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Sri Lanka is getting a new president amid political and economic collapse

COLOMBO, July 11 – Sri Lanka’s parliament will elect a new president on July 20, its spokesman said Monday after protesters stormed the residences of the current president and prime minister, both of whom had offered to quit amid an economic meltdown.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who as defense minister oversaw a ruthless crackdown on Tamil Tiger insurgents, will resign on Wednesday. His brothers and nephew resigned earlier as ministers when Sri Lanka ran out of petrol, food and other essential supplies in the worst crisis since independence from Britain in 1948.

Parliament will reconvene on Friday and will vote to elect a new president five days later, spokesman Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena said in a statement.

“During the meeting of party leaders held today, it was agreed that this was essential to ensure that a new all-party government is in place in accordance with the Constitution,” the statement added.

“The ruling party has said the Prime Minister and Cabinet are ready to step down in order to appoint an all-party government.”

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, whose home was set on fire by protesters, has announced his resignation. His office said Rajapaksa had confirmed his resignation plans to the prime minister, adding that the cabinet would resign once an agreement was reached to form an all-party government.

Sri Lanka will have a new president on July 20 after current President Gotabaya Rajapaksa offered his resignation following protests.
Sri Lanka will have a new president on July 20 after current President Gotabaya Rajapaksa offered his resignation following protests.
AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena, file

The political instability could hamper negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) over a bailout, the central bank governor told Reuters.

Governor P Nandalal Weerasinghe signaled he would remain in office, despite saying in May he could step down if there was no political stability in the island nation of 22 million.

Leaders of the protest movement have announced crowds will occupy the residences of the President and Prime Minister in Colombo until they leave office permanently. Over the weekend at the President’s house, protesters jumped into the swimming pool, lounged on a four-poster bed, pushed around corners on a treadmill and tried out the sofas.

Colombo was quiet on Monday as hundreds of people strolled into the president’s secretariat and residence and toured the colonial-era buildings. The police made no attempt to intervene.

“We’re not going anywhere until this president goes and we have a government that people will accept,” said Jude Hansana, 31, who has been at a protest site outside the residence since early April.

A crowd at Rajapaksa's official residence in Colombo amid political protests in Sri Lanka on July 11, 2022.
A crowd at Rajapaksa’s official residence in Colombo amid political protests in Sri Lanka on July 11, 2022.
Photo by ARUN SANKAR/AFP via Getty Images

Another protester, Dushantha Gunasinghe, said he traveled 80 miles to Colombo and walked part of the way because of a fuel shortage.

“I’m so exhausted I can hardly speak,” the 28-year-old said as he sat in front of the President’s office. “I came all the way alone because I think we have to get through this. This administration needs to go home and we need better leaders.”

Police said they received 17.8 million rupees (about US$50,000) which were found by a group of protesters at the president’s residence on Saturday. A video of the youth counting the money went viral on social media.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for a smooth change of government and “sustainable solutions” to the economic crisis.

“IT’S TOTAL CHAOS”

Opposition leader Sajith Premadasa, whose Samagi Jana Balawegaya party holds 54 seats in the 225-seat parliament, said she was ready to enter the government.

“We, as the opposition, are ready to take the lead to stabilize the country and rebuild the economy,” he said. “We will appoint a new president and prime minister and form a government.”

Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe were not at their homes when protesters stormed into the buildings and have not been seen in public since Friday. Rajapaksa’s whereabouts were not clear, but Wickremesinghe’s media team said in a statement he held a meeting with cabinet ministers at the prime minister’s office on Monday.

Wickremesinghe’s private home in an affluent Colombo suburb was torched on Saturday and three suspects were arrested.

Demonstrators at the Presidential Palace on July 10, 2022.
Demonstrators at the Presidential Palace on July 10, 2022.
Pradeep Dambarage/NurPhoto via ZUMA Press

Constitutional experts say once the president and prime minister step down, the speaker will be appointed acting president before parliament elects a new president to complete Rajapaksa’s term, which was due to end in 2024.

Sri Lankans have largely blamed Rajapaksa for the collapse of the tourism-dependent economy, hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and a ban on chemical fertilizers that hurt agricultural production. The ban was later reversed.

Public finances have been crippled by mounting debt and generous tax breaks from the Rajapaksa regime. The currency reserves were quickly depleted with rising oil prices.

People swim in the pool at the Presidential Palace in Colombo on July 10, 2022.
People swim in the pool at the Presidential Palace in Colombo on July 10, 2022.
Pradeep Dambarage/NurPhoto via ZUMA Press

The country is running low on dollars to import heavily rationed fuel, and long queues have formed outside cooking gas stores. Headline inflation hit 54.6% last month and the central bank has warned it could rise to 70% in the coming months.

The political crisis sent government bonds, which had already defaulted, to new lows. The 2025 bond fell as much as 2.25 cents against the dollar, while most are now under 30 cents, or 70% below face value.

Lutz Roehmeyer of Capitulum Asset Management, which holds Sri Lanka dollar bonds, said an IMF deal could happen this year or next, but for bondholders a restructuring is likely in 2024 or 2025, not next year.

“It’s total chaos,” Roehmeyer said. “The transfer of power is expected to be more chaotic and it will take longer to reach an agreement.”

https://nypost.com/2022/07/11/sri-lanka-to-get-new-president-amid-political-and-economic-meltdown/ Sri Lanka is getting a new president amid political and economic collapse

JACLYN DIAZ

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