EDITORIAL: That Sri Lanka is today a scene of profound chaos and uncertain future is a fact, and most of it is of its own making, particularly the dominance of the Rajapaksa clan.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa emerged on the stage to rule the 22 million-strong island state as hero under whose command the Sri Lankan national army defeated the India-funded and supported Tamil Tigers’ long-drawn insurrection. But he has now fled Sri Lanka to the Maldives, as there is countrywide unrest prompted by his failed governance, rampant corruption, nepotism and economic mismanagement.
For months people have been bearing the brunt of record inflation, currency depreciation and fuel and power cuts. But for how long — thousands of protesters finally braved bullet and broke through military-controlled barriers on way to the Rajapaksa’s official residence. He was not there, as the intelligence agencies shifted him to an air base near the international airport.
The parliament has decided to elect his successor for rest of the presidential term as an all-party consensus president. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was appointed prime minister in May to replace Rajapaksa’s elder brother, Mahindra, after he stepped down and had his house burnt down too by angry protesters, had also resigned.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa was certainly an astute political manipulator, but seems to have overlooked the growing public annoyance over his nepotistic style of governance. Perhaps, he could still be acceptable, but not after April when the country faced acute foreign currency crisis that resulted in debt default. Then the government had announced that it was suspending nearly US$ 7 billion debt repayment due for this year out of US$ 25 billion due through 2026.
Sri Lanka’s total debt stands at US$ 51 billion. But Rajapaksa did not realise the criticality of default. He was of the view that “at a time when successful solution have been achieved to the existing problematic situation, the programme of the opposition political groups to mislead the people is very sad and unpleasant.” But there were not very many takers of his perspective on the crisis besetting Sri Lanka. His opposition was countrywide and by all sections of society. For instance, Wasantha Mudllige, a member of inter-university students union, who led the march on the presidential palace, had declared: “…will not give up until this president and prime minister go home”.
Rajapaksa is gone and so is his team, but there is no indication that road ahead for the island nation is not going to be tough. Sri Lanka had got to alleviate itself from the economic crisis and rebuild itself as a working democracy and this requires outside help, from its South Asian neighbours and international community, particularly of its segment which controls policies of international financial institutions. And last but not the least, in it there is a message for our political leaders who have drawn swords to strike Finance Minister Ismail who raised fuel and power charges to avert Pakistan from becoming another Sri Lanka.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2022