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Political crisis in Sri Lanka: What’s next?

#Political #crisis #Sri #Lanka #Whats

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was sworn in as acting president after his predecessor Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled to Singapore and resigned after months of protests over the country’s financial crisis.

AFP examines how financially strapped Sri Lanka fell into its worst economic crisis on record and what comes next in its complicated, corrupt and sometimes violent political system.

– Why did Rajapaksa escape? –

Sri Lanka’s financial troubles were sparked by the coronavirus pandemic but exacerbated by mismanagement under the Rajapaksa government.

The country has been unable to finance even its most important imports since late last year and has since defaulted on its debt.

For months, discontent has been mounting over severe food and fuel shortages, record inflation and protracted power outages.

Even Rajapaksa’s closest allies were beginning to desert him, and when protesters overran his Colombo headquarters last weekend, he was forced to flee to a naval base in fear for his life. He first fled to the Maldives and then traveled on to Singapore.

-Wasn’t Rajapaksa a popular leader?-

Rajapaksa has been dubbed the “Terminator” for his ruthless crackdown on Tamil rebels during his older brother Mahinda’s presidency as head of the defense ministry between 2005 and 2015.

He was loved by his Sinhala Buddhist majority but loathed by Tamils ​​and Muslims, who viewed him as a war criminal, racist and oppressor of minorities.

As inflation topped 50 percent and four out of five people were forced to skip meals due to acute shortages, the ethnically divided nation joined in its opposition to Rajapaksa.

– Why an incumbent president? –

Rajapaksa officially resigned on July 14, just 32 months into his five-year tenure, and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe was automatically appointed acting leader under the country’s constitution.

Wickremesinghe is serving as a stopgap until the 225-seat parliament elects one of its members to lead the country for the remainder of Rajapaksa’s term. Legislative Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardana has scheduled the vote for Wednesday.

– How does the election work? –

The 225 MPs will rank the candidates in a secret ballot based on their preference.

Candidates need more than half of the votes to be elected. If no one crosses the first preference threshold, the candidate with the lowest support is eliminated and their votes distributed according to the second preference, and so on until someone reaches the mark.

– Who are the possible candidates? –

Incumbent President Wickremesinghe, the pro-Western six-time prime minister, is the front runner after securing support for the Rajapaksas’ SLPP, which is still the largest single bloc in parliament.

The SLPP has over 100 seats and if party discipline holds up Wickremesinghe will almost certainly be elected.

But the party is divided, so unity is not guaranteed, and SLPP dissident Dullas Alahapperuma, 63, a former media minister, is a serious challenger.

Sajith Premadasa, 55, the main opposition leader, announced on Friday that he would also join the fight.

A possible fourth contender is former army chief Sarath Fonseka, 71, a nemesis of the Rajapaksa family.

Secret voting gives MPs a freer hand than open voting, and previous elections have alleged that bribes were offered and accepted in exchange for votes.

During a constitutional crisis in October 2018, some lawmakers said they were offered $3.5 million in cash and apartments abroad for their support.

– What does this mean for the IMF talks?-

Despite their differences, Sri Lanka’s political parties are united in their support for ongoing talks with the International Monetary Fund, with Wickremesinghe saying a bailout is urgently needed.

Sri Lanka declared itself insolvent in mid-April when the government defaulted on its $51 billion external debt.

But the political crisis stalled negotiations, and the IMF said Thursday it hoped the unrest would be settled soon so it could resume.

No political party has a clear majority in the current parliament, and even if the country could afford new elections, Tamil lawmaker Dharmalingam Sithadthan warned that a strong mandate is not always a guarantee of stability or success.

“We had Gotabaya with a record 6.9 million votes and what did he do?” Sithadthan told AFP. “He was a total failure.”

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