation. “People are not asking for political games and deals, they want a new system that will safeguard their future,” he said in a statement. De Silva said he was joining “the people’s struggle” to topple President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and would not support any political settlement that left the leader in place.
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Huge public demonstrations have for weeks condemned Rajapaksa over his administration’s mismanagement of the worsening economic crisis. Hundreds remain outside his seafront office in the capital Colombo at a protest camp that has for the past month campaigned for him to step down. De Silva is a member of the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB), the largest single opposition grouping in parliament, which had appeared ready to split over the question of whether to support Wickremesinghe. But the head of the possible splinter faction, Harin Fernando, said Friday he had returned to the fold.
“I will not support Wickremesinghe’s government,” Fernando told AFP. Two smaller parties have also signaled they will not join any unity government. The Tamil National Alliance said Rajapaksa’s administration had “completely lost legitimacy” with the appointment of Wickremesinghe, a five-time former prime minister who most recently held office in 2019. The leftist People’s Liberation Front (JVP) meanwhile said new national elections were the only way out of the current impasse. “We can’t solve the economic crisis by having an illegitimate government,” JVP leader Anura Dissanayake told reporters in Colombo. “We demand fresh elections.” However, the cash-strapped government is unlikely to be able to afford polls or even print ballots, at a time when a national paper shortage forced schools to postpone exams. Parliamentary elections are not due until August 2025.
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Latest updates on the story:
• Sri Lanka’s new Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has said he looks forward to closer ties with India during his term and thanked India for its economic assistance to the country as it tackles the worst economic crisis since independence. Wickremesinghe, 73, was sworn in as Sri Lanka’s 26th prime minister on Thursday to stabilize the country’s debt-ridden economy and end the political turmoil.
I want a closer relationship and I want to thank Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi, Wickremesinghe said, referring to the Indian economic assistance to his country. His remarks came during a religious ceremony held here last night after he took the oath. India has committed more than $ 3 billion to debt-ridden Sri Lanka in loans, credit lines, and credit swaps since January this year.
• India’s High Commissioner to Sri Lanka meets with newly appointed PM Ranil Wickremesinghe.
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• The news that Ranil Wickremesinghe has been named Prime Minister has been welcomed with shock and incredulity in Sri Lanka, the BBC reported. Despite being in opposition, his apparent closeness to the Rajapaksa family has been a crucial factor. Many believe he shielded them when they lost power in 2015, the report said, adding that according to experts, Wickremesinghe may ensure their security or a safe passage amid the turbulent situation and heated protests.
• Wickremasinghe lost two presidential contests and led his party to a string of election defeats, prompting even his supporters to dub him a “record loser”. He has nonetheless sworn in as prime minister again in 2015 after the election defeat of President Mahinda Rajapaksa after the opposition rallied behind him as a unity candidate against the authoritarian leader.
• His “Mr. Clean” image was muddied later that year when his administration was rocked by an insider trading scam involving central bank bonds. A key accused in the multi-million dollar scam was the central bank chief at the time, Arjuna Mahendran, who was Wickremesinghe’s schoolmate and choice for the job. He was accused of cronyism during his tenure and failing to prosecute members of the previous Rajapaksa regime, members of which had been accused of graft, kickbacks, and siphoning off public finances.
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• Political conflict with the powerful Rajapaksa family also threw the country into crisis in 2018, with Mahinda taking over the premiership for six weeks before the Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional. Wickremesinghe returns to the office to replace Mahinda Rajapaksa, who resigned on Monday after his supporters attacked anti-government demonstrators, and later had to be rescued from his residence by the military. He will serve at the pleasure of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Mahinda’s younger brother, who has fought off calls for his resignation over the government’s mismanagement of the economic crisis.
• Wickremesinghe will be taking charge of a bankrupt nation in default of its $51-billion foreign debt and without money to import essential goods. His status as a pro-West, free-market reformist could smooth bailout negotiations with the International Monetary Fund and foreign creditors. But he has already warned there will be no quick fix to the nation’s unprecedented economic woes. “The worst is yet to come. We have very high inflation now and hyperinflation is on its way,” Wickremesinghe told parliament last week. “We should start addressing the issues now, we can’t put it off any longer,” he added.
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• The High Commission of India in Colombo said it looks forward to working with the new Government of Sri Lanka formed following democratic processes. “High Commission of India hopes for political stability and looks forward to working with the Government of Sri Lanka formed following democratic processes according to the swearing-in of Hon’ble @RW_UNP as the Prime Minister of #SriLanka,” it tweeted. It said that India’s commitment to the people of Sri Lanka will continue.
• Members of the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), a section of the main Opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB), and several other parties have expressed their support to show a majority for Wickremesinghe in Parliament, sources said. However, several factions opposed the move to appoint Wickremesinghe as the new Prime Minister. The veteran politician is seen as being close to the Rajapaksa clan. But he does not currently command much support within the Opposition or among the public. It remains to be seen if he can prove his majority in the 225-member Parliament.